It is hard to find among contemporary Russian émigrés a figure who is more striking, more charismatic, and more significant in the wine world than Evgeny Chichvarkin. He made a huge fortune selling cell phones in the 2000s, and then moved to the UK and created one of the best wine companies in Foggy Albion.
A talented businessman can show his talent just as well in London. Hedonism Wines is not just a well-known wine boutique, where Hollywood stars make selfies, but a complete wine trading company with over 10 years of experience in the industry. It buys up an expensive stock of en primeurs, and trades remotely with the whole world. In the last year-plus, Evgeny has opened 2 restaurants in London: the already-successful Hide and the recently-opened Hideaway.
In this interview, we tried to talk only about professional wine topics, but we could not avoid talking about the fate of Russia, about Alexei Navalny, and about Ukraine – in the context of wine culture, of course. It would be inappropriate to divert attention from this interview with a long introduction. We give the floor to the hero.
© Evgenia Basyrova
How is Hide doing? What measures have you taken to minimize losses?
Everything was fine until March. From March to July it turned bad because we were closed. When we reopened in July, gradually everything became better and better, and just as we had gotten going by October, we were closed again in November and everything became bad again. Recently we reopened again – and everything was fine again. In fact, this is all the theft of freedom.
Judging by your public statements, you think that the story with the pandemic is artificially inflated and that prohibitions around the world are unnecessary, yes?
Absolutely. You cannot encroach on freedom. You can’t prohibit a profession for any reason. A ban on a profession, the restriction of liberties for the sake of the "public good" – this is the essence of socialism.
Can you estimate as a percentage the losses of your businesses as a result of all these restrictions?
Hedonism had no losses. Yes, there was a slight slump connected with the closure of China due to the pandemic. If there had been enough Chinese buyers, this year would have been better than all the previous ones, because the proportion of British orders has grown significantly. Also damaging were the tariff wars between Europe and the United States, the so-called "Trump tariffs.” These factors should go away soon due to the vaccine in China and the US elections. Probably Biden's guys will lift all these trade bans.
Hide restaurant © Hide
You have had the coronavirus. Did everything go smoothly and without consequences for you?
I wouldn’t say that it was very easy. This was an unpleasant, long-term illness. I have been recovering my sense of smell for a very long time. For ten days it disappeared completely, and then over the course of a month it slowly returned. It took six months to recover fully. For a wine and perfume lover, this is very difficult.
You wrote on Instagram that you did not stop drinking wine and doing sports during your treatment. Do you drink a lot of wine on a daily basis?
Sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, and sometimes I don't drink at all. Wine is not cigarettes, that people smoke every day regardless of the circumstances. There are days when I do sports and live without wine. During my illness, I only skipped one day of workouts, when I had a 38-something fever.
This year at the “en primeurs,” many key chateaux reduced the prices of the 2019 vintage by 30%. Based on the report of Liv-Ex, Bordeaux is slowly losing ground on world markets, and this stopgap economic measure looks like self-protection. What do the statistics of your business say about the popularity of the top Bordeaux wines?
The en primeurs went off in different ways. Yes, they were with huge discounts – but everything that was cheaper than 200 pounds per bottle has already gone up decently, and you can buy everything over again with the profit. We do not see a slump in retail prices. There is no doubt that Bordeaux is not going anywhere. Maybe some wines that were overheated by China will sink, as these people don't travel anywhere now. Bordeaux always has support from the bottom: the second wines are in real demand. They are sold, drunk, and won’t go anywhere. We invested a seven-digit figure in Bordeaux 2019 en primeurs, and we have no doubt about it.
© Evgenia Basyrova
Your option of worldwide delivery appeared at the peak of the pandemic, didn’t it? Which countries did you get the most orders from?
At first, there were many orders from the US, but then there were tariffs ... We deliver a lot to Northern Europe: Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden. In general, we deliver to a lot of places – sometimes even to boats.
To boats? To some islands, you mean?
Well, I don't know how else to put it. Imagine a yacht, where 20 or 30 people are sailing somewhere in warm seas, isolating themselves and ordering our wines …
This is awesome! And people say that you recently visited Altai?
Yes, I love visiting Altai. Navalny and I arrived in Mongolia, changed into sheepskins and made our way to Altai. Doing this is our favorite amusement.
Your attitude towards Russia is clear, but how do you feel about Russian wine now? We asked you this question three years ago. Have you found new favorites since then?
