From the foot of the Pyrenees to the world, the Lionel Osmin story unfolds…
The logo of Lionel Osmin & Cie symbolises a will to travel afar, but with deep seated roots. We asked Mr Osmin to tell us about the background to his company.
The story began at the foot of the Pyrenees, as I was born in a village next to Pau, in the Jurançon appellation. My father was a wine-lover and he initiated me to this “universe”. When I was young, I did internships in both France and Spain that gave me the taste of working in this field. Then it was personal meetings that guided my choices – the contacts I made when I was young with people who were really impassioned by what they were doing. In addition to this, there was the fact that we wanted to make people more aware of the true value of France’s southwestern wines. In the past, the region wasn’t very well known on an international level for its wines, but there are some excellent products emerging. Another thing that moved me was the support and pride of the local producers for the local grape varieties. Since the 60’s, the latter have been working on developing the quality of the indigenous southwestern grapes. We have an incredible diversity of grape varieties, but what’s lacking is a long historic context. We’re not in Bordeaux, where there is a long history and an ambition for quality improvement dating from well over a century ago. In our region, the search for qualitative improvement dates only from the 1980’s, and there is still a lot to do for this work to be recognised… It’s still a work in progress.
These people have dedicated their professional lives to these indigenous grape varieties in order to make wines that are more than just interesting. These wines are credible and serious, retaining a great deal of character and identity. The local winegrowers are close to my own roots, which was why I wanted to launch into this adventure.
I thus launched the Maison de Vins de Jurançon, with all the winegrowers of the appellation, then for twelve years, I worked as a kind of pilgrim, travelling the world to explain the advantages of these wines, explaining what Tannat is, or the fact that Malbec originates from Cahors; describing the attributes of these varieties which, when prepared properly can be exceptional discoveries for amateurs around the globe. In 2010, I wanted to put my own touch on certain cuvées, as I had a technical background to start with, and this meant I had to launch into my own production. I did this without buying vineyards, but more as a merchant, where I could group together a number of indigenous varietal wines under one roof. This enabled me to express, via the Malbec, the Tannat, the Negrette, the Petit Manseng and so-on, but also to simplify the comprehension of the southwest for distributors and foreign consumers. In the beginning, there was a strong development in terms of export, as well as a need to educate the market as well as, at the same time, simplifying the offering. This is what we began to do in 2010, with the first bottles arriving on the market in 2011.
So what differentiates the wines of the southwest is the countless different grape varieties. Please tell us a little more about these.
Geographically, the southwest is a vast winegrowing region, reaching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Massif Central from west to east, and the Pyrenees to the Bordeaux region from south to north. This territory has multiple, very different climatic, geologic and geographic features. This means we don’t have a unity of production that one might find in Burgundy or Bordeaux, where you will find the same geography and climate across most vineyards. For this reason, each of our appellations has different grape varieties that are adapted to the climate and geography. This diversity is, on the one hand, part of the richness of our wines, but on the other is a source of complication for the consumer.
The Malbec has become internationally renowned, but its source and origin is Cahors in the Lot Valley. Traditionally it’s full-bodied, but we now provide two interpretations of this wine. The new one is a fruity vintage, which I would say is “civilised”, and in no way resembles the historic, traditional “rustic” style. Demonstrating to consumers that Malbec is an interesting variety, that it is not only French, but from the southwest, allows us to promote it today as the “original French fresh Malbec”. The Negrette is also very unique, planted only at Fronton just north of Toulouse, producing excellent rosé wines.
What amuses me in this great adventure is to see that we have wines that resemble the land from which they are produced, that are little known on an international level, and that deserve to be discovered by more and more people. When I launched the company, it was to bring these amazing wines to the attention of the world’s wine lovers, not present them with a 50th Merlot or 35th Syrah. My passion was driven by the fact that I could allow people to discover something new.
Tell us about your background with Vinexpo…
I am going to approach this from the point of view of my current enterprise, as in the past it was for the group I was just speaking about, but since then, things have progressed. For Lionel Osmin & Cie, it’s the gateway to the world. You can’t not be at Vinexpo if you have an international ambition. We are primarily interested in meeting buyers from around the world, but not only from emerging markets, whose buyers are so far more interested in the “big names”. As our region is lesser known internationally, we are more interesting for specialist operators in mature markets than broadscale operators in emerging markets. Already for many of them, getting to know the Bordeaux and Burgundy styles and terroirs is hard, so you can imagine what it’s like trying to sell them on the southwest.
