Journal, Wine

Three Wine Movies From a Heady Decade for Fine Wine

Charlie Arturaola

In a power decade for fine wine sales, three wine movies 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 these three wine movies and it is easy to see why the question of authenticity, and what is real in wine, became so important in the 2010s.

Sour Grapes (2016)

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 Rothschild and the 1947 Cheval Blanc – and I was one of fourteen drinkers.” One of those drinkers being Rudy Kurniawan.

That’s nothing to sneeze at – and it gets better. 

The wine world has always been one that focuses on wine provenance – where did the bottle come from? What was it like before? Who drank it? Those questions continue to plague the industry today, especially with regards to collecting fine wines. This story is fascinating because it includes all those elements and more.

While we know that Kurniawan was a prolific counterfeiter, we don’t know what he was drinking in that moment – or if he even knew – but we do know that there was some serious money being spent on some seriously good wine.

The fact that there were so many buyers at this point in time, compared to how few there are now (and how much less they spend), is telling of the state of fine wine today. 

The Way of Wine (2010)

The Way of Wine (2010) is a prelude to the recently released film, The Duel of Wine. 

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.

As a sommelier, 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.

Charlie 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 Duel of Wine (2015)

The story continues in his second film, The Duel of Wine. Charlie Arturaola has lost his palate. And that changes everything for him.

Charlie is working as a taxi driver in Miami while he recovers his palate.

Although Charlie has fallen on hard times, he is still chasing after his dream to become one of the world’s greatest sommeliers. When he meets Luca (Luca Zingaretti) – a talented Italian wine expert – he comes up with a crazy plan to help both of them get on their feet!

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. 

Three Wine Movies in a Heady Decade for Fine Wine

The wine world has become increasingly controversial since the 1990s and early 2000s, with a rise in fakes and phoney labels. Recently, three wine movies have explored the question: what is real (and fake) in the wine world?

Step back from all three films and it becomes easy to understand why the question of authenticity, and what is real in wine, became so important in the 2010s.

Ultimately, it was intriguing that all three movies were able to work well as one person’s search for authenticity.

By shifting the focus on an individual’s search, they were able to comment on the state of the wine industry without taking aim at any singular party or personality.

What we see in these wine movies is, then, the deep incongruity between the high ideals of fine wine and the shallowness of winemaking as a scheme for profit. It is a spectacle of incoherence.

The wine world’s ambitions are noble, but its aspirations are crass. It seeks to be ethereal; it leaves behind a trail of tackiness. These wine movies show us that fine wine’s ascent was more often a descent into the vulgar.

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