I haven't tried anything since then. When Galitsky or Divnomorskoye find a way to distribute here, these wines will be sold in some small volumes – but since they haven’t managed it yet, we don’t have the opportunity to taste them.
© Evgenia Basyrova
Tell us, please, about the restaurant Hideaway, which you have recently opened. Is it a lighter format than Hide?
Very good, beautiful, delicious. Yes, it is quite small, there are only 26 seats. We are still making some adjustments to the menu and the presentation, but in general, everything is already working and the restaurant is almost full.
Where did the word "Hide" come from in the naming of your locations? What are you hiding from?
This is a word that any foreigner can pronounce and remember, like Sony, for example – an easy and understandable word.
You have already opened a second restaurant. It looks like the beginning of a network. Do you plan to develop your gastronomy business in London further?
We only really started to work at the end of 2019, when we finished up Hide and got it going, and a more or less loyal clientele started to gather there. It started to bring in good money, and by March it had really started moving. If not for this damn state and journalists with their scarecrows, then everything would have been fine. In our restaurant people drink wines that will never appear in Russia, not even a bottle. I am not talking primarily about prices, but rather about age and vintages. The body of people who drink these wines was long ago close to critical, and now they are fading away completely. These are the old white men who rule the world. Now they all have partially isolated themselves, but as soon as the vaccine is available and everybody calms down more or less, they will surely return. One can simply spit in the face of those who say that the world will never be the same again. Everything will be even more like it was before.
Hidaway cafe © Hidaway
You went into the wine business in 2010. Did you drink wine before? When you lived and worked in Russia, what did you drink
Yes, I drank. I started, as usual, with Bordeaux, then there were the Super-Tuscans, then all of these great American "heavy metals" ... I ran through all of them, nearly.
What have you come to now? What are your favorite styles after this experience of work with great wine?
Now I have collected all sorts of "no-names," no-longer-existing Nebbiolo wines from the 50s-60s, and I will study them. They are already translucent in color. Of course I have drunk old Mascarello wines, but I want to dig deeper. I like old Burgundy whites, some DRC from the late 80s and 90s, or early 2000's, or ... Noellat? I still don't know how to pronounce it. I love whites like this, already with such a deep color, similar to buckwheat honey.
So you love classic wines at a decent age.
Yes. Yesterday, for example, I finished off a non-vintage Laurent-Perrier from the 70s, which was like cranberry juice in color.
And what, alive?
Absolutely! That’s the point! Moreover, this bottle, apparently, was poorly stored. In the first years of its life, there were no refrigerators and it caramelized quite a bit. However, apparently it was not shaken, and it has survived to this day.
© Evgenia Basyrova
Château Latour 1961 or Sine Qua Non 2006? Latour.
Massetto 2001 or Château Pétrus 2000? Massetto.
La Landonne 1985 or Penfolds Grange 1986? Guigal.
Quinta do Noval Nacional 1931 or Château-Chalon 1960s? Noval, because we just recently sold one and it would be interesting to try it. Jura is not my acidity.
Chenin Blanc or Riesling? No to both, sorry.
Dom Pérignon or Jacques Selosse? Dom Perignon. The answer does not sound very professional, but that’s how it is.
En primeurs or Hospice de Beaune ? En primeurs – because in fact we work with en primeurs.
White truffles or black caviar? Both. Since we refused both options in one of the questions, here we will take both, because I cannot choose. I will die between caviar and white truffles, like the donkey between two haystacks, because I really love both of them.
Borsch or Chowder? Borsch.
Pro Wein or Vinitaly? Neither one nor the other. This is not our level.
Cognac or whisky? Cognac. Only that which comes from grapes.
University of Oenology in Bordeaux or Davis Institute? I don’t know.
If you now had a choice of what kind of business to do, then what would it be if not wine? Elite real estate.
What are your top 3 English wines? Not any.
Russian? It is hard to say. What I really liked, so that I finished the bottle, was Phantom. And 2012 Krasnostop from Vedernikov.
Ukrainian? There are also a couple of nice ones. Kara-Kermen from Beykush, for example. White Shabo was pretty decent. They are – like Russian wines, probably – at the beginning of a glorious path. Only unlike Russia, in Ukraine in three or four years there will be the next elections, and the country will have a chance for freedom, for stopping corruption. The probability that Ukrainian society will take advantage of this chance is growing. Unfortunately, I do not see anything like this in Russia.
© Evgenia Basyrova
Cover photo: © Evgenia Basyrova.