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Andrey Filatov, Russian billionaire and owner of a chateau in the French region of Saint-Emilion, has married grand cru wine with masterpieces of Russian and Soviet art.

Lenin and Wine

«The French were shocked!» Andrey Filatov, owner of the chateau, smiles and skilfully turns the bottle resembling a stocky decanter with a short neck. Through the green glass of the container, the precious liquid is seen moving. The label depicts Lenin with a stretched out arm, looking into an armed crowd in the Smolny Palace.

«This is an author’s copy of Serov’s painting «Lenin Proclaims Soviet Power», adds Filatov. «We found it in a private collection in the Netherlands and we bought it.»

But the twist here is not in putting the image of the leader of the Russian revolution on the label of a bottle that costs a few hundred euros, but rather in the story behind the artwork itself.

Vladimir Serov, famous Soviet painter, created three versions of the painting. The first, dating from 1947, depicts Lenin surrounded by Stalin, Dzerzhinsky and Sverdlov. The painting was later offered to Mao Zedong, Chinese Communist leader (today’s owner unknown). When Khrushchev came to power, Serov painted two more versions, replacing the disgraced politicians with workers. The 1955 copy was exhibited in the Zhukovsky Museum in the Moscow suburbs, and the 1962 copy in the Tretyakov Gallery.

Under Brezhnev, the Zhukovsky copy was sold to a private collector abroad. Andrey Filatov was able to acquire it only in 2011.

French Wine with a Russian «Face»

It is thanks to Soviet art and French novels by Alexandre Dumas that we see Lenin today on the bottles of a French grand cru wine.

It all began in the mid-nineties, when Andrey Filatov, one of the 200 wealthiest Russian businessmen according to Forbes, became a fervent collector of Russian and Soviet masterpieces held abroad.

Today, his collection of Russian and Soviet art includes over 400 works by Ilya Repin, Viktor Vasnetsov, Fyodor Reshetnikov, Igor Grabar, Pyotr Konchalovsky, Aleksander Laktionov, Nicholas Roerich and others. And he has no intention of hiding his treasures.

In 2012, he established the Art Russe Foundation, aiming to raise awareness of Russian and Soviet art abroad. And he did not stop at that.

For besides painting, Andrey Filatov also loves France.

«It all started in my childhood, with the adventures of D’Artagnan, with French literature», recalls Filatov.

Driven perhaps by a combination of romantic dreams inspired by childhood books and a promising business opportunity, in 2013 he buys Chateau La Grace Dieu des Prieurs in the Bordeaux region of Saint-Emilion.

«I simply decided to make the best wine in the world», explains Filatov.

An ambitious statement, to say the least, bearing in mind that his property is next to the vineyards of the world-famous Chateau Cheval Blanc, and that the legendary Petrus is made in Pomerol, a few kilometres further.

But Filatov is unperturbed by his famous neighbourhood: to achieve his goals, he hired the best-in-class French professionals, namely Louis Mitjavile, a renowned winegrower, and Laurent Prosperi, a highly experienced manager. And made iconic Russian and Soviet paintings the «face» of his brand.

Gagarin and the Chateau

No French winegrower has yet had the bold idea of turning his château into an art space. Filatov, on the other hand, wanted to experiment. That is why he invited Jean Nouvel, famous architect, designer of the Arab World Institute in Paris and the Louvre Abu Dhabi, to rebuild the estate.

Understanding the number and types of vats and barrels he would need, Louis Mitjavile specified a series of technical requirements, creating the basis for Jean Nouvel’s work.

At first, Filatov’s French neighbours were horrified: the entire territory of Saint-Emilion is inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as a protected «cultural landscape».

«We had to obtain UNESCO’s permission in Paris », recalls Andrey Filatov. «We promised to proceed with the rebuilding project so as not to touch the historic landscape and the historic buildings therein. I explained to all those working at the estate that France and Russia have influenced each other for centuries in architecture as well as in viticulture. For example, Tsar Alexander II of Russia ordered that his favourite Cristal champagne be delivered to him in transparent bottles with a flat bottom, as opposed to traditional concave bottles. That characteristic flat bottom prevented the risk of hiding a bomb in the bottle, as the Tsar feared terrorist attacks. And such examples are numerous. In the end, we got the permission.»

Jean Nouvel, who was born and grew up not far from Saint-Emilion, recreated a traditional farmyard, where each building has a specific function in the winemaking process.

Reminiscent of a hockey puck, the large cylinder-shaped vat has become the dominant art object, its wall decorated with a fresco depicting everyday life of those who work at the chateau.

«We add a touch of modernism to create something new, while maintaining continuity of traditions», says Jean Nouvel. «The project aims to showcase each stage of the winemaking process, and with each element I sought to pay tribute to the work of winemakers, to Russian art and to French traditions.»

«Russian art» evoked by Jean Nouvel is not limited here to Russian and Soviet paintings alone. The architect’s creation activates all senses in the observer. Once inside the «puck», one has the impression to be either inside a giant kaleidoscope, or in the middle of the aurora borealis, as reflections of the multi-coloured floor intermingle constantly on polished surfaces of the vats. Suddenly, the image of Yuri Gagarin floating in space appears in the back of the building – a reproduction of Gankevitch’s painting.

«Even the Bottle Should Be a Coveted Souvenir»

We have before us three red wooden crates: Andrey chose this colour as a reference to the Soviet era. Yet there is no place for proletarian austerity in design!

Each crate contains six bottles. Their labels display reproductions of paintings by Russian and Soviet painters: «Low Marks Again» by Reshetnikov, «Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom» by Repin, «The Rape of Europa» by Serov… In two years, a total of twenty-four different labels have been produced. Another dozen will be presented soon.

«Imagine a foreigner pouring himself a glass of wine, looking at the bottle and suddenly noticing Lenin, the sickle and the hammer, or «The Epic Heroes». What will he do? Naturally, he will go on the Internet to find out more. He will do some research and he will learn about our paintings», says Filatov. «You see, I want people to want to even keep the bottle after drinking the wine. Even empty, it will continue to grab attention.»

Where does this idea come from? Is it nostalgia for the Soviet era or a calculated move by a savvy businessman? Andrey Filatov is not the first to put reproductions of paintings on wine labels. Long before him, back in 1924, Philippe de Rothschild, owner of the famous Chateau Lafite, paved the way.

The first label for his Mouton Rothschild was designed by Jean Carlu, a cubist painter. Subsequently, his bottles were decorated with reproductions of paintings and drawings of Dali, Chagall, Kandinsky, Picasso and Warhol.

But no one has ever endeavoured to introduce Russian artists under-discovered by international audiences.

«For me, this is above all a tribute to a great country. A country that had perhaps its good and bad sides, but that gave humanity many things, without which we can no longer imagine our lives. The art of that bygone era is worthy of being known. Just like a good wine is worth drinking.»

Karina Saltykova