Recently, three wine movies have explored the question: what is real (and fake) in the wine world?
There is something quite unreal about the circus around fine wine. Especially over the past two decades, it has become a game for the supra-mangerial that has no relation to the humble product from the vineyard. Step back from three recently released films and it is easy to see why the question of authenticity, and what is real in wine, has become so important in the 2010s.
Sour Grapes is the true story of the young emperor of fine wine, Rudy Kurniawan, who dazzled the fine wine auction scene in the early 2000s and went on to flood the fine wine market with counterfeit wine. Embarrassingly, a lot of wine experts went along for the ride.
Jay McKierney writes that “The night before the auction I personally consumed, by my best estimate, over $20,000 worth of his wine – including the 1945 Mouton and the 1947 Cheval Blanc – and I was one of fourteen drinkers.” One of those drinkers being Rudy Kurniawan.
Were they only enjoying Chateau Ribena – or did Jay drink the good stuff, after all? It’s a fascinating snapshot of a time when the economy had more money, and in turn, had more of the proverbial old fools. For many younger wine professionals – and, I would argue the wine industry has seen a lot more professionalisation since then – they may wonder if this type of regular extravagance was a myth. Did it even happen at all? Yes, it did. And it was all real. In some sense, we are still cleaning up the mess.
We begin The Way of Wine with the whirlwind lifestyle of Miami sommelier, Charlie Arturaola. There’s the glamour of travelling the world on a wine bottle, as he says. His whole life depends on his palate. Even his wife, Pandora, is his manager and books him to host tastings.
When he loses his palate, his world falls apart. He needs to recover it. And fast. In search of a solution, he approaches major people in the wine world. He asks Michel Rolland, who suggests he “washes his palate with the finest wines of the world.” This leads him on a journey far away from his hectic party lifestyle and into the vineyards of Argentina.
The story continues in his second film, The Duel of Wine. In this film, Charlie is working as a taxi driver in Miami while he recovers his palate. His wife, Pandora, is approached by a young sommelier, Luca to manage him all the way to the world championships of Sommeliers. This leads Charlie to go to the championships: to regain his crown and his marriage.
The Way of Wine and The Duel of Wine are fun films with larger-than-life Charlie Arturaola providing plenty of laughs and madcap silliness amongst the serious side of wine. Sour Grapes is anything but funny for those who work in wine, although, it is good to know (spoiler alert!) the pied piper gets a taste of cold, hard reality in the end.