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Silvio Denz: «I wanted to grow the French style of living well, savoir-vivre, with the French style of doing things well, savoir-faire»

Our exclusive interview with Silvio Denz – the owner of The House of Lalique and several French and Spanish stellar wineries.


D+: Last year The House of Lalique celebrated 130th anniversary. What events or releases were held in honor to this special occasion?

Silvio Denz: For the 130th anniversary of Lalique that we celebrated in 2018, we have created several pieces in limited edition of 130 pieces on the theme of the swallow, iconic motif of the brand: the vase ‘‘Hirondelles’’ stamped with gold, the fragrance Mon Premier Cristal Hirondelles and a scented candle in sapphire blue crystal and enamelled platinum. I have always considered Lalique to be a timeless lifestyle brand, and since I bought the company in 2008, I wanted to grow the ‘‘art of living’’ positioning by marrying the French style of living well, savoir-vivre, with the French style of doing things well, savoir-faire, through six core pillars: decorative items, fragrances, jewels, interior design, art and now hospitality, which has been a new business area for Lalique since 2015. We highlight Lalique’s values, these being our know-how, our quest of excellence and also the rich artistic heritage that we inherited from Rene Lalique and that inspires us in our contemporary collections.


I have always considered Lalique to be a timeless lifestyle brand, and since I bought the company in 2008, I wanted to grow the ‘‘art of living’’ positioning by marrying the French style of living well, savoir-vivre, with the French style of doing things well, savoir-faire, through six core pillars: decorative items, fragrances, jewels, interior design, art and now hospitality, which has been a new business area for Lalique since 2015.


D+: Speaking of Lalique, of course, we cannot overlook the 2013 vintage of your Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey, which had a special bottle with one of Rene Lalique’s exquisite engravings – Femme et Raisins. Is it true that this is a fragment of the famous panel ’’Figures and Vines’’ in a dining car of the Cote d’Azur – Pullman Express train? Are you planning anything else in a similar vein for releases created in your chateau?

S.D.: Yes indeed, Rene created in 1929 the ‘‘Femme et Raisins’’ (the woman and the grapes) glass panels for the dining car of the legendary Cote d’Azur Pullmann Express train, a creation inspired by themes dear to the heart of this Art Nouveau master. And we decided to feature this pattern on the Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey bottle since the 2013 vintage. Also unique crystal pieces were created especially for Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey, combining the worlds of wine and crystal: vine leaf, Semillon grape, cork, plug, case of wine, a spectacular jeroboam and the delicate drops of gold, whose colour recalls molten crystal and sweet wine. And last but not least, a unique Lalique barrel, in glass and crystal, which has leather straps and is engraved with the famous ‘‘Femme et Raisins’’ motif created by Rene Lalique in 1928. The finesse of crystal pays homage to the golden wine.


Barriks

D+: Sommeliers recommend serving Sauterne Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2013 with an appropriate accompaniment: scallops, lobsters, high quality cheeses. What are some of your favorite food pairings for this wine?

S.D.: 2013 was an exceptional vintage for Sauternes and Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2013 is no exception. It is an explosion of exotic fruits with a hint of caramel. I think this wine is perfect to enjoy with a dish called “Emotion of Lafaurie” and created by Jerome Schilling, chef of the Restaurant LALIQUE at Chateau LafauriePeyraguey. It consists of qince, Salers cheese, coppercoloured angelica jus and red honeycomb – it does great justice to the depth and elegance of this vintage. Two things you will only find in a Premier Grand Cru Classe.


And last but not least, a unique Lalique barrel, in glass and crystal, which has leather straps and is engraved with the famous ‘‘Femme et Raisins’’ motif created by Rene Lalique in 1928. The finesse of crystal pays homage to the golden wine.


Сильвио Денц

D+: In 2011, in Wingen-sur-Moder, at a villa that once belonged to Rene Lalique, the Museum Lalique was opened. Among the many exhibited masterpieces there are bottles created by Rene Lalique, whose father, as we know, was a wine merchant dealing such brands as Macallan, Hardy, Patron. Do you have any plans to continue the production of premium bottles for other alcohol brands? If so, can you tell us more about the design and brands?

