“There’s a collaboration between the forger and the dupe.”
If you’re in the mood to watch a crime caper or just want a reason to punch somebody, Sour Grapes is tailor made for you. Just wait until I’m out of fist’s reach because you’re really, really going to want to punch somebody. The good news is that you’ll also likely be majorly amused, and a lot of that laughter will come at the expense of people who are considered experts (some of them mostly in their own minds, but still).
Once upon a time there was a man named Rudy Kurniawan. Rudy launched onto the wine scene in the late ‘90s, when wine auctions were getting hotter and rare bottles were fought over with venom normally reserved for Black Friday sales at Walmart. Rudy had the right bank balance (or at least the appearance of it), the right mannerisms, he said the right things and got in tight with the right people.
Unfortunately, what Rudy was doing was very wrong
Over the course of about three years, good old Rudy sold some $35 million in wine. Rare, beautiful wine that collectors were eager to shell out their hard-earned dough for. The problem was this: most of it wasn’t real.
As it turned out, Rudy is a giant con man who swindled some of the best noses and palates around. In an operation on part with The Emperor’s New Clothes, Rudy convinced a lot of rich people that they were buying wines that didn’t exist. We’re talking wine that wasn’t made in the vintage proclaimed on the label, wine in quantities that weren’t produced, etc. It’s awful, but it was awfully clever, too.
Spoiler alert: it’s not Rudy Kurniawan you’re going to want to punch. Yeah, what Rudy did is despicable, but the guys in Sour Grapes yammering on about wine in the back of their limo are the true insufferables here. “Buy ’96 Champagne all day. If you can’t afford that, buy ’02. If you can’t afford that, drink fucking beer.” This said while nursing a glass of wine in the limo. Go ahead and punch.
After you’re done, though, watch this movie and see where your sympathies lie. Do you feel bad for the people who proudly proclaimed the faux wines to be “sublime?” Do you sympathize with the Richie Riches who blew their multi-millionaire dollar bonuses on what basically amounts to two-buck chuck? The guy with 43,000 bottles in a collection he compares to the love he has for his wife? How about Rudy, who, for all his faults, was apparently someone who truly loved wine and just wanted to “hang” with the movers and shakers?
I’m eager to hear your response.
A Year in Champagne
All Champagne is sparkling wine but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. The bubbly that emerges from this tightly controlled, highly respect region nestled to the northeast of Paris is something special and A Year in Champagne is an homage to the people behind that legendary wine.
Director David Kennard, who is also responsible for A Year in Burgundy, (previously reviewed in our first edition of Top Wines) helms a piece that is visually stunning and full of beautiful storytelling but never short on hard information. There is talk of the chalk-imbued soil of the region, a visual and narrative tour of the winemaking process, and plenty of historical background that outlines the fascinating past the laid the foundation for the award-winning future of Champagne.
As the title suggests, this is a movie detailing a year in the life of Champagne, from grape to bottle, from harvest to harvest. There is talk of the dangers of weather, of the benefits of royal association (Bollinger, anyone?), of the joy – a somewhat masochistic pleasure – of making wine in bad times as well as the good. But there is also sort of unaware ode to hedonism and at times the film seems lost in its own fantasy. It’s certainly not committed to tackling the story of Champagne from multiple viewpoints (as in POVs other than those belonging to the people who inherited their wineries and the clout and fame that goes with it), but who says it has to?
This is a movie geared towards wine lovers, in particular those who already have warm and fuzzy feelings for the region of Champagne, as the details are many and the water’s somewhat deep at a few points. Still, the cinematography includes sweeping views of verdant hillsides, plenty of inspiring tales, and lots of shots of quaint villages that will inspire the audience to dial up the crew of House Hunters International forthwith – all of which makes for an entertaining movie for all kinds of people.
Will A Year in Champagne be over some people’s heads? Sure, the same way I can’t watch Top Gear without wondering why they don’t just call Uber. And there is a certain amount romanticism that perhaps overhypes the Chateau aspect and pays less attention to the also-worthy “little people.” But hey, not everything is for everybody.
Except, maybe, Champagne.
Somm: Into the Bottle
Don’t call it a sequel. While this second wine-based offering from director Jason Wise is technically a follow-up to the original Somm movie that profiled four men attempting to become Master Sommeliers, and yes, Into the Bottle features those same guys (amongst a whole new cast of characters), but it’s also so much more. If you liked the first film, you’ll probably love this one, but if you hated the first one – I get it, it was a lot of wine speak and single-minded focus on something most people just want to drink and enjoy – you might well change your tune this time around.
If Somm was all about the “who,” Into the Bottle is all about the “why.” Why wine? Why become a sommelier? Why do we care about any of it at all? And why does it taste so damned good?
The film is divided into ten sections, addressing various aspects of wine like the winemaker, the barrel, the memory, the cost, and so on. The tales are told by people who are well-known in the wine world : sommelier Raj Parr of Domaine de la Cote and Michael Mina’s restaurant empire, sommelier demi-God Fred Dame, Alsatian Riesling legend Jean Trimbach, among many equally talented and impressively titled others.
There’s no shortage of star power but that’s not what grabbed my attention nor the attention of my father. Dad is a wine lover but he would by no means call himself any kind of expert. He pretty much love a $6 and $60 bottle equally – he’s a drink-them-as-they-come kind of guy. He was watching Into the Somm with mild interest at first until the quick-moving edits between personalities made something very clear – this is not a movie about rights and wrongs, it’s a movie about opinions.
One person says a somm is only somebody who works in a restaurant – somebody else laughs at that assumption. Fred Dame basically says there is no answer at all. Finally, a film that is confused as the rest of us often are. The best line comes from Carole Meredith, a grape geneticist who used to teach in the enology and viticulture at the University of California: “Ca there be any other business where they’re so much bullshit?”
It’s a killer line but it’s said with the kind of tolerant affection you aim at your kid who just pulled down their pants in public yet again. The wine world is messy and the people in it are opinionated and yeah, sometimes we’re a snobby bunch, but there is also so much life and love and humor and friendly arguments and people you just want to punch. That’s what makes it awesome.
Dad loved the movie, by the way. In my opinion, that’s pretty much all the endorsement you need.
What’s your opinion on our list of top wine movies? Check out our first edition here and then add your own in the comments below!