Palace Personalities - Prince Lev Golitzyn and Novi Svyet
from "Les Dernieres Annees de la Cour de Tzarskoe Selo" by General Alexander Spiridovitch...
The principal hero of that season was surely Prince Lev Sergeiovitch Galitzine (Golitzyn), brother of the ancient viceroy "namyestnik" of the Caucasus, owner of an immense cellar filled with wines of the finest quality and a property called "Novi Svyet" (New World) some three versts from Sudak.
Married to Countess Orlov-Dennisov, Prince Galitzine had had, under Emperor Alexander III, the viticultural administration of the Imperial properties in the Crimea. He did not receive a salary strictly speaking, but received 5 kopecks per bottle, which realized him a very respectable sum of money by the end of the year.
Under Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovitch, the Prince had been released from this responsibility and received as severence one hundred thousand rubles, which he deposited into the funds created in memory of Alexander III.
He kept for himself from the time of Alexander III the unsold stock of champagne, called "The Crown's Champagne."
The Prince was a great connaisseur of wines, and had cellars in Petersburg, Moscow, Paris and Bordeau; his reputation was well known in all Europe. At the Paris Universal Exposition he was the present of the winemaking jury. After the Exposition closed, the Prince hosted a dinner for the winemakers which caused a sensation in Paris. The most sensational detail of the dinner was that he had placed, in front of every guest, a bottle of the most rare wine from that guest's country.
For a Prussian among the guests, the Prince said "Since they do not produce wine in your country, kindly permit me to offer you one of the three bottles which had been given to Bismark on the day of the signing of the Treaty of Frankfurt". This the Prussian told me himself later.
One day the Prince held a conference on winemaking at the Solyanoi Gorodok in Petersburg, and he had the idea to distribute samples to the audience of each of the kinds of wines which were being discussed. In the long run, the procedure of this demonstration proved too inconvenient, so he then invited the connaisseurs and amateurs alike to come up onto the stage and to simply ask for the wines they desired to sample. He found no shortage of amateurs, who be reason of this curiosity, took advantage of his invitation and stayed quite content during the Prince's conference as the wines were excellent when one know how to choose them.
One day, he received the visit of a Grand Duke at Novi Svyet, who was a great connaisseur of wines, accompanied by several friends. The Prince asked each of the visitors to request which wines they desired to taste, as well as the exact vintage. They tried to play a joke on the Prince by asking for the rarest wines they could think of, but they were completely astonished when each visitor received exactly the wine he had requested.
The Prince was a true original, a man of the good old days.
During the last Pan-Russian Exposition at Nizhny-Novogorod, the Prince offered the Tsar, who was standing next to Finance Minister Witte, a glass of champagne. He asked the Tsar, that if the wine pleased him, he might have permission to call it "Champagne of the Crown".
The Tsar tasted it and said that it greatly pleased him. "Are you sure that it pleases you, Sire?" asked Galitzine. The Emperor replied in the affirmative. However Galitzine asked the question for a third time, and the Tsar responded rather impatiently "Yes, yes, it pleases me."
"Good" explained Galitzine, "for if Your Majesty did not find it to his liking, I was going to call it 'Vin Witte."
In Yalta, the Prince once provoked a rather curious incident.
At the "Rossiya" Hotel, after a dinner rather copiously irrigated with fine old wines, several officers gave the order that the orchestra play "God Save The Tsar". The orchestra began to play the hymn and everyone stood. All of a sudden, Prince Galitzine, at one of the tables, shouted to the orchestra: "Stop! I forbid you to play!" The orchestra stopped. Everyone in the room turned to the Prince, who, amid the total silence, declared:
"This hymn is our national prayer, and I can not permit it to be played here. One can not play it in the midst of such pleasures. There are men here who are drunk and thus incapable of hearing it with the religious piety is requires."
The public applauded. The orchestra then took up playing the mazurka from "A Life for the Tsar."
The Prince was a handsome, robust and healthy old man, of a shorter than average size, always shouting, gesticulating, and always wearing his maroon "papaha" (caucasian hat), which he even wore when in uniform. The tell the story that while he was in service in the Caucasus, the Prince took part in the pursuit of a famous pirate. Having overtaken him, he had succeeded in his capture, but also had saved his life. As a remembrance of their meeting, the pirate gave Galitzine his "papaha" for good luck.
Every time the Prince came to Yalta he was invited to Livadia. One time, at table with Their Majesties, he dominated the conversation. His voice was louder than the others. His elbows on the table, he told the Emperor the most extraordinary things. One of the things he said that day was:
"I am quite happy, Sire, that it was your ancestors and not mine, who, three hundred years ago now, accepted the throne of Russia. As a result, I am a free man today."
