From Russia with Snubs

We sit down with billionaire Yevgeny Chichvarkin, the brains (and bankroll) behind London’s Hedonism, the over-the-top wine mecca many love to hate.

Last year, Russian cell phone magnate Yevgeny Chichvarkin, 39, opened the 10,000-square-foot Hedonism store in London’s posh and precious Mayfair neighborhood, snapping up and selling some of the most sought-after wines on the planet—Ornellaia Vendemmia d’Artista, a complete vertical of Screaming Eagle, among others—all the while hiring big-name wine heavies to walk the aisles. Whether you admire or abhor Chichvarkin’s bold strokes, there is no denying Hedonism’s Disney World-like draw for wine fans and tourists alike.

WE:  How did you first get into wine?
YC: Up to the age of 28, I drank only whiskey. Then when I first came to London I had a bottle of Rioja—the Bodegas Roda 2001 Cirsion. I wanted to share it with my wife and called around  to all the wine merchants and no one had it. I could order it, but it would take two weeks. I was amazed. I knew then I had my business. Upscale wine with luxury service.

WE: Now you’re surrounded by the best wines in the world. What do you drink on a typical evening?
YC: I prefer the New World styles, so maybe a Sine Qua Non. I love the big style, with rare steak. I have no special knowledge. Alistair Viner, our head buyer, says I have no taste at all. Like, Champagne never impresses me. I understand old Champagnes can be excellent, but I don’t understand it. I don’t understand Burgundy. I don’t understand whites. 

WE: What do you like most about the shop?
YC: I really like to spend time here. I never get tired of it. I also like the energy coming from the customers. Some recognize me and I’m always very happy to talk to them.

WE: How long did it take you to put the collection together?
YC: It took us nearly three years. It will never be complete. Some things will be impossible to replace: we sold all the Ornellaia Vendemmia d’Artista, for example. There’s no way to replace that. Sure, we may find one or two or three bottles but not the complete set.

WE: Do you have any plans to open another Hedonism?
YC: No, this is the only one in the world. London really is the only place this sort of shop can exist. There is no city in Europe with such a concentration of wealthy people.

WE: Who are your customers mostly?
YC: Half are British—from the financial sector, hedge fund managers, top executives from, various fields. About 12 percent are Russians.

WE: You say you know little about wine. What is your special skill, apart from making money?
YC: Finding the right people. I make a lot of mistakes but I believe in people and I’m quite optimistic. The longer people stay on the team, it makes it stronger. 

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