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COS Chronicle

“Cos offers a moment of enchantment”

INTERVIEW -

A pioneer in online wine sales in Belgium and founder of Topwijnen, soft-spoken Peter Lesage is the third generation to helm his family’s company, Voeding Lesage NV. He takes a few minutes from his busy day to share his enthusiasm and passion for wine, especially Cos d’Estournel.

You are recognized as a fine wine connoisseur with expert tasting skills. What first attracted you to wine?

I must have been about sixteen. My father was very interested in wines; he was already importing them in Belgium, so my curiosity was only natural. In the evenings, he would open a bottle and we would have a glass while watching television. My brother and sister were there, too, but strangely enough, I was the only one to feel such a strong attraction to wine.

I remember the first time a wine really moved me. It was a wine from Bordeaux, a Haut-Médoc, and what strikes me most is how surprised I felt! Because wine never stops changing. A case of beer is always the same. But wine is always different. It comes from different regions, different terroirs, different years. There is an entire culture around wine.

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Did wine represent a major activity in your family’s business at that time?

Sales of classified growth wines currently make up one-fourth of our activity. But this came to be little by little, from one generation to the next. My grandfather was a roaster who found himself needing to find a new trade after World War II. So he became a food wholesaler. When my father joined the company, he grew the business and began developing sales of affordable Bordeaux wines. He yearned to sell classified growth wines as well, but we didn’t have access to the right distribution networks.

In 2004, we acquired a small importer of fine wines from Bordeaux that was distributing directly to end customers. This may come as a surprise, but I had my doubts. Our food wholesale business was already keeping us so busy! Unlike the wine company’s previous owner, we simply didn’t have the time to attend the different trade fairs, so we created a website. It was the early days of e-commerce and you couldn’t even pay online! But we continued to innovate and our efforts were met with a good deal of success. And then there was the exquisite 2005 vintage, followed by a wonderful en primeur campaign in 2006, then 2009 and 2010. It was crazy! All of this brought us a host of new clients.

How did Topwijnen and Cos begin doing business together?

Our buying strategy is based exclusively on the quality of the wine in question. If we feel that a wine is not good enough, or that it is too expensive for what it is, we will not include it in our catalogue. The wines of Cos d’Estournel are all exceptional. We are very proud to distribute them in Belgium.

Our ties have grown even stronger since Michel Reybier acquired the estate and created a sales support team. It is very rare that the top estates are that present in the different markets alongside their distributors and consumers. The team at Cos d’Estournel really knows how to respond to the needs of our clients and we are delighted to have their support.

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Have you perceived any changes at Cos d’Estournel since the arrival of Michel Reybier?

The new facilities, complete with their elevator vats, are very impressive. With equipment of that kind, if you respect each vintage, it is impossible to make bad wine. The estate’s wines continue to offer even greater levels of precision, balance and silkiness. My best memory is actually quite recent: it is of the 2005 vintage, which I found to be magical.

Everything around the wines—the packaging, the bottles, the labels and the cases—has been revisited, so that each element incarnates the quality of the wines within. Without doubt, Cos d’Estournel counts among the best of what the region has to offer. And it remains unique within our catalogue of Bordeaux’s most outstanding wines.

What emotions did you feel upon first visiting Cos?

When you arrive at Cos d’Estournel, you cannot help but be impressed by the originality of the place. The architecture of its Asian-inspired buildings is stunning, but so are the estate’s vines, its patchwork of plots and the nearby Gironde. All in all, it is an exceptional terroir for an exceptional wine. There is a feeling of sophistication, especially in that beautiful hall where you end up crossing paths with people from all over the globe. It is a magical place.

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What does Cos d’Estournel represent for you, as a professional and a wine-lover?

To begin with, Cos d’Estournel is a singular terroir in Saint-Estèphe that produces an exceedingly refined, elegant, precise wine that delivers crisp, fresh fruit on the palate. But another aspect that is also essential to me is that Cos is a wine that continues to be enjoyed by wine-lovers.

It is not one of those wines that are only purchased as investments or like pieces of artwork to be put on display. Cos offers a moment of enchantment, a sensuous experience, that perfectly complements the unique personality of Michel Reybier’s collection of hotels and restaurants.

You are one of the leading distributors of Pagodes de Cos in Belgium. How do you explain your success?

Quite simply, Pagodes de Cos is an outstanding wine that can hold its own against many first wines of neighboring estates in Saint-Estèphe. I don’t consider Pagodes to be a second wine, but rather an alternative offering of the estate.

This is also the case for Goulée by Cos d’Estournel, which is greatly appreciated by our customers. You can always be sure of the quality of the wines of Cos d’Estournel. Our customers are never wrong, and once they discover Cos, they always come back for more.


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