S.D.: Each year we launch unique or limited edition bottles, in collaboration with high end spirits brands. For over 15 years, Lalique has designed and produced spectacular decanters for The Macallan famous whisky, achieving several record prices at auctions in Hong Kong and New York. Recently, we created a collection of six decanters for Niepoort Port wine house. The “Niepoort in Lalique 1863” decanter, the first one of the series, was sold at auction in Hong Kong in November 2018 at the price of HK $992,000 (approximately EUR 111,000), which achieved a world record of the most expensive Port wine sold at auction. Lalique will indeed continue to develop partnerships with high end brands with a view to create unusual bottles, thus benefitting from the expertise and savoir-faire of the two partners working together.


D+: In 2015 Lalique S.A. announced an expansion of its activity for a hotel food sector and hospitality sector. It can be assumed that the company had embodied its ideals at the Villa in Wingen-sur-Moder, where a luxury hotel with a gastronomic restaurant is run under the auspices of the chef Jean-Georges Klein. Could you please tell us more about this project?

S.D.: With the Villa built by Rene Lalique in 1920, I wanted to take the home of Rene Lalique to honour him and his work while at the same time, create a living Showroom for the Lalique brand today, highlighting the interior design, architecture, decorative objects and art categories. Therefore we renovated the Villa which has reinvented itself and taken on a new lease of life since its opening in September 2015. It has become the sumptuous setting for a five-star hotel with six suites and a gourmet restaurant, which was awarded two stars by the Guide Michelin three months only after its opening, thanks to the immense talent and involvement of Chef Jean-Georges Klein and his team. And the same year Villa Rene Lalique became a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux collection.


Bottles

D+: The villa storage has a collection of 12,000 bottles. Could you name five of them which, in your opinion, are the most valuable, and what is their price today? And can you suggest to those who are going to have dinner at the restaurant some of the most interesting samples from its wine list (perhaps in pairing with the most outstanding Chef’s dish)?

S.D.: Here are five of the ‘‘treasures’’ of the restaurant menu: – Sauternes Chateau d’Yquem 1865 at 28,000 Euros – Sauternes Chateau Lafaurie Peyraguey 1920 at 1,800 Euros – Alsace Gewurztraminer Clos Zisser Klipfel 1943 at 900 Euros – Romanee Conti 1989 at 10,000 Euros – Napa Valley Screaming Eagle 1992 at 10,000 Euros. And here are three wines, among others, that are interesting in food and wine pairing: Sancerre Grand Chemarin Vincent Pinard 2014 a EUR 120 perfectly goes with the following dish: char slowly candied, almonds, vinaigrette of buds of spruce. Saint Emilion GC Chateau Peby Faugeres 2000 with the roe deer of our regions, sun artichokes cheesecake, pear, reduced jus with an infusion of fermented lemon. Alsace Grand Cru Brand Riesling Josmeyer 2014 with the gold caviar, seriola tartare with creamy celeriac, buckwheat blinis.


team

D+: Story goes that your passion for wine takes roots from the wine companies that you owned. Which winery you bought first and under what circumstances? Why did you decide then that it was the very hour and the very object? What is it`s fate?

S.D.: In the mid-1990s, I diversified my activities and became a co-founder of ‘Les Grands Vins Wermuth’, a wine merchant in Zurich. Following a demerger, one part of this company became ‘Denz Weine’. Wanting to get involved in wine production, in 1998 I formed a partnership to acquire ‘Clos d’Agon’. Responsibility for running this Costa Brava vineyard was entrusted to winemaker Peter Sisseck.

In 2005, I invested in Bordeaux by acquiring the estates Chateau Faugeres, Chateau Peby Faugeres and Chateau Cap de Faugeres. My passion then took me to Italy. In partnership with Fabio Chiarelotto, since 2007 I have been making four wines as powerful as they are precise at Montepeloso estate in the Tuscan valleys. In 2010, Chateau Rocheyron in Saint-Emilion – purchased with Peter Sisseck – joined Vignobles Silvio Denz. Four years later, Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey – one of the oldest estates in Sauternes – rounded off this collection of vineyards as part of the company Art & Terroir.


Bouteille

D+: Which enologist do you work with?

S.D.: I worked with the support of Michel Rolland, who has been the estate’s consultant oenologist since 1992, allow it to strive for perfection vintage after vintage.


Денц

 


We highlight Lalique’s values, these being our know-how, our quest of excellence and also the rich artistic heritage that we inherited from Rene Lalique and that inspires us in our contemporary collections.


