Imagine the Temple of Bacchus crossed with a sumptuous Aspen ski lodge, throw in some trippy design tweaks worthy of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and you’ll have some idea of the cru-classé act that is, certainly London’s — and possibly the world’s — most striking fine-wine emporium, occupying a sizeable chunk of prime Mayfair real estate.
A massive chandelier fashioned from 240 upended wine glasses hovers over a selection of nearly 7,000 of the planet’s most covetable wines and spirits, from a complete set of the peerless Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s 2005 Grand Crus en magnum to bottles of pre-Prohibition bourbon. Down the bespoke wrought-iron staircase, amid backlit brickwork, is a large marble tasting table where you can sample up to 40 rotating wines and champagnes from the latest hi-tech Enomatic sampling dispensers (fleecy throws are provided if you find the ambient cellar temperature a little chilly), alongside a turntable spinning a collection of vinyl albums (skewing toward woozy 1970s classics such as Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead) and an iPad-adorned children’s play area.
The presiding hedonist-in-chief is as singular as the store he’s created. Yevgeny Chichvarkin, 38, is, appropriately, a little hung over today, but his slightly abstracted air seems a perfect fit with his childlike demeanour and eccentric, day-glo appearance (unruly mullet, bottle-green sweatshirt, lemon-yellow pants). He made a fortune in the late 1990s and 2000s running Euroset, Russia’s biggest cellphone dealer — “we had about 5,000 shops right across the former Soviet Union”, he says, matter of factly — before inevitably falling out with Russian authorities and fleeing to London to avoid kidnapping charges (trumped up, he insists, and since dropped). Bored in exile and with $400 million from the sale of Euroset burning a hole in his pocket, he found salvation in a bottle — of 2001 Roda Cirsion Rioja, to be precise. Seeking the vintage for a special occasion, he telephoned the usual suspects — Justerini & Brooks, Selfridges, Harrods — only to be told that the best they could do would be to ship it to him in two weeks. “I was amazed,” he says. “That’s when I knew I’d found my business. Upscale wine with luxury service. I had found a niche not so much in the market, but above the market.”
Chichvarkin is the first to admit that his isn’t the most cultivated of palates — “I drank vodka, of course, when I was young, and even now I prefer New World wines with big, explosive tastes,” he shrugs — so he hired as head buyer the appropriately named Alistair Viner, who’d previously served the same role at Harrods for 16 years, and handed him a more or less unlimited budget to source the best bouquets that the world’s terroirs, estates, and auction houses had to offer. The result is a quirky, eclectic mix that blends the classics — the Latour goes back to 1961, the Lafite to 1949, and the Petrus to 1945, and there’s an 80-strong line-up of Yquems, along with Dom Pérignon’s first rose vintage of 1959 — with Chichvarkin’s favoured New Worlds, including an entire room devoted to the cultish Sine Qua Non, whose bottles are proffered by artist-designed wall-mounted hands fashioned after lobster claws and bear paws, and, perhaps in a wry nod to Chichvarkin’s strained relationship with his motherland, adorned with handcuffs.
Chichvarkin says he’s spent “crazy money” on the store — £2 million is a conservative estimate — but he insists that it’s a real business, not an oligarch’s plaything, and he’s determined to provide the level of service he initially found lacking in London’s rather staid wine world. His team of 12 handpicked, highly knowledgeable sales staff can extol the grape in 10 languages, including Japanese, Mandarin, Italian, French and Russian. Within an hour of ordering, orders are dispatched across the capital in one of the shop’s fleet of vans, each equipped with refrigeration units so your vintage arrives ready-chilled. “We can also send wine anywhere in the world,” says Tatiana Fokina, Hedonism’s chief executive officer, “to customers’ yachts, planes, or overseas properties.”
Those customers, says Chichvarkin, are hedge-funders, lawyers, sommeliers, tycoons and connoisseurs of every stripe; but they’re also impulse purchasers (there are 600 wines under £30 alongside those that top out at more than £100,000). He hopes to turn a profit within the next couple of years and eventually roll out the Hedonism concept in New York, Shanghai, or maybe even Moscow, “when Putin is put in prison or protesters put him on pitchforks”, he grins. In the meantime, he says, his aim is simple: to make this store “the world number-one destination for wine buffs”. Like the 2008 Sassicaias and 1995 Cheval Blancs drawing gasps from punters and bottle fondlers, it’s not hard to be amused by’s — and Chichvarkin’s — presumption.