Best of Food & Wine

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Transcript

Best of Food & Wine, with Kasey Wilson and Anthony “Tony” Gismondi, recorded on July 26, 2016.

And now Seattle 650 presents Anthony Gismondi and Kasey Wilson. This is Tony and Kasey’s Best of Food & Wine. Here’s Tony and Kasey. [Music Playing]

Tony: Good evening everyone and welcome to the show. Tonight we’ll speak with an award winning filmmaker and an investigator about Sour Grapes, a documentary about vintage wine con. And Karen McShare will join us in the studio later about cool picnic products and recipes that take your game up a level for the holiday weekend. And we’ll give you a list of summer wines that are perfect to cool in a stream. All that and much more, coming up on Vancouver’s primetime food and wine show on Seattle’s 650: the best of food and wine.

Tony: Good evening everyone and welcome to the show. Kasey Wilson how are you?

Kasey: Oh, a beautiful day Tony. It couldn’t be better.

Tony: It sure is. Listen I wanted to get to our first guests. I watched a very interesting documentary this weekend courtesy of them online. I know its coming out in Vancouver soon. Sour Grapes. We have Jerry Rothwell and Brad Goldstein. Jerry is the director and Brad is the investigator. The story of Rudy Kurniawan. A rather infamous guy in the wine business. Gentlemen, how are you?

Jerry: Hi

Brad: Thanks for having me.

Tony: I am fascinated by this movie. One I have been in the business for 35 years and actually know a lot of the players who are in the movie or have seen them. And earlier in my life, when I was just learning about wine, I had a couple of friends who constantly went to Los Angeles and San Francisco to take part in these big tastings. It’s amazing how easily people are fooled. Are you surprised at just how this hole thing unfolded. We’ll start with you Jerry.

Jerry: I actually came across this story through a French wine producer Laurent Ponsot who had discovered that his wine was being sold at an auction from a year he…hadn’t yet made it…And I kind of met with Reuben Atlas who had actually filmed at Rudy’s trial…I guess what emerged at Rudy’s trial was in a way Rudy was a guy who had faked all of this wine and sort of taken advantage of a particular moment in the wine world…Lot’s of people were getting into wine…It was during a finance boom. People were sort of vying with each other for these trophy bottles of old Burgundy and Burgundy prices sort of shot up…And I think he saw a sort of opportunity. And he…he had a very good palette. People would say he had a sort of photographic memory. He was able to absorb knowledge kind of quickly and repeat it back. So he pretty soon got a high reputation amongst collectors…

Tony: Brad was he a typical conman or not in your estimation?

Brad: Oh I think he was. I think he started that way and everything that we saw pointed to that.

Tony: Why…you know the wine business is really an unregulated. You see so many people running around claiming to know this or that. There is almost no truth except for a few well-managed appellations like in Burgundy. I think its still ripe for this kind of thing to happen often…but it doesn’t happen that often. I don’t know…I was thinking it was a story of greed more than anything Jerry. Do you think it’s that way? I want to know how you come away from it?

Jerry: I think that’s right. I sort of came to it without knowing much about wine. And I guess what interested me in a way was this story sort of mirrored the finance boom and crash. And you know it actually involved some of the same people I suppose…um in the sense that wine became very popular amongst hedge fund managers and bankers. And it was a bubble, pretty much like any other economic bubble. And I think wine…taste is very subjective sensation, uh, And wine tasting is very contextual…but at the same time in the wine world there are all these things to kind of fix that…sort of very particular descriptions about what things taste like or points for bottles of wine. But in fact, the experience of drinking wine is, I guess, much more about the setting and the people your with and the kind of prompts you get about it…

Kasey: Yes, absolutely. And Brad, I want to ask you how did you get involved in the investigation? And I know one quote I loved was the elegance of the hustle and wow, that was quite the hustle.

Brad: I got involved because my employer at the time was one of the largest wine collectors in the United States and perhaps in the world. And he had uncovered a similar scheme involving another individual and as we were going down that road, tracking that individual down and all of his products, we happened upon Rudy.

Tony: Hm. You know Brad. I think there was a gentleman in Vancouver who…you know…he showed up in one of these books about all of these different collectors. And he used to taste every weekend in Los Angeles, and we worked together, and he came back one weekend and he said: wow we had these incredible Bordeaux wines and he said, but one of the wines we had tasted like it was 10 years old and it was supposed to be 100 years old. This was back in the 80s. You know the gentleman in question has been…

Brad: I know that gentleman…

Tony: Yeah, you probably do. I used to work for him. I learned a lot about wine from him. Which leads me to this question, you know, what happened to the auction houses and should I be afraid of every wine I see at an auction today because if they can’t catch a vintage that was never made or a label that was misspelled, how will they catch a real fake wine.

Brad: That’s a really good question. And you know there is no simple answer to that. I can tell you that we studied them. We built a database of 40 years of wine auction history. We can say that some do a better job than others at rooting the bad ones out. It behooves the buyer to take the extra time to do their homework. I mean it really does.

Tony: I mean your spending a million bucks…

Brad: That doesn’t excuse the auction house from blessing wine that should not be blessed.