D+: In March 2005, you purchased simultaneously three wineries in Bordeaux: Chateau Faugeres, Chateau Peby Faugeres (AOC Saint-Emilion Grand Cru), and Chateau Cap de Faugeres (AOC Cotes de Castillon). Did you foresee then that in June 2015 Robert Parker would give a hundred points to the 2005 Peby Faugeres vintage?! If it’s not a secret, how did you select these chateaux for the purchase then and how did you work on creating such a wine?

S.D.: The red jewel in the Vignobles Silvio Denz crown, Peby Faugeres was created in 1998 in tribute to the estate’s former owner Pierre-Bernard Guisez, whose nickname it has adopted. Made up of Faugeres best Merlot plots, this vineyard occupies a single piece of land on the ancient soils of the Saint-Emilion limestone-clay plateau and was soon recognised as a wine in its own right. Quickly rising to become one of the greats, its 2000 vintage (christened ‘Legend of the Future’) was named one of the top 24 wines in Bordeaux by Robert Parker, who then awarded it the perfect score of 100/100 in 2005 in his magazine ‘Wine Advocate’. Born of a unique terroir, Peby Faugeres is also the expression of an ongoing quest for perfection both at the vines and in the winery, where it benefits from the expertise of oenologist Michel Rolland. In addition to the demanding standards shared with the others Vignobles Silvio Denz estates, this Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classe also nurtures rarity: every year, the harvest undergoes a rigorous selection which only permits small-scale production of 18 hectolitres per hectare.


Silvio Denz

D+: People say that it is an exemplary wine storehouse where all modern requirements were made? How is this cellar different from others?

S.D.: I put my enthusiasm and taste for excellence at work in the estates I acquired. Nothing is left to chance in the running of these estates, which are committed to the ongoing pursuit of perfection using the most natural possible practices in accordance with ECOPASS ISO 14001 certification. Every detail matters and contributes to the wines’ unique expression. Reading a terroir, expert advice, watchful care, modernising equipment, combining traditional practices with more innovative technologies – every effort is made to enable the plots of land to express their abundant potential to the full. I try to blend these talents and combine my passions to bring these developments to fruition. The art of winemaking, architecture, traditional expertise and cutting-edge infrastructure are all put to use to achieve the best possible interpretation of these vineyards. Tasting notes and scores have demonstrated the quality of the wines from one vintage to the next. In 2012, seven years after they were acquired, Chateau Peby Faugeres and Chateau Faugeres became SaintEmilion Grands Crus Classes.


D+: Could you please tell us about the collaboration with the architect Mario Botta to create a wine cellar in Chateau Faugeres. The say it is an exemplary storehouse for wine where all modern requirements are met. How is this cellar different from others?

S.D.: As well as being a remarkable work of architecture, the winery is also a technological tool designed for cutting-edge winemaking. As a true temple of wine, its excellent facilities (in particular its gravity-fed vat house) paired with the support of Michel Rolland, the estate’s consultant oenologist, allow it to strive for perfection vintage after vintage.

Our exclusive interview with Silvio Denz – the owner of The House of Lalique and several French and Spanish stellar wineries. D+: Last year The House of Lalique celebrated 130th anniversary. What events or releases were held in honor to this special occasion? Silvio Denz: For the 130th anniversary of Lalique that we celebrated in […]

Gerard Basset: «The whole life is a search of knowledge. And the more knowledge you get, the hungrier for it you become…»

Today, leading wine brands increasingly often invite globally recognized experts to participate in their projects. An evidence of this trend is the October visit of Gerard Basset, one of the most renowned wine gurus, to the Ukrainian capital. At the presentation of “Tamada” TM for Kyiv professionals the maitre combined Georgian wines and European cuisine with enogastronomic ties. Gerard told D+ about this experience and many other things.


Drinks+: Gerard, you are one of the most experienced and award-winning wine expert in the world, and a holder of the title of Master Sommelier (1989). Tell us, please, how your career started, and how you became a Master of Wine – we have heard that is completing this program is a big challenge. Can you say more about this qualification? And how did you get a Wine MBA in 2007?

Gerard Basset: To be honest, I have never had an objective to become a sommelier. But one football match changed everything. I once came to England to support my favorite team, and I fell in love with this country so much that I decided to stay. I needed a job, of course, and I started as a waiter at one of local restaurants. This business became my passion, and when I returned to France for some time, and decided to learn cooking. I completed different training courses, from waiter to chef. But, frankly speaking, I never planned to become a chef. This was followed by a sommelier training course which I took to get new knowledge.