It goes without saying that the Emperor laughed at this whimsy.
The Prince requested an audience with the Emperor one day. Upon entering, he began with these words:
"Sire, I am old and so now it is time, knowing that my death will be nearing, that I put my affairs in order. I have an illegitimate child. Adopt it Sire, take it."
The Emperor looked at him in astonishment: "Now see here Prince, what did you just say?"
"This illegitimate child, Sire, is my property Novi Svyet, with it cellars. You are the only one Sire, to whom, on my passing, I might leave my well loved child. Adopt it."
The Prince then asked the Tsar to accept Novi Svyet as his gift, with all its caves, its immense stores of wines, its "wine library", and to found there a model viticultural school.
While lunching, prior to his departure, with the Emperor at Livadia, the Prince told him: "Should Your Majesty deign to do me the honor to come to luncheon one day in my cellars, I will offer him…" here the Prince stopped, and addressed Count Benckendorf, Marshall of the Court, "If the Count could see his way to excuse me if I speak of something unfavorable of his predecessors….I will offer for His Majesty a luncheon served on a porcelain service from the time of Catherine, in the inventories of the Palace this service no longer shows, it is said because it was broken; in reality it was stolen piece by piece, and it was also piece by piece that I was able to reunite it".
The Emperor laughed, the Marshall of the Court smiled, the other persons present simply exchanged looks. All was permitted this original man.
There finally arrived the day the Emperor was to go to take possession of his gift. I went to do my surveillance in the morning, very early, by automobile accompanied by the governor.
We rapidly climbed the road to Massandra. The morning was delightful. Fog hugged the mountains like thin smoke. On the other side of Aiou-Dag, half obscured in the golden distance, the swollen disk of the sun pushed up from the sea. Its rays glistened on the gilded surface. I thought that I found myself in the painting of Aivazovski showing the ship clearing the morning mist.
The car drove along with all speed. The paintings receded. After passing Aloutchta, we drove along the road which climbs up to incredible heights and with no railings protecting on either side. I could not believe that before us, that anyone else would have had the daring to drive that road in an automobile. Instinctively, I was gripping the car.
The part of the coastline which extends from Aloutchta to Soudak, on a road 88 versts long, has a totally different character than the coastline between Yalta and Alouchta; its nature is far more savage, one can no longer detect the hand of man.
Some 28 versts from Alouchta one finds, for lack of other terms, the last stop of civilized life: it was the property of Nicholas Antoninovitch Knyagyevitch "Koutchouk-Ouzen". A small admirable corner, with its old house, all green and tranquil, with its grape vines and cellar. Farther on, one only finds here and there Tatar villages, usually placed by the river mouths. There we would stop. The governor known to the police and by the Tatar nobles. The Count would meet with them. He seemed interested in their needs and their business. The Tatars deeply bowed to him.
In the evening, after a very tiring trip that seemed to never end, we arrived, finally, at "Novi Svyet".
Prince Galitzine could not have greeted up more cordially. He had with him his son-in-law, Prince Troubetskoi, and one of his daughters who was no longer very young. She was occupied with caring for the house, and it could not have been easy to please her father, so capricious, authoritarian and often unfair.
The Prince's house gave one the impression of great abandon. One entire part was uninhabitable.
The Prince offered us wines which we might not at all have refused. He loved to drink himself, although he was already quite grey. Finally, after having made many protests to him that we were required to get up very early the next morning, we succeeded in taking our leave of the Prince and to retire to our rooms.
One of the men in my detachment, who was sharing my room, told me that he and his comrades had a devil of a time to refuse the insistent Prince's numerous offers of drink: and that, if they had taken up his offers, they would have all fallen dead drunk.
The next morning, my men and I explored the entire area. At eleven, the Standardt appeared at Novi Svyet.
Prince Galitzine, in uniform and wearing his "papaha", his daughter, his son-in-law in Court uniform, the governor and I waited on the dock built for the occasion. A shore boat quickly left the yacht and come to the shore.
The moment when the Emperor put his foot on the ground, an eagle flew over the quay.
The Emperor was accompanied by Grand Duke Ernst of Hesse, many members of the suite, Knyagyevitch, Mossolov, the Grand Marshall of the Court, and a maiden of honor.
Galitzine, who usually took so much liberty at Court, received the Emperor with an old fashioned and elegant deference. Having removed his "papaha" he bowed quite low, and offered the Emperor bread and salt. He did not miss the opportunity to make a joke about the eagle which flew over the quay, and added that it was a good omen.