DIVERSITY IS, ON THE ONE HAND, PART OF THE RICHNESS OF OUR WINES, BUT ON THE OTHER IS A SOURCE OF COMPLICATION FOR THE CONSUMER.
Our challenge today is above all to show, in all markets that have an ingrained wine culture, where the consumers are already somewhat “wine aware”, we can talk to them about Madiran, Cahors, Jurançon, Buzet, Marcillac or Gaillac, but at Osmin & Cie, we have created complementary ranges of wines, meaning that our offering today is centred on two main ranges. On the one hand, we have appellation wines, wines of character, terroir, but we also wanted to adapt our offer to consumers who are less “enlightened” with a range of varietal wines. In fact, there are several ways of attracting consumers around the world: through appellations, châteaux and brands, but also through the cépages – the grape varieties. It’s these cépages that are at the heart of our DNA, so we have created a range of very “Frenchy”, modern wines, called the “Villa” and “Reserve” collections. These wines are not overly “funky”, so as to reassure the consumer, based on indigenous wines, but can sometimes be blended with more international varieties. Examples include a blend of Merlot, Tannat and Syrah, or Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc and a touch of Gros Manseng. These kinds of wines are the “gateway” to our other “wilder” varieties. It’s true that the idea of having these two kinds of offerings – more sophisticated – with more of a story to tell – and more basic, that are simple and easy to drink, gives us much easier access to a broader market.
In 2015, you launched a new initiative, the “Compagnie des Domaines”. Tell me a little more about how that came about…
La Compagnie des Domaines is an entity that puts the energy, creativity and competence of what I believe has become a highly dynamic organisation at the service of high-potential southwestern wine-growing properties whose potential only requires growth.
Today, three remarkable entities participate in this unique wine-making adventure in the Southwest: Domaine San de Guilhem in Ramouzens (IGP Côtes de Gascogne, IGP Compté Tolosan), Domaine Berthoumieu in Viella (AOP Madiran & Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh), and Clos de la Vierge and Cancaillau in Lahourcade (AOP Jurançon sec & Jurançon).
Tomorrow there will no doubt be more, who will be in tune with the philosophy of the establishment, with potential as promising as these first three «pillars», and with the desire to join the dynamics of the Compagnie des Domaines.
As with everything we do, it’s all a matter of encounters, opportunities, and desires. The Compagnie des Domaines began to take shape when Alain Lalanne, owner of the Domaine San de Guilhem, one of his partners for the elaboration of the Cuvées de Gascogne by Lionel Osmin & Cie, proposed to him to acquire the domain. The ambition of this young house is not to constitute a large land heritage, but to keep its DNA of «wine maker» rooted in the southwest, with a real knowledge of the French and international markets, to allow the wines of the region to find their place on the world market.
We work in the form of partnerships with cooperative areas or wineries or landowners, who also manage their own wines, guaranteeing our know-how in the field of winemaking and marketing.
THE AMBITION OF OUR ENTERPRISE IS TO BUILD A WINNING NETWORK OF CUSTOMERS AND PRODUCERS BY CREATING LASTING AND MUTUAL VALUE
It is not really obligatory to own the properties to ensure the development of vineyards. Quite the opposite. The ambition of our enterprise is to build a winning network of customers and producers by creating lasting and mutual value. In other words, to stay with our core business as a wine producer in the southwest, preserving our DNA: agile, dynamic and creative.
This extension of our activity focuses on:
- The relevance of the selection of the partner domains, both with a product vision (quality and potential of the terroir, wine potential), but also in relation to its possibilities of success in terms of marketing to cellars and restaurants in France as well as for export.
- The valorisation of existing ranges through a reflection upon on the best possible positioning.
- The strength of our distribution network established since the beginning of the adventure and which continues to develop in France as well as internationally.
With the Compagnie des Domaines, these estates in the southwest are able to have profitable and durable solutions for their future, positively reflecting on the economic fabric of the region.
This new facet of our business is consistent with our idea of “team adventure”. As we say since the start, in the name Lionel Osmin “and company”, the latter part is very important! Instead of trying to go it alone, we prefer to do things together, each one remaining with his or her core business and skill. It really is a continuation of our substantive activity. It comes to enrich the first mission of Lionel Osmin & Cie which remains, as always, that of “wine maker in the southwest”.
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