Little in the world of wine was more exciting than the recent news that cable giant USA Network is producing a show that may be inspired by wine forger Rudy Kurniawan. According to Variety, “Connoisseurs” will center “around Clay Park … a brilliant con artist who dupes the wealthiest, most powerful people in the country into paying millions for fake wine, but his hustle forces him into a deadly bargain with an organized crime syndicate, puts him in the cross-hairs of the FBI, and unearths the details of a tragedy that fractured his family years ago in Korea.” Attached to the show as lead is Korean-born actor John Cho, best known as Sulu in the recent Star Trek movies.
Producers deny that Rudy was the inspiration (issuing the statement, “It’s clear that this show is not based on the real life story of Rudy Kurniawan. The real Kurniawan was born in Indonesia, not Korea.”) Nevertheless, newly found documents make it clear that USA must have been exploring tv shows featuring Kurniawan-inspired characters for a while. The documents, rescued intact from stacks destined for the shredder, were made public last week. Below are concepts that were clearly rejected for one reason or another.
The Ducs of Burgundy: Brothers Rudy (John Cho) and Luc Duc are wine hustlers in Burgundy County, Louisiana. They drive around in a custom-fitted red Tesla— the General Leroy—hustling rich wine buyers with their country concoctions. All the while, they barely elude the snorting, stomping French expat Boss Frogg, commissioner of Burgundy County. The fake wines are expertly blended by their overall-clad uncle, while their short-shorts wearing sister Rose, a local sommelier, can always be relied upon to distract the police with a little sex appeal as well as free-flowing glasses of forged wines. This action-packed series features lots of fast paced chases, hilarious wine scams, and slow-motion spraying of Champagne over Rose. Many episodes end with Boss Frog screaming, “They got away again! But at least we got the 1945 Mouton.” With a wink at his deputy, Frogg uncorks a bottle to make sure it’s the real deal. Dagnamit! Two Buck Chuck again! (Spit take, roll credits.)
Faking Bad: John Cho plays Walter Blanc, whose career as a brilliant cult winemaker in Napa Valley fell apart after a dispute with a greedy vintner. Exiled, Blanc ends up at a backwater wine college in dusty Eastern Washington, teaching wine to indifferent farmers who have planted wine grapes in their former wheat fields. Blanc’s life is a disaster—he can’t pay the bills and is diagnosed with a serious sulfite allergy. Enter Jesse Drinkman, a local sommelier and former student, who Blanc one day observes duping some customers who ordered 1961 Haut Brion with fake wine. After confronting Drinkman, Blanc says he wants in on the scam, but insists on doing it right. From various locations, including a garage, a trailer, and even a custom crush facility, Blanc brings his expertise to creating new bottles of legendary old wines that even experts have a hard time authenticating. In wine cellars across the country, rumor gets out about a mysterious mastermind known only as Kaiserberg. Tense drama ensues as the pair of forgers find themselves navigating an increasingly dangerous world, pursued at every turn by adversaries, including crusading master of wine, Maureen Frowney and vengeful hacker Don Cornas.
Winos: Pablo Echezeaux is a humble vigneron of the Hautes Côtes de Bourgogne. Every day he looks down at the vineyards of Vosne-Romanee, seething with envy about the fine lives those privileged, aristocratic producers have. At some point, he gets the idea that he can blend his own inferior wine with older stuff from the local villages and pass it off to hungry American auction houses as DRC or Leroy. Soon the Americans can’t get enough! Echezeaux expands production, creating huge outdoor bottling facilities in the middle of remote vineyards and ruthlessly dealing with rivals, who include gray marketeers and negociants. As the Feds try to shut him down, Echezeaux must find increasingly creative ways to smuggle his fake wine into the US. He grows rich and, with shocking ease, is invited into Burgundian high society. Here he is at lunch with Jean-Charles Boisset. There he is in photo ops with Burghound. All the while, the village of Vosne-Romanée is turning into one of the most violent places in the Côte de Nuits. Vineyard workers find a severed head in Richebourg. A white van burns on the Route de Grands Crus. Meanwhile, special agents begin to close in.
Rudy Donovan: Rudy Donovan (Jason Cho) is wine ‘fixer.’ When Hollywood’s elite needs that fancy bottle, he is on call, and somehow always comes to the rescue with the perfect wine. While Rudy is clothed in a certain hardboiled glamour, he has a darkly criminal past, and no one knows exactly where he gets all this old wine. His two brothers, one an alcoholic sommelier and the other a washed-up wine writer, alternately complicate and animate his life. It’s all copacetic, however, until Rudy’s father, Hardy Rodenstock, just released from 20 yrs of hard time comes to town to get in on the action.
The Trellis: Set in gritty Lompoc ghetto, a Rudy-led gang of wine forgers battle against other gangs for control over the fake wine trade, while the well-meaning but dysfunctional Lompoc PD struggles to bring them to justice. Honest wine ghetto winemakers struggle to keep their nobility amid a growing epidemic of fake Pinot Noir and wanton violence.
Orange is the New Rosé: This show takes place inside the maximum security prison for wine criminals, including Rudy (Jason Cho). Watch as the characters navigate the complicated, dangerous environment of a wine prison block, trying desperately to survive, much less make parole. See them navigate the turf war being waged by the ruthless prison gangs—Special Club, IPOB, VDP—while at the same time fermenting fruit cocktail into fake Sauternes, selling fraudulent wine futures, and pairing cellblock hooch with prison food.