Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Simonsberg: Mountain of Women - Blog by Neil Pendock

"A mountain of tedious pretention" is not the comment of a dyspeptic wine critic on the attempts of the Simonsberg ward of Stellenbosch to promote itself as the heart of fine winemaking in SA (which it is), but rather a French review of Federico Fellini's La città delle donne (City of Women) at the 33rd Cannes Film Festival in 1980, immortalized in Wikipedia. "Simon\"s Mountain: a mountain of women"][/caption] In spite of being named after Governor of the Cape Simon van der Stel (urban legend insists it looks like a rather fat Si lying on his back after a couple of bottles of Tassenberg) the Simonsberg is Ground Zero for the feminine imperative in SA winemaking as it is home to a trio of Amazons: May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, Norma Ratcliffe and Anne Cointreau. One of the pioneers of SA wine, Ansela van de Caab, farmed on the Simonsberg and made wine at Muratie at the end of the 17th century. But naming the mountain after Simon's wife Constance wouldn't have worked as it would have caused confusion with that other bastion of female winemaking – the Constantia Valley – and complaints from Catherina Ustings (rumoured mistress of Si) at Steenberg. Although it would have been fun watching today's crop of Stellenbosch marketers try to deal with producers located on a Conberg. The internationally best known Simonsberg She is May, octogenarian former châtelaine of super second growth Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, somewhat more prosaically referred to as madam hier langsaan (madam next door) by the volk (farm labourers) of Ida's Valley. May cashed in at the top of the last economic cycle, selling a majority interest in her Bordeaux estates to the Rouzaud family of Louis Roederer fame, purveyors of Cristal bubbly to gangs of rap artistes. May bought a 123ha farm (310ha according to Wine Spectator magazine, confusing their hectares with acres) Glenelly in 2003, next door to South African wine royalty, Simon Barlow at Rustenberg. Although Glenelly may sound like a single malt whisky, the mountainous nature of the terrain makes the establishment of a golf links most unlikely, as does 60ha (57ha according to the Platter sighted wine guide) of immaculate vineyards laid out by Pichon enologist Thomas Do-Chi-Nam "after a precise terroir study". Besides, May looked more polo-style plutocrat then golf grandee as she sat on the first floor stoep (verandah) of her all-singing, all-dancing cellar on her first open day, the day after Bastille Day, when the Good Value Guru and I stopped by. The brash, bold winery ("contemporary" according to the French Chamber of Commerce website) was designed by a team of four architects: two Swiss, one French and one local. Which may sound like the start of a joke but the chunky concept matches the mountains in a Le Corbusier-kind of way while the acres of glass windows provide excellent vignettes onto Ida's Valley cowering below the behemoth. "Wait until the trees grow" apologized May "we're in winter now." Three vintages of a red blend Glenelly Hill were shown to the steady stream of lookie-loos who had accepted Madame's public invitation to get up close and personal with her winery: '03, '04 and '06 all made from bought-in grapes at controversial Johannesburg financial mogul Dave King's Quoin Rock cellar further along the Simonsberg. Our favourite was the '06 while a cellar tour revealed several stainless steel tanks full of '09 with barrels of '08 maturing quietly on level -2. Next to a set from the movie Cocoon - May's blue lit back-to-the-future private cellar – racks of Ch. Pichon on the left, local stocks (Beyerskloof a favourite) on the right. Our pourer related that '08 will be the first vintage produced from grapes grown exclusively on the farm. Expect a variation on a traditional Bordeaux theme of Cabernet and Merlot as there was Shiraz in the '04 and even Pinotage in '03. Winemaker Luke O'Cuinneagain reports he is especially convinced by Petit Verdot and has persuaded Madame to release a small quantity (2000 bottles) separately. An industrial stainless steel lift servicing three floors gives the winery the feel of a high-tech hospital, although a profusion of local art by 25-year old Cape Town artist Vicky Sanders does chirp up the fearsomely functional cellar nearly as much as the designer blue chemise worn by winemaker Cool-Hand Luke, which matches his laser blue eyes, to a T. Not all the art is local: medieval French tapestries, glass sculptures, colour-field blobs and colourful cartoons of hometown Bordeaux give the facility an eclectic air. May's art collection continues the popular tradition of Tasting Room as Trojan Horse for farts (Fine Art). The fart galleries of Woodstock (Linda Goodman owned by latter day Lorenzo the Magnificent Jonathan Beare, Brendan Bell-Roberts, Michael Stevenson et. al) are hopelessly too grob for monied art lovers and the wine served at their openings is usually dire dora indeed. But then May herself does look like Peggy Guggenheim in red, albeit with a more elegant nose. On the local scene, the best known lady of wine is the pioneer of Warwick, Canadian-born Norma, who celebrated a quarter of a century making the stuff at the Vineyard Hotel in Claremont earlier this year. The venue was most appropriate as the hotel started out as the country home of Lady Anne Barnard, one of the heroic pioneer ladies of the Cape. Her 18th century vineyard has been revived along the stream at the bottom of the hotel's lush lawns and made the venue doubly suitable. As an aside, I was surprised to note that LAB was a pioneer of interior design. The wonderful Aesthete's Lament blog reports that "Lady Anne Barnard … and her sister [Lady Margaret Fordyce, later Lady Lamb] broke all the rules when they actually started their own 'business' [out of their shared Adam-style house at 21 Berkeley Square, London]. Short of money and with a natural talent for interior decoration, they took to buying or renting houses, doing them up, and letting them furnished for a considerable profit. One or two people had the bravery to see that this was an excellent idea, but others took the view of the lady who complained that 'she wished to God those two very agreeable women would leave off being upholsterers and begin to be women of fashion [again].'" Norma was MC'd by her son Warwick MD Mike who held up a bottle of her maiden vintage noting "the only thing wrong with this wine is that we misspelled the name." But then I can never remember whether her surname is Ratcliff or Ratcliffe and always have to check. The wine in question was La Femme Bleu, a 1984 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon. Norma has always been in the vanguard of wine fashion and the spelling mistake, like printing errors on stamps, makes her wine and its label all the more collectable. Of course if they'd called it La Femme en Bleu, the bleu wouldn't have needed a trailing "e" as Picasso noted when he painted La Femme en Bleu au Beret a century ago. His great rival Matisse did a Femme Bleue although there's much more than an "e" difference between the two paintings. Norma's first vintage was actually a decade earlier. "In 1974 we copied Rustenberg and made a Cinsault/Cabernet blend. The wine was stunning but we decided to go the Bordeaux route and the 1984 Femme Bleu was aged in 100% new French oak at the exorbitant price of R184 a barrel." When I asked my neighbour Adi Badenhorst, former winemaker at Rustenberg, what I should re-plant on Lemoenfontein (my Paardeberg conflict of interest - not!) quick as a flash he answered "Cinsault". Colour coded ladies were much on the mind of another artist, Denton Welch, in Maiden Voyage (Reader's Union, 1945). Recalling the Shanghai nightclubs of his youth a century ago, he remembered "a middle-aged woman dressed all in green. On the table in front of her stood a glass of crème de menthe and she held a green cigarette between her lips." He commented on her to his beefy dancing partner, who replied "Isn't she killing! I've seen her here in red velvet, sipping cherry brandy and smoking a rose-coloured cigarette. Tonight she's all in green. She always has everything to match." "What does she drink when she wants to go blue?" "I don't know, unless it's methylated spirits!" Norma follows in the illustrious footsteps of another Simonsberg She: Ansela. A freed slave, Ansela was wife to 17th century Prussian immigrant Lourens Campher who was granted een zeker stuk land genaamd De Driesprong gelegen onder de Stellenbosch in 1699 by governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel, son of Si. Today De Driesprong is called Muratie, a corruption of murasie or ruin, referring to Ansela's original single room house, an annex to a stable and chicken run and one of the oldest buildings in Stellenbosch. "The horses had the best accommodation" explains present incumbent Muratie matriarch Annatjie Melck, "as they were the most important." The most recent bee in Annatjie's bonnet is restoring Ansela's original homestead. The plan calls for the preservation of the cobbled floor, fireplace and wooden ceiling with the odd Persian carpet added for a splash of luxury and colour. Original mud brickwork to be exposed and the external integrity of the structure faithfully preserved. Restoring the historic house of Ansela after three centuries is architectural karma and another memorial for a unique lady who is commemorated in the estate's flagship blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. SA takes its women winemakers so seriously, there is even a Landbouweekblad SA Woman Winemaker of the Year Competition. The 2009 verylongnamedcompetition award went to Ntsiki Biyela, winemaker at Stellakaya who operates from a winery at Bosman's Crossing in the shadow of the Simonsberg. First prize in the competition is "a pamper package from the Lanzerac Wellness Centre and Spa to the value of R1000" which may just be enough to send feminist blood pressure off the scale, but then the winner also does receive "an all expenses paid trip to the winemaking region of Bordeaux, valued at R30 000." If Ntsiki times it well, she can visit May at Pichon with a side trip up to champagne, to Gosset, one of the oldest houses, owned by the family of Anne whose day job is running her Morgenhof estate on the Simonsberg. Morgenhof is a fairytale venue for weddings while its Fantail range of value-for-money wines are some of the best deals in town.

