Blog #87: Sour Grapes

Blog #87: Sour Grapes

Right now I'm drinking some açaí juice from the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. It's dark purple. The color is similar to what you would see in a glass of red Zinfandel. The taste, of course, is a different story. The blended açaí berries are sweet, whereas the fermented Zinfandel grapes are sharpened by alcohol and laced with bitterness.

The tongue absorbs each fluid differently. When wine is drunk, the tongue and throat contort in a subtle, peculiar way. It's a slightly repulsive reaction. With fresh, sweet juice, that kind of contortion doesn't really happen. The pure liquid glides down with less resistance.

In regards to finance, there are single bottles of rare wine that sell for six figures. No joke. Their value exceeds what the vast majority of people make in a year. Doesn't it seem absurd that we can place more worth on a single bottle of rotten fruit than on thousands of hours of labor exerted by a human being? It reminds me of the saying: "We should love people and use things, not love things and use people."

But life is full of absurdity. It's the cosmic joke, the divine play.

Recently I watched the documentary Sour Grapes, which chronicles the rise and fall of Rudy Kurniawan, a brilliant con artist who defrauded wine connoisseurs of millions of dollars. Through the use of forged labeling, re-mixed concoctions, and lots of amiable charm, Kurniawin fooled auction houses, investors, and private buyers around the world. His sophisticated sleight of hand is pretty impressive, actually, and the comedic drama surrounding his story offers some prime material for self-inquiry  into how the human psyche deals with truth and falsehood, fact and fiction.

On the note of self-inquiry, Yogani has posited that the two most important questions a person can ask are: 1) Who am I?, and 2) What am I doing here?

The first question points to a sense of identity, the second to a sense of purpose.

So, who is Rudy Kurniawan, and what is he doing here? Well, as we all know, these intimate questions can only be answered on a deep level by Rudy himself, but since Rudy is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence and not responding to any requests from journalists, I will take this opportunity to use his enigmatic figure as a mirror to my own self, thereby blending our identities and purposes like varietals from the vineyards of the vast wine country.

First, let me say that part of me very much admires Rudy, in the same way I admire anti-heroes in caper movies (like Paul Newman and Robert Redford in The Sting). When a crime is committed with a high level of intelligence and artistry, there's something mischievously beautiful about how the scheme unfolds. In Rudy's case, he pulled off the scheme right under the noses and palates of a tremendously wealthy, and often pretentious, sector of society. There is a hint of the Robin Hood archetype in his thievery—robbing from the rich...though not really giving back to the poor.

By all accounts, Rudy's own palate was exceptional, and he was consistently accurate in identifying and appraising varietals from many cellars, especially those from Burgundy, France. His natural talent and aptitude were necessary tools in deceiving the industry. After all, to outsmart a game, one must first master it.

My days of drinking wine are over, but I still have an appreciation for characters like Rudy, who make us question the status quo. Is Rudy a fraud, or is the whole wine industry fraudulent in itself? Are they fooling themselves by feeding off the intoxicating effects of sour grapes?

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not a reformed whore. I'm not anti-wine. I'm just wondering...what's the real truth here?

And maybe the more important question I should be asking myself is: What fraudulent tendencies still remain in me? That's self-inquiry...released in stillness.

The higher power is in us.

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