However, already at that time I understood that I did not want to be a restaurant manager, but I wanted to be a sommelier. Why I decided to qualify in different areas? Probably, just because I like learning as a process. Exams, contests and preparations to them are the best part of it. The whole life is a constant search of knowledge. And the more knowledge you get, the hungrier for it you become. Becoming a Master Sommelier – or, in principle, becoming the best in your sphere – requires a lot of effort.

First of all, you need to improve your level of education, which means a lot of reading, showing interest to new things, and a lot of practice. To get the Master of Wine degree, you will need to write an assay, in addition to other things. This is followed by technical part. For example, the tasting process for the Master of Wine is different from, let’s say, the Master Sommelier’s. You will need to describe the wine in more details, including the region, and to provide a good explanation in your answer.

The title of Master of Wine is highly respected in the UK. Wine experts will perceive you in a totally different way. I gained my MBA qualification at a management school in Bordeaux, where I wrote a thesis on the wine list. I was running my own business at that time, and this experience proved to be very useful. We were learning to understand the principles which guests follow when they choose the wine, and how the specific wine list may impact the guest’s choice. We took a small restaurant and filled its wine list with 90 positions. It contained everything but information about the wines. People started asking about such criteria as style and food compatibility, and then the geography.


D+: We have a different story here in Ukraine. Sometimes it is difficult to persuade guests to try a wine produced by the manufacturer they don’t know, as an alternative to a famous brand. This is why some sommeliers, if they want to draw attention to other wines that are not any worse, simply remove the “celebrity” positions from the wine list.

G.B.: The point is that new wines should be offered to guests by glass. It does not make any sense to pay $100 per bottle when you are not sure if the bottle’s contents meet your expectations. Unfortunately, it is not always possible.


D+: Which steps do you take for further development of your profession?

G.B.: It is a range of steps that includes reading industry journals and books, wine atlases, and visiting wine-tasting events and wineries. One of the books that have recently impressed me is ”The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty”. This is a real story of a wine triumph of Californian wine-makers of Italian descent in the Napa Valley and competition between their children. The book is written by Julia Flynn Siler and is highly recommended.


D+: Thank you for this recommendation. Gerard, in 2010 you won the Catey Award, an equivalent of an Oscar in catering industry. Please tell us about this nomination. And, in principle, do all these awards and title have any impact on your career?

G.B.: The Catey award is very important in the UK’s restaurant and catering industry. And it is really prestigious to hold it. However, almost nobody knows about it outside of the industry in which it is awarded. For sure, any awards are important for your personal development and your future career. Additionally, if you own a restaurant, this is a good reason to motivate your people: thank you, guys, we have become the best place. This is a good leverage for team management.


D+: How often do you travel? Do you have a favorite region and winery?

G.B.: I love Burgundy for its exceptional wines – sometimes you can find real masterpieces there. I like the Napa Valley, it’s like a wine Disneyland. I cannot avoid mentioning Madeira and Champagne. I really travel a lot – Italy, France, Portugal, South Africa – and each country is worth a separate story. Generally, to have an idea about the region, you need to visit not only big and famous estates, but also small producers too. If you come to Burgundy and visit just Romanee Conti, this will not be enough. Although I call their wines dream wines. By the way, I consider a visit to this domain my best experience.


D+: What are main mistakes that occur in making a wine list?
G.B.: I would not call it a mistake, but this is a very common thing in restaurants now, when the wines contained in the wine list are in fact not available. For example, you come to the restaurant and ask a bottle of wine you have chosen. They tell you it is not available now. Then you find another wine and point at the relevant position in the wine list. And you hear that, unfortunately, it is not available too. This shouldn’t be a case. But, in fact, different things may happen. Sometimes the wines contained in the wine list do not match the restaurant’s food at all. Once, my wife and I visited a fish restaurant in London. Its wine list was a variety of famous wine brands. Nevertheless, there was no real match between the wines and the food. Bear in mind that filling the wine list with top wines that don’t really match the food will not be a big success.


D+: It is a well-known fact that the chef also plays an important role in creation of enogastronomic pairs. Do you have any disputes with your chef?

