Patience, boundless dedication, a dream team and a long-term vision – Chateau La Grace Dieu des Prieurs appears to be the sum of all that. It is a winery in Saint-Emilion unlike any other. For some time now, it has been making quite a splash in Bordeaux, with its bold juxtaposition of fine art, wine, design and chess. Forbes set out to discover this Russian utopia, which has taken root in the Girondin soil. An oenophile favourite.
This resolutely atypical place could only be imagined by a sagacious, avant-garde visionary. Others may even say whimsical. Andrei Filatov, successful entrepreneur, lover of art and wine, President of the Russian Chess Federation, brought his passions together in a single project after acquiring this estate in the most illustrious part of the Gironde region. This man of taste took his time to find an anchor point in the Holy of Holies. His wine project is by no means a billionaire’s whim – in his quest for self-reinvention, the Russian Francophile has always been inhabited by the desire to produce “the best wine in the world”. His idea? Bring together the grandeur of Russian art and the excellence of French grand cru winemaking against the backdrop of an epicurean East / West dialogue.
From one country to another, from one culture to another, two worlds come together to bolster and enrich one another in a generous marriage. The pretext was found thanks to the precious elixir that is wine, a symbolic nectar serving here as a perfect connecting link. In this 9-hectare property acquired in 2013, two universes intertwine melodiously, creating a fertile ground for aesthetic discourse.
To interconnect art and the traditions of winemaking, Andrei Filatov surrounded himself with the best available talents. Thus, he convinced the native Louis Mitjavile to bring his knowledge of the vine to the estate made up of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Coming from a renowned lineage, this prestigious consultant is a sign that says a lot about the level of ambition at Chateau La Grace Dieu des Prieurs. Leaning towards sustainable agriculture, the Russian also called on the expertise of the leading vine and wine technologist Pedro Ruiz to introduce a production culture in accordance with seasonality.
This seasoned duo works together under the leadership of Laurent Prosperi, the charismatic director of the estate, who, assisted by his polyglot spouse Rada Vangheli, has the delicate mission of conquering Saint-Emilion and the world. Laurent Prosperi can already be proud to count among his Michelin-starred ambassadors a certain Yannick Alléno, a chef who needs no introduction. In barely three vintages (2014, 2015 and 2016), La Grace Dieu des Prieurs – Saint-Emilion Grand Cru has already found itself flirting with some of the world’s best restaurants, thanks to the Alléno galaxy that stretches from Seoul to Saint-Tropez. “It’s only the beginning, says the chateau director. We are working relentlessly to make our wines known by giving them a style and representation shaped by their vintage. It is important for us that our wines reflect the flavour of their time and the underlying annual work”.
Another chateau heavyweight is the architect Jean Nouvel, who joined the project of the entrepreneur and patron of the arts Andrei Filatov without hesitation. The designer imagined a unique architectural ensemble where each building is an art object in its own right. The Bordeaux House, the Vat, the Cellar, the Belvedere and the Fort: each structure combines the latest technologies, a modern design and a great respect for the centuries-old architectural heritage. What a technical challenge to respect such a triptych! Jean Nouvel thus serves us as the vat room and cellar a unique building in the form of a glass and concrete cylinder. Inside, polished stainless-steel vats were installed to ensure proper fermentation and blending; outside, the cylinder becomes a cyclorama carrying an allegorical fresco on work in the vineyard.
At the express request of the owner, the winner of the Pritzker Prize for Architecture has created an anamorphic artwork in which Yuri Gagarin can be distinguished in weightlessness, in a play of shimmering colours reflected on the vats, serving an allegory of space-time travel. The predominant red is conceived as a reverence to Soviet history. Andrei Filatov is a great admirer of his illustrious compatriot, the first human in space. The aesthetic experience culminates with another sensory discovery, this time in the cellar. Here, the wines age lulled by music from the Russian classical repertoire! How truly wonderful!
Let us also dwell on the Fort, an exceptional place in many ways, embodying the chemistry between the two epicurean spirits. Andrei Filatov wanted to make this outbuilding, planted in the middle of the vineyard, a continuum of his quest to celebrate the work of winegrowers and grape pickers, while at the same time raising awareness of Soviet and Russian art. According to that roadmap, Jean Nouvel designed a true architectural gem finished with noble materials and adorned with spectacular works of art like this bronze sculpture from Mongolia. The powerful royal hunting scene conveys the customs of an ancestral people, which touch us with their elegance.
Our eye is also caught by the reflective bay window with superimposed glass panels: its mirror effect reveals an incredible landscape fresco in homage to the vine. There are only two Nouvel-signed creations in this style in the world, one of them in New York. A sumptuous piano and a chess set complete the decoration of this jewel of a manor house. It is at the Fort that the Russian benefactor enjoys meeting with his friends when he is passing through his Saint-Emilion lands.
To spread his unconditional love of Russian art, Andrei Filatov has chosen to break the unspoken rules by drawing inspiration from 250-year-old bottles. These bottles with more generous surfaces are perfect for affixing art labels. The Art Russe Foundation grants the estate the right to use twelve reproductions of masterpieces of Russian art from its collection to adorn each of the chateau vintages. The London-based Foundation owns one of the largest private collections of Russian art in the world, many paintings from which have rarely been seen by international audiences.
Speaking of his compatriots – artists whose talent never managed to break through the Iron Curtain in the past, Andrei Filatov explains to us “wanting to tell the story of the great works of Russian art, and of their creators, in different countries of the world. Throughout the century, generations of exceptional painters worked in Russia, each with colossal academic knowledge and unique individual gift. The greatness and talent of those artists underline the status of French winemaking, which is a true art form in itself”.
The Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2018 therefore honours artists such as Arkady Plastov, Aristarkh Lentulov, Tahir Salahov, Tatiana Yablonskaya, Pyotr Ossovsky, Victor Ivanov, Nikolai Baskakov, Alexander Gerasimov, Nikolai Fechin and the Tkachev brothers. Their paintings illustrate the daily life of men and women in the Soviet era.
The owner’s tour also reveals the production of white wine launched in 2019 on a 1-hectare plot. This Chardonnays from a grape variety atypical for the region is intended for charitable purposes and will be bottled in magnums only.
The visitor of this multifunctional chateau witnesses the birth of an exceptional wine on the way to burst into the big leagues. The captain and coach of the Russian national chess team Andrei Filatov has managed a masterstroke in Saint-Emilion, which inevitably brings us to the question about the influence of this noble game in his daily life: “Chess is part of my life. I’ve been attached to it since I was a child, and of course, chess has taught me a lot. But most importantly, it gave me an interesting life, a wonderful social circle and a fascinating job”.
By Sabah Kemel Kaddouri
Head of Lifestyle Section – Web & Print (Business, Entrepreneurs, Tech, Luxury and Lifestyle sections)
Forbes France Journalist