The Wine Show: Episode 11
Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys star in this series about the stories behind some of the world’s most fascinating wines. In their villa HQ in the Italian hills they turn the tables on wine expert Joe Fattorini and send him off to find a wine that breaks all the rules. He heads to the beautiful city of Orvieto and meets a winemaker who’s making a cool climate pinot noir in Lazio. Chef Stephen Harris shares his love of red burgundy and creates a simple dish to complement it. Matt and Matt are challenged to tell the difference between a £120 bottle of French wine and one from Spain that costs just £10 as The Wine Show looks into wine fraud and the story of Rudi Kurniawan, the most famous wine criminal in history. And Joe meets the matriarchs at the Township Winery in Cape Town doing everything they can to create a legacy for their children.
The Township and the Terroir
A few people asked why we didn’t visit Champagne in this series of The Wine Show. There the vineyards lie over a pristine piece of limestone. Young locals are schooled in vine-growing so they can join the wine business as adults. And it has its surprising quirks too. Like the many powerful women who have influenced, and continue to influence the region. The Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. Today Carol Duval-Leroy.
But instead we went to the Philippi Township. Couldn’t be more different you might think. Yet here is a cool-climate wine region (you can feel it whipping in from the Southern Ocean) sitting on a pristine piece of limestone. The single largest limestone terroir in South Africa. Dotted among the houses in the packed streets of Philippi are patches of green. The only patches of green. Each one is a Sauvignon Blanc vine. You children are taught how to tend them. Perhaps one day to grow up and become winemakers in South Africa’s globally-important wine business. When they do they’ll know who to thank. The Matriarchs. A remarkable group of women who control life on the Township. Who clip errant ears. And offer friendly ones. And who are at the heart of a remarkable project.
This is a project in its infancy. Three vines per house. Each one lovingly tended by their owner. I’ve seen winemakers who claim to lovingly tend their vines in the past. But few who kiss them each night as they go to bed. And after visiting, it’s easier to understand why. The Township Winery is part of a much wider social project. A project to move people out of rattling tin shacks that bake in the summer and freeze in the winter. To create jobs and opportunity for young people. But also to introduce some greenery. Something many of us take for granted. But here in a township as large as a provincial city, there was nothing. Just dust and dirt. But tucked in peoples’ houses were vines. And along the road is a beautiful display of plants.
When you see Township Winery Sauvignon Blanc, buy a bottle. It’s lovely and delicious. That’s why you should buy it. It also just happens to be probably the most important bottle of wine you’ll ever spend your money on.
Hamilton Russell Chardonnay Vineyards Hemel-en-Aarde 2014
A wine that changed South Africa. Not just for being one of the first to be globally recognised as one of the great wines of the world. Anthony Hamilton-Russell and his family are steeped in radical politics and were pioneers in creating a post-Apartheid, equitable wine industry. Drink like a fine burgundy with white meats and firm-fleshed fish to complement the pear and citrus fruit and fine oak.
Wine fraud is a hot topic in the world of wine. In the same way as handbags, perfumes and DVDs are copied all over the world, wine is a highly lucrative product meaning someone somewhere will try to fake it.
There have been reports of wine fraud at the lower end of the market and this is something over which reputable retailers, winemakers and distributors exercising increased vigilance. But it is at the Fine Wine end of the business that there has been some seismic events in recent years.
When The Wine Show decided to look at this story, there was one case which particularly intrigued the production team: the US case of a young Indonesian man of Chinese heritage called Rudi Kurniawan. At first glance it looks like a case of “clever young man finds easy way to defraud very rich people by selling them fake wine”: a straight case of thief bad/ victim good. But as with most things, once the surface is scratched, many more layers of the story emerge.
By the time we came to tell the story Kurniawan had been found guilty and was in prison which meant we would not be able to talk to him directly. Added to that handicap we only had very limited on-screen time to try and distill the essence of Kurniawan’s fraud and its impact. But it was important that we gave Rudi a ‘voice’ in some way in the film. So we decided to use the letter he wrote to the judge in his case before he was sentenced. You can read the text of the letter in full here, and I hope you can see why we felt it was such a powerful framework around which to tell his story. Hopefully by using it we managed inject a little nuance into that ‘thief bad/victim good’ paradigm.
