For the last five years, the 42-year-old, retired Ivorian footballer, Olivier Tébily, has been making a name for himself in the world of brandy, becoming the world’s first black cognac producer.
Olivier Tébily likes to call himself a “passionate craftsman”. He is. But he’s also much more, with a life story that reads like a Hollywood film script:
After immigrating to France from the Ivory Coast as a child, he earned pocket money harvesting grapes around Cognac’s vineyards. Passionate about football, and (like his cousin Didier Drogba) somewhat good at it, he found himself playing professionally. But the love of the vine was ever-present and he used his first football pay check to buy two hectares of land.
Then his career really took off, taking him all around the world as a sports icon, playing in the Premier League and in the Ivory Coast’s national team. But when he found himself in Toronto, in his thirties, with a 4-year contract, he realised that he wanted something more: early retirement, in 2008, and a life back “home” in Cognac making the namesake brandy.
Determined to make it work, he spent four years without a salary learning the craft from local producer Jean-Michel Lepine. The presence of a black winemaker must have “shocked a lot of cognac producers,” Tébily told us from a table in his own restaurant. “Vineyards are generally handed down from father to son”.
22 hectares and his own distillery
Perceived as an outsider, he had to fight to gain acceptance when he launched his cognac brand in 2013. He explained with emotion that it was after the tragic death of his mentor’s son that Lepine decided to sell him his estate.
Today, Tébily has found happiness in the silence of the vineyards, working his land 7 days a week. He owns 22 hectares and his own distillery in Salles-d’Angles. His bottles of VS, VSOP, de XO and Very Old Cognac are sold mainly in France and West Africa, and are doing very well in the luxury spirit market.
“The locals were really surprised that an African footballer came here to do the same work they’ve been doing for years. They didn’t think I’d be capable of it because it’s very hard. I don’t try to impress anyone. I just love this job, and I want to be as successful as possible,” he said, adding that he plans to make Africa his principle market.