Leading the group, Galitzine led the Emperor along a narrow path cut into the side of the mountain. The rest followed behind single file. With his white hair flowing in the wind, holding his invariable "papaha" in his hands, the old prince was truly most curious to watch. Here, above this vast savage country seemed to emphasize even more the difference between the humble and elegant deference which he displayed to the Emperor and the wild lands they were crossing.
The presence of a foreign prince seemed to provoke and accentuate his respectful attitude, which could not but have made an impression on the Grand Duke of Hesse.
After some time walking, we arrived at a place where carriages waited for the guests. The prince got up next to the coachman, and indicated that the Emperor and Grand Duke of Hesse should ride inside the first carriage.
We visited the cellars in every detail. A curious incident happened while there. The maiden of honor had remarked that many of the bottles where laid out upside down, with the corks down, and laughingly asked the Prince "Could it be by chance that they upside down because they are all empty?" This wounded the Prince to the quick and so, while walking and explaining things to the other visitors, he would take out a bottle from time to time and hand it to the maiden of honor, requesting that she reassure herself as to whether the bottle was full or empty.
The visitors were particularly interested in the famous "wine library" which held and assortment of the most rare and valuable wines in the entire world. It was truly the Prince's pride and joy.
The guests were then invited to luncheon, which was served in the cellar itself in a dining room with tiled walls. Local dishes were served, prepared by a Tatar chef, and were served from a solid gold dish onto magnificent porcelain plates from the time of Catherine. Beautiful ancient crystal glasses glittered and contained the most rare wines the Prince could find to offer the Tsar and his travelling companions.
After lunch, we continued to visit the cellars. The Prince never stopped making jokes. When the Grand Duke of Hesse asked him what "tchin" he had, the Prince responded:
"College registrar, almost Emperor" (His response was in Russian: Kollegeyski reguistrar, tchout-tchout ne Imperator. This would be the 14th level of tchin of the old Russian systerm.). Everyone was immediately disturbed. A dark shadow came across the Emperor's face. A short bit farther, he was asked to explain what he had done, but he had not lost his assurance. He addressed the Emperor with a most particular deference, and told him: "Sire, I believe I have shocked the Grand Duke with my plain speaking."
The Emperor burst out laughing.
The visit to the cellars finished, the Prince gave the Emperor the key to his new property. The Emperor placed it in a special pouch.
We went back by carriage to the half abandoned house of the Prince. There we made a tour and found a museum containing ancient objects of the greatest rarity, some of which belonged to Michael Feodorovitch.
At one point during the tour, the Prince gave to the Emperor a present for the Tsarevitch: a grape basket holding a collection of ancient silver wine cups, one for each year of the Tsarevitch's age.
After having visited the property, the Emperor and his companions returned for tea on the yacht, and soon afterward, the Standardt raised anchor and returned to Yalta.
The basket holding the silver had been forgotten on the dock when the shore boat left, so I brought it back with me in my automobile and had it sent on to the Palace by means of the Commandant.
The manner in which the Prince had given to the Emperor this extraordinary gift, his profoundly deferential attitude with respect to the Sovereign, keeping his head uncovered the entire time he was with him, everything so handsome, being so little accustomed to it all as a foreigner, the Grand Duke of Hesse had been visibly astonished and moved.
The next day, Galitzine came to thank the Emperor for the honor of having come to visit him. To each person who had accompanied the Emperor to his home, the Prince brought wines, and in accordance to the ancient Russian custom, a crystal glass. I received, myself, a magnificent glass from the time of Elizabeth. My subordinates were not forgotten either by the hospitable Prince, who brought many cases of wine for them particularly.
He was like a great lord, in the manner in which he transferred his property Novi Svyet to the Emperor. Such things were never possible except in old Russia. There were so many patriarchal things, so many things of the good old days, in that reception which the Prince had organized in honor of the Tsar.
General Alexander Spiridovitch was the Chief of Secret Personal Police in charge of protecting Nicholas II and his immediate family at all times outside of the Imperial Palaces. He served from 1905 until the outbreak of the First World War in late 1914.
His two volume work "Les Dernieres Annees de la Cour de Tzarskoe Selo", (Payot, Paris, 1929) is an invaluable day to day account of the Imperial Family, and important events around them during those years.
Published originally only in Russian and French, it has been a neglected source until recently. The previous account of Prince Lev Sergeievich Golitzyn (1845-1916) and his fine wine estate, Novi Svyet, in the Crimea, from 1912, is my own translation from the French undertaken in 2004.
Prince Lev Golitzyn was one of the truly great pioneers of the fine wine industry of the 19th Century, and in fact he won the Gold Medal for best Champagne at the Paris Exposition of 1889, and the Grand Prix medal in Paris in 1900, beating the French in France!