G.B.: We have never had any disputes. This is a team work, and you always need to look for a compromise in case of any disputes. We have done big work with Andrea Nori, chef of the “OK Bar & Restaurant”. This is a great experience. And in the process of creation of enogastronomic pairs – a combination of Georgian TM “Tamada” wines and European cuisine – we were fine-tuning some things and changing other things, but it was just a kind of polishing.


D+: Did you find any complicated or unexpected combinations?

G.B.: This experience has become a kind of a challenge for me, because I’m just planning to go to Georgia and currently I don’t know Georgian wines that well. When making the pairs, I focused on stylistic characteristics of semi-sweet wines. And it worked in many aspects. The combination of delicate taste of cheese in salad and Tsinandali was what I liked especially. I think that you shouldn’t be too conservative and combine specific wines only with specific food. This is approach is boring and not very professional. Georgian sweet wines are quite interesting. I think Ukrainian consumers know them well.


D+: Have you ever tried wines from kvevri? If yes, what are your impressions, and do they have a chance for recognition in Europe?

G.B.: Georgian wines have just started their way to the global success. Wines from kvevri will definitely find – and have probably already found – their own audience, as they have their own history and philosophy. I have tried many natural wines in my life, and liked some of them and didn’t like other. But wines from kvevri which I tasted were really elegant. They are now available for sale in London.


D+: How do you think, does the chef has to have an extensive knowledge of wines or basic expertise is sufficient? For example, leading culinary schools now include wine courses into their training programs.
G.B.: Chef has to know and feel the wine. Today there are many culinary colleges that for some reasons tend to underestimate the importance of wine semesters, which is incorrect – at least from the marketing point of view.


D+: Which product, sauce or specific dish you think is the most difficult in terms of the choice of wine?

G.B.: Very spicy food. Especially when it comes to Oriental and Mexican food. Many wines, of course, go well with ‘hot’ dishes, but if the food is soaking in a think layer of spices, making pairs is not that important here. However, everything depends on the particular case. Chocolate, for instance, is also considered problematic with regard to wines, but many types of wine effectively unveil the piquant taste of the “capricious” product.


Restaurant

D+: Which restaurants (except those where you work) you can call exemplary?

G.B.: In London, go to “Texture” – a wonderful restaurant with good cuisine and an extensive selection of champagne. If we talk about places with outstanding wine lists, I would recommend “28/50”. They have very simple and basic food. But the unique feature of this place is that the managers include a minimum margin into their wine list. Therefore, visitors have an opportunity to taste wines of the chateau which they cannot afford at other restaurants. I also must mention “Terroir” for its extensive wine list. Here you can order exceptional wines by glass. In Paris, for example, I would recommend “Caillebotte”, a popular choice of locals and tourists. “Frenchie Bar a Vins” is another must-visit place in the capital of France. Great ambiance, carefully selected wines, incredible food, good service and very democratic prices make it a favorite place of many guests. “L’Affable”, a French restaurant with simple but delicious food. From wine bars, I would recommend “L’avant Comptoir”. This is a small place, but they have a very good wine offer.


D+: You own a restaurant and a boutique hotel “Terra Vino” on the South England coast. Can you please give an advice to beginner hoteliers – what is necessary for a hotel to become a success?

G.B.: My wife and I run our own small 11- room hotel and a restaurant of Californian and European cuisine. Location is probably essential for the hotel. From my practice I see that guests prefer staying near the water. Food and wine list are important, too. If your guest is not impressed by the food and drinks, he will not come back to you. You need to take all these factors into account, but if you are simply difficult to find, or it is necessary to cover 20 kilometers of winding roads to reach your restaurant, your project will be a failure.

D+: Gerard, thank you for the interview. We wish you a great journey to Georgia and hope to see you soon in Ukraine.

Фото: sanfranciscowineschool.com, inspirationf1.com, beingasommelier.wordpress.com, thedrinksbusiness.com, seebtm.com, aucklandnz.com, schiller-wine.blogspot.com, independent.co.uk, downtheroad.org, nypost.com

Today, leading wine brands increasingly often invite globally recognized experts to participate in their projects. An evidence of this trend is the October visit of Gerard Basset, one of the most renowned wine gurus, to the Ukrainian capital. At the presentation of “Tamada” TM for Kyiv professionals the maitre combined Georgian wines and European cuisine […]