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The Story of the First Man Ever Convicted of Wine Fraud in the U.S.

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Wine Fraudster Rudy Karniawan
Wine collector Rudy Kurniawan, of Arcadia, wine tasting (Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

 

Rudy Karniawan had a major wine habit by the time he hit his 20s. Becoming a well-known bidder on the wine auction circuit, and later, a big-time seller, Karniawan seemed to be the next big name to come out of the world of fine wines. And then things went south. Fast. It turned out that his collection of rare vintages was, in fact, an elaborate fraud.

When the FBI came calling in 2012 to Karniawan’s Los Angeles home, what they found was basically a Ford production line for creating fake vintage bottles of wine. The New Yorker‘s Bianca Bosker sets the scene:

“[The FBI turned] up shopping bags brimming with old corks, pristine labels bundled up like currency, and recipes for faking aged Bordeaux. It turned out that scores of bottles from Kurniawan’s cellar had been produced not by the acclaimed châteaux on their labels but by Kurniawan himself. He stockpiled empty bottles, and, with the care of a chemist, refilled them with mixtures of lesser wines blended to taste like the real thing. Two years ago, he became the first person in the United States to be convicted of wine fraud. He’s currently serving a 10-year sentence in a California prison for what is thought to be the largest case of wine counterfeiting in history.”

Now, a one hour and 25-minute documentary, Sour Grapes, which follows Karniawan’s unlikely tale of deceit, has hit streaming service Netflix. For more on Karniawan’s story, Bosker’s feature here. Watch the Sour Grapes trailer below.