As well as Rudi, we feature three people all of who have a different point of view on the case. Maureen Downey advised the FBI on their investigation. She is a highly regarded wine expert in her own right and is a passionate advocate for winemakers and fierce critic of those that enable wine fraud whether by commission or omission.
Jerome Mooney is Rudi Kurniawan’s lawyer. He does not dispute Rudi’s guilt of the crime. But is less sure that the scale of the deception, as presented by the prosecution, is accurate. He also asks us to think about whether the sentence Rudi was given is fair.
Then we have James Grandison. He bought wine that was faked by Kurniawan. It would have been tempting to interview someone like Bill Koch who has famously and zealously pursued wine fraudsters including Kurniawan. As one of the richest men in the USA Mr Koch has spent millions of dollars on his mission. James Grandison will be the first to tell you, he is no Bill Koch. A theology teacher from Berkley, California he is an enthusiastic amateur wine investor who spent $5,000 on fake wine at auction. Although he had the money returned to him by the auctioneers, he feels understandably angry at what has happened to him.
We sought to make a film that would shine a small light on a huge subject and I hope that we made something that is thought provoking, illuminating and balanced.
Make no mistake. What Rudi Kurniawan did was wrong and he caused a lot of trouble for a lot of people.
And for that he’s paying a very, very steep price.
Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
‘Lucky Vasse’ is the translation of this wine, named in honour of a drowned seaman with a legendary tale. Vasse Felix has its own tale, a pioneer in Western Australia, and now famed for some of the finest wines. This shows the estate’s noted bay leaf character over tight-knit currant, eucalypt and oak. But don’t drink it today. Enjoy it in 5, 10, 15 years with venison or a piece of top-quality fillet steak.
THE WINE SHOW CASE – Challenge ELEVEN
So now the tables are turned. Matt and Matt are back at the villa, and I have to find two wines that represent the rule-breaking spirit of Italian winemaking.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a joyous approach to rules. And not just limited to wine. When Mr Lamborghini saw the beautiful cars that his friend made up the road, he decided that he’s break the ‘rule’ that said tractormakers don’t make supercars. And when Chianti Classico producers saw the beautiful wines that people made with Cabernet Sauvignon in the rest of the world, they decided to break the ‘rule’ that said they could only make Chianti Classico. And thus was born the Lamborghini, and the SuperTuscan.
I’m on the hunt for two. Orvieto has its rules. But rather like Signor Lamborgini, local winemakers spied something special under the bonnet of their tractor-like Orvieto wines. Like a wonderful (if temperamental) piece of engineering, they spotted Grechetto. So I head off to find a single variety version. It’s honey and citrus, slightly nutty and wonderful with food. I’m sure it takes a bit of work to make it this good, but you don’t get Lamborghinis off an automated production line do you?
But what came next was even more remarkable. Pinot Noir’s rules are simple and rigid. It comes from cool-climate regions like Burgundy, Champagne and Alsace. Not Lazio. And it’s fermented in factory-like wineries or small barns dedicated to their task. Not a bizarre cross between a winery and a library. Yet Paolo and and Noemia d’Amico and their winery team trust the terroir. So much so they broke the rules. The volcanicly-boiled limestone gives nerve and freshness to their Pinot Noir. It shouldn’t work. But it does.
Ladies and Gentlemen, two rule-breaking wines from Italy. But which will Matt and Matt choose?
Falesco Grechetto Dell Umbria 2013
If you’ve not heard of Grechetto, remember that name. It’s the ‘interesting’ part of Orvieto, but was diluted out by other less distinguished grapes. Now it’s getting the spotlight for its nutty, ripe citrus and floral notes. Great with richer white meat pasta dishes and flavoursome paella, it has more interest than much Chardonnay, more food friendly character than Sauvignon or Pinot Grigio.