Mike Ratcliffe
Warwick Estate & Vilafonte
P.O.Box 2 Elsenburg, 7607, South Africa

FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER www.twitter.com/mikeratcliffe

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Warwick picnic team having their 2nd lecture on recycling & waste management

Mike Ratcliffe
Warwick Estate & Vilafonte
P.O.Box 2 Elsenburg, 7607, South Africa

FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER www.twitter.com/mikeratcliffe

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Warwick's first Landrover just arrived for the 'Big 5 Wine Safari' - we launch next week

Mike Ratcliffe
Warwick Estate & Vilafonte
P.O.Box 2 Elsenburg, 7607, South Africa

FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER www.twitter.com/mikeratcliffe

Friday, November 20, 2009


Gourmet Picnic logo small.jpg         Big 5 Wine Safari.jpg








Wednesday, November 18, 2009


More than a year into the economic downturn, Napa Valley vintners are looking toward the future. “I think that we’re already starting to see a little bit of a turnaround as far as wine sales go,” St. Helena winery owner Kent Rasmussen said. Wine drinkers are buying more readily than they did a few months ago, he said, and retailers and restaurateurs are finally stocking up again. During the second quarter of 2009 — the last quarter for which information on sales tax revenue is available — winery sales in Napa County actually rose 3.9 percent over the second quarter of 2008. Spring 2008 was about the time that wine sales in Napa County first started to slip. Now, vintners are waiting on the holidays, when the bulk of their wine is sold, to see if there’s reