Swiss entrepreneur Silvio Denz has built a business and lifestyle empire around his passion for outstanding art, wine and food with conservation and sustainability to the fore. Cathy Hawker speaks to Silvio about his passions, purpose and the incredible reinvention of Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey

A passion for living life well: Silvio Denz has turned Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey into a five-star destination for food and wine lovers

In the heart of Bordeaux’s acclaimed Sauternes wine region, surrounded by 36 hectares of its own precious Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey is an estate with a world-class heritage. In 1855, it was one of only 17 vineyards in the first group of Bordeaux wines to be awarded Premier Cru, the highest ‘first-growth’ classification and 163 years later in 2018, it became the first ‘first-growth’ vineyard in the Bordeaux region to open as a five-star hotel and restaurant.

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey is in the small rural village of Bommes, 45 minutes south of Bordeaux. Its nearest neighbour is Château d’Yquem, perhaps the most celebrated of all Sauternes wines and now owned by luxury label Louis-Vuitton-Moët-Hennessy. Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey’s latest reinvention is thanks to the dedication of Swiss businessman and financier Silvio Denz, Chairman of Lalique Group and a knowledgeable collector and connoisseur whose interests span fine wines, impressionist and contemporary art, and antique crystal.

“My two passions have always been art and architecture,” Silvio explains. “My father was a great art collector and at home we were surrounded by art. He was also a wine aficionado, particularly fond of Bordeaux wines. My vision however ultimately comes back to savoir-faire and savoir-vivre, the art of living well. Art, tableware, fine dining, hospitality and great wines are all inextricably linked.”

These private passions inform his business life. Denz owns vineyards in Tuscany, Spain and five in France. In 2008, after a 20-year career spent building Switzerland’s largest perfume and cosmetics company, he bought the renowned French crystal company Lalique, skilfully modernising it for the 21st century. He opened his first hotel in 2015, Villa René Lalique, formerly the Alsace home of Lalique’s founder and now a five-star hotel with a two-Michelin-star restaurant.

Denz acquired Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey in 2014 and spent four years and €10 million on renovations before opening it as a 13-room hotel with suites. The result is tranquil and supremely elegant, a bespoke and understated beauty from the simplicity of the caramel-coloured exterior to the dramatic crystal and gold lustre Lalique chandeliers inside. “Our aim at Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey was to enhance the natural beauty of this magical place and create a haven of peace for guests who value privacy,” says Silvio. “The overriding design priority was to preserve the site’s original identity and reconfigure the original structures without affecting the aesthetics.”

With a 13th-century gatehouse and a 17th-century château, the conservation and design of Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey required a deft touch. Designer Pietro Mingarelli used more than 3,000 pieces of Lalique crystal, embedding them in furniture and mirrors and showcasing exquisite vases holding vast flower arrangements. In a region where wine is king, there are plenty of subtle design references to the vine threaded through the house. It is outside among the invaluable vines that his quest to reduce the impact on nature is most profound.

“At Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey half of our vineyard is under organic cultivation and the other half is under ‘sustainable’ cultivation,” details Denz. “We use slow techniques such as ploughing with horses and employ the latest generation of tractors, which are kinder to the earth and preserve biodiversity. Our other vineyards in the region, Château Peby-Faugères, Grand Cru Classé de Saint- Emilion and Château Rocheyron, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru are at the end of their conversion process to viticulture, a three-year process in which we use only certified organic products and ban all chemical weeding. It is something we are extremely proud of even as we strive to do more.”

René Lalique’s 1898 fish motif bottle – a personal favourite of Denz’s

Guests at Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey can sample a modern twist on traditional Sauternes, sweet wines, in the walled courtyard or enjoy a meal in the splendid contemporary steel and glass conservatory designed by architect Mario Botta where tables appear to float among the vines. Last year, six months after opening, the restaurant received a Michelin star, the first restaurant in the Sauternes region to be awarded.

The four pillars that the Lalique Group are built on – wine, crystal, gastronomy and hospitality – perfectly mirror Denz’s own passions. His personal art collection covers expressionism, Art Deco, surrealism and contemporary works and his wine cellars, displayed as modern art installation at Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, hold 350,000 bottles. 

Most meaningful to him is his unique collection of Lalique perfume bottles, a collection he began long before he acquired the company. Denz says his collection now numbers more than 700 pieces. “If I had to pick one favourite bottle it would be the fish-motif flacon that René Lalique produced in his kitchen in 1898 using the lost-wax technique,” Silvio says. “This resulted in a fire which had him thrown out by his landlord. It is said that Lalique always carried this particular bottle with him as a talisman for twenty years and for a further 25 years. It is a really special piece for me.”

That bottle sums up Lalique. The history of an exceptional luxury brand and the pursuit of excellence told through one object: romance, artistry and business perfectly combined.

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