Tony: Yeah…just near the end of the movie it wasn’t quite clear to me…but there was a statement why they didn’t go after the auction houses…It was just something about it was just too hard to prove, or there were…I don’t know…can you explain a little on why the focus was on Rudy…was he easier to get? There was no intent on the part of the auction house, but I find that hard to believe.

Brad: Well I think…

Jerry: At the moment, I think one can say that no one else has been prosecuted in connection with the case. You know there has been cases brought and settled against those auction houses, but there is no sort of proof of intent. I think is that fair to say?

Brad: Yeah, I think…as Jason said, you have to be able to show malicious…you have to be able to show that they intended to commit fraud. With Rudy it was pretty easy. My understanding is that they certainly gave Rudy the opportunity to do the right thing, but he decided not to cooperate.

Tony: He got a big sentence compared to what some people might get for other crimes. Was it..Do you think it was fair or not fair or just right?

Jerry: The sort of sentencing guidelines come from the guidelines for fraud because that was what he was convicted of…That’s in proportion to the amount of money that’s been defrauded. And Rudy, I think the amount of money that went through the trial…I can’t remember what the total that went through the trial came out with? I think over that period, so I think he sold as much as a100,000 dollars worth of wine…not all of that fake… but certainly a very sizeable amount…Sorry, a hundred million…

Tony: million

Jerry: Yes, a hundred million, not hundred thousand.

Tony: Yeah…Our guests are Jerry Rothwell. He’s the director. Brad Goldstein. He’s the investigator of Sour Grapes. A documentary about the life of Rudy Kurniawan. We’re you surprised when you ended up finding more about his life. I mean he seems like a normal guy tasting wine in the U.S. and then all of a sudden banks are being robbed overseas. It’s quite a tale, Jerry.

Jerry: Yeah. Sort of geographically…I guess Rudy was sort of always a bit of a mystery at the heart of the story…and you know…we tried to get an interview with Rudy, but you know clearly, it’s not in his interest to kind of talk to a documentary maker at the moment. And you know, the first step was kind discovering this footage that had been shot in 2002, and had ended up with Brad…And I guess Brad had done this…there had been a number of people kind of exploring this crime…but Brad had certainly been the one who had pinned down… who had started to investigate who Rudy was…as opposed to what he had done. I think Brad your sort of better to tell the tale…

Brad: We saw a story that had appeared in the Los Angeles Times and the blueprint looked all too familiar to what we had seen with other counterfeiters. And then when we had started to scratch the surface we noticed that this man had a warrant out for his arrest. And that one was just mind boggling. Because despite having a warrant out for his arrest, he was able to get all of these large bank loans and he was also able to secure a liquor license from the state of California. And it just went on and on. You know your jaw just would drop.

Tony: Yeah…

Brad: And you would wonder why aren’t people doing the simple due diligence. And then when we went to Jakarta and started looking through Jakarta, and looking at all of these addresses that he had listed on letterhead, and looking at his documents, they were all just coming back as bogus.

Kasey: And you know, I was fascinated when the FBI got involved and they eventually went to Rudy’s home, and he was warned that the FBI seemed to be very serious. You know he was pretty cocky. You know don’t worry dude, everything’s fine to his friend who had been buying these expensive bottles. But when they opened that door, it was so delightful to see how happy the FBI guy was. He couldn’t believe the paper was there, the glass, the cork, the glue, Elmers glue. I mean it was just unbelievable how much work went into doing it. And how…I mean he did a pretty good job if you didn’t look too closely.

Jerry: Yes. I think he said if there had been ten things that I wanted to find in a search, this was ten times ten times ten times ten. Certainly, you never think, for example, you never think that there was a particular misspelling on a label, on an importers’ name on a label, that was one of the reasons that prompted the raid on the house…And yeah, to find a sheet of a full labels with that same misspelling did seem pretty incriminating.

Tony: Jerry, one of the things that I guess from being the director, you know, setting up a documentary, there were two gentlemen in the film who couldn’t believe what had happened and just thought that Rudy was the greatest guy. These characters were central to the documentary in some ways because they couldn’t believe it. How do you…I mean you look at two individuals like that and wonder what are they up to in their life?

Jerry: Yeah, I think we knew sort of early on…that we weren’t going to get that bit interview with Rudy…that it was going to be a film more about the experience of being conned than about conning. And so it became the way we structured the film almost. It became Rudy when you first encounter him in the film he was quite a charismatic and frenetic character. He seems to have these amazing wines. He’s very generous. He holds these dinners. And so you go along that kind of ride in a way with the friend of his. And I guess at the point of his arrest, yeah, absolutely, it’s a testament to his ability as a conman that he could spend three days a week hanging out with these people and they wouldn’t for a moment feel that they were being conned.

Tony: Yeah.

Kasey: They say its…

Jerry: I suppose it’s the emotion..that’s the sort of emotion…It’s not a very emotional story, but there is kind of emotion in that betrayal of friendship.

Kasey: Yes and he was so interesting when it came to his persona. Well first of all, people were pretty shocked at the amount of footage you got of him at tastings. So that was very interesting because you really couldn’t pick up on him being a con. I guess that’s back to the elegance of the hustle Brad.

Brad: Yeah. I think…You know kudos go to Jerry. I think Jerry leaves you feeling as you should feel as a victim of a con. That is exactly what a conman wants to do to you. He wants to betray your trust. First bring you into his conspiracy and then he is going to betray you. So it’s like The Sting. And I think Jerry did a great job in capturing that. And that was what Rudy was about. Rudy was, I would argue, he set out on this tale to…he knew who he was going to betray and he was going to betray these collectors.

Tony: To bad he picked on Burgundy because they are…these people are almost so isolated…and so simple in many ways…You know they would be offended by this from the get go. I thought Ponsot did a great job. You know pursuing Rudy on a different level, asking different questions, but still pointing at the same thing. It’s really a good movie. I know that a lot of wine people like it, but its got a lot of other things going on it that are worth watching. Jerry Rothwell is the director, Brad Goldstein is the investigator. And Sour Graps. Jerry, how does this documentary get rolled out around the world. And how will people see it and come to know about it these next few months.

Jerry: It’s next kind of cinema release in Canada is Vancity. I think that starts on August the 12 th . Then September 16, I think it’s in the UK cinema. I think in the states we are looking at festivals starting in October or November. And then later on next year it will go on Netflix.

Kasey: Jerry, how difficult was it to get people to actually go on camera after they had been duped? Because most people they don’t want to tell anybody and in fact I think there are a lot of those wines in cellars because people are embarrassed that they paid so much for a fake wine.

Jerry: Yeah. It took a while. I think the problem was for us in a way, I think was the same problem the FBI had in getting people to testify against Rudy. Because it’s one thing being conned, you don’t necessarily then…you know…especially since a lot of his victims were very rich and powerful people, it’s not great to be standing up in court and saying I have been duped. Kudos to Bill Koch for doing that. You know in because in both the film and in court, he was willing to say I had been duped and put a lot of resources into investigating Rudy. But yeah, in general, it was hard to get people to talk. I think there was kind of…And it took time.. People gradually started to come onboard and they heard that other people had participated in the film and other people joined in. So it took, I guess, from first idea to finished film, maybe three or four years. And kind of the beginning of that we might have had just Ponsot and a couple of people peripherally involved, but as the production went on we gradually had more and more people.

Tony: Yeah. Brad, I know you said buyer beware, but has anything changed in the wine auction business since this has happened?

Brad: Oh that’s a very good question Tony. You know I want to say yes, but I am too cynical to…go there

Tony: Laughter. Yeah

Brad: I mean there are some auction houses that continue to turn away collections and continue to hold a high standard. But I worry as auction houses move overseas the rules of the road suddenly change. One of the big things I compliment Bill Koch on, and I applaud him, is he did strengthen the laws in the state of New York where these auction houses were doing business. If a consumer purchases something, and the auction house claims what they say it is in the catalog, they have to stand by that.

Tony: That’s good.

Brad: And the law will back them up.

Kasey: How much did Bill Koch lose?

Brad: For? For counterfeit wine?

Kasey: Yes.

Brad: When you say that question, do you mean as far as investigation goes?

Kasey: Let’s talk about that too.

Brad: Um, I think he says in the film that, Jerry has him on camera as saying he is out about $4 million in bad wine, and I think he is also on camera as saying he spent in excess of $20 million investigating this.

Kasey: That’s incredible.

Tony: Huh. That’s the real meaning of chump change, I think.

Kasey: Yes. So was Rudy offered a plea bargain?

Brad: Well I can’t answer that. I think he was offered a chance to cooperate. I know that.

Kasey: Yes.

Brad: He chose not to.

Tony: Yeah. It’s a great movie. I think a lot of people are going to enjoy it. I look…You know when I was a young guy learning about wine…one of the things at the end…if there was a great bottle in the tasting…we would all sort of fight over it to sort of have the bottle and take it home, but I never thought anybody was going to take it home and fill it up with fake wine. And now I watch closely when people ask for the 1889 at a tasting and I wonder what they are going to do with that bottle. Things change in life. Gentlemen, great to catch up with you. Sour Grapes is out soon. We’ll promote it next month when it is available in Vancouver at Vancity. And I’m probably going to write about this as it rolls out across North America and Europe. Great chatting with you both. Good job. And continued good luck in both your businesses.

Brad: Well thank you very much for having us.

Tony: Jerry Rothwell. He’s the director of Sour Grapes. Brad Goldstein is actually the investigator. You’ll see him in the movie, live. Pretty compelling stuff on Rudy Kurniawan. Rudy is currently now in jail, in Los Angeles, California.

Kasey: Yeah. Ten years.

Tony: Ah, Art.

Art: So there are six showings at the Vancity Theater. Go to Viff.org for tickets and it’s a pretty small theater so it will probably sell out. We put it on our Facebook page. You want to check it out.

Tony: The dates there as well?

Art: Yeah. So between August 12 and August 23 there are six showings.

Tony: So what you should do is get that bottle of wine that you are not opening that you should be opening. Get that ready. Go watch the movie. Go home and have it and a discussion with folks who watched the movie.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]