We recently met with Thomas Lombard, Product Manager at his family estate, Champagne Lombard. Thomas shares with The Vinifyed Post his ambition for the family winery and his perception of the US market.
Can you tell us about Estate Lombard?
Champagne Lombard is my family estate and was founded in 1925 in Epernay. The estate has always been super active in the Champagne region, mostly through the traditional distribution network. In 2008 the domain took a turn in its strategy with the arrival of Christophe Pitois, operating as Winemaker and VP. Born and raised in the region Christophe has a real passion for the terroirs of Champagne and alongside his career developed strong bonds with growers from Grand Crus and Premier Crus. The Lombard estate decided at this time to focus its production on higher value, terroir-driven wines, in opposition to the massive competitive wine production market. This movement was initiated in Champagne by a handful of pioneers, winemakers, and growers. The winery decided then to hire a new CEO, Johann Cochut, who enhanced the dynamism and premium positioning of the estate.
The philosophy of the winery is now really to showcase to the consumers a real expression of some of Champagne’s best terroirs with zero or very low dosages. It is actually a tasting path of the best Crus to discover Champagne through the terroirs. Since 2016, the brand Lombard represents annually 250,000 bottles produced.
Naturally, you were born in the Champagne region, from a Champagne producing family so you must have had a strong wine education. However, besides your family immersion, did you study wine?
Yes. Mainly, it was vital and advantageous to step out of my native wine region. I have a marketing background, but after my master, I decided to join the Advanced Master of International Wine Trade in Dijon in Burgundy. You know, even when you were born and grew up in the wine world it is always important to get your head in the broader issues of wine and discover the other wine regions of the world. This program offered me to learn in details about terroirs, winemaking and vineyard management. We also had many wine tastings and traveled in each French wine region and three regions abroad, Napa Valley, Canton du Valais in Switzerland and Piedmont in Italy.
So, when did you decide to join the family winery?
Well, things, in reality, happened faster than I thought. After my Advanced Master, I did my internship at the estate; it was last year in mid-March. Not even two weeks after I started I was sent to San Francisco for the portfolio tasting of our distributor. This tasting was an intense immersion that allowed me to understand and learn directly on the field. After that, I joined the winery as a full-time employee.
Now, what is your official job in the family winery?
My first role is “product manager.” As I explained before, at Lombard, we went through a repositioning of the brand switching from a very traditional approach to now a more modern and premium brand. In consequence, this involves a more in-depth and more complex marketing analysis and implementation. All that I test is pretty new to the estate. My job consists of observing what exists all around on one hand, and on the other hand, being creative to innovate. Our approach is very modern, but it is also important to stay in line with tradition and authenticity, which are very strong values in the world of wine. My job is to manage the identity of the brand to develop sales in France and abroad.
Another vital role is to manage sales in the US Market. So I often come here on the market to push the sales and work hand in hand with our US Brand Manager. We do a lot of staff training and work with each other to thoroughly transmit the Lombard philosophy to the sales force here.
How often do you travel to the US and what can you say about this market?
I spend about ten weeks per year in the US. It is an exciting market with many wine geeks. By wine geeks, I mean people curious about your story, your terroirs, and your wines. The American consumer is interested and always willing to learn about your product. People in the US are receptive to our philosophy and also are not afraid of stepping out of the box, more open-minded. Another observation is that I was for the most part surprised by the level of wine knowledge people have here. French people think that they have the knowledge of wine because they know they are a prime wine country, but fundamentally I find people learning and understanding more in the US. A French consumer is stuck in his stereotype, and it is hard to get his attention.
Besides the US, in what are the other markets you are involved?
Not very much outside the US, except for some special events. Lastly, there was a Champagne tour in Australia organized by the wine writer and influencer Tyson Stelzer, “Taste Champagne.” We were touring in 6 cities, and many producers were there to showcase their champagnes. So this was an excellent opportunity for us to get visible to the market and find the appropriate importer for Australia. We made some fascinating contacts, and we hope to open this new market soon.
Sometimes I travel to the UK too as it is close and obviously France also with our distribution networks.
If you had a message to address to people involved in the industry what would it be?
Well as I am just finishing my last trip to the US, I have been observing these last days that a lot of smaller Champagne producers are trying to develop their sales in the US. However, I am always surprised by the lack of modernism in the labels. I think not enough importance is given to the designs of labels. I am sure some producers are missing opportunities. On top of that, there is a whole new generation now of graphic designers in Champagne that know the trends and do some great job.