Sour Grapes: An Oral History

This is an early sneak peek at a project I’ve been working on for years. The story for the best wine true crime documentary evolved from the two different directors meeting in the back of a courtroom.

Jerry: I co-directed the film with Reuben Atlas and we came at it from slightly different angles. It was a 3-4 year process.

Reuben: I read an article in New York Magazine, I think it was. [Rudy] had just gotten arrested. And I just loved the story.

I loved that it brought together all these different people.

Jerry: I was initially contacted by a producer in Burgundy who lived close to Laurent Ponsot, who is the French vigneron at the heart of the story and the heart of the film.

It was just after Rudy was arrested. So, I started shooting with Ponsot and his winemaking process.

Reuben: Jerry and I met at Rudy’s trial and that’s where the film took off.

You could have cast people and they wouldn’t have been as good as the people sitting in the courtroom.

The courtroom was split into two halves. Half the audience of press and other filmmakers and the other side was this cast of characters of winemakers and consultants of this very unique subculture. It was a courtroom drama.

During the trial, there was a moment when everyone was allowed to look at Rudy’s fake bottles and there was a bum-rush to the front.

Jerry and I were in the back, and I said to him:

“Laurent is a great character.”

He replied, “Yeah, he is.”

Jerry: Reuben had been shooting US Collectors. Between the two of us we had this New World, Old World balance which the film tries to achieve between wine’s deep historical roots and wine in the modern world of extremely rich collectors.

Reuben: Some films you have to pick up a camera and figure out the story as you’re shooting. This film was different because it was about the past.

The question was: Who can we get access to in order to tell this story?

Jerry: We had two approaches to the film. We knew fairly early on that we weren’t going to get Rudy. We tried. We wrote to him in detention while he was awaiting trial.

Reuben: Part of me was like we’ll get Rudy. We’re going to get Rudy, my friend Rudy…he’ll talk to us. I saw him in court, he winked at me once.

Jerry being a more experienced filmmaker probably knew the whole time we weren’t going to get Rudy.

Jerry: It was always going to be a film more about being conned than conning. There’s an absent center at the heart of it. We come to know Rudy by the people who were introduced to him.

The film would take you gradually into Rudy like a spiral.

Reuben: If we came in and made some film regurgitating stereotypes without any nuance, what’s the point?

We realized early on that our outside perspective was helpful in translating the wine world to an outsider audience.

Jerry: It’s one the interesting things about docs, I suppose. You often come into world’s as an outsider. At the same time, you’re on that journey with people who really understand it.

If you want more behind the doc, I have several more hours of interviews to unpack. So, let me know if you like the format.

Thanks for letting me share this early work with you. I’ve been trying to tell this story for years and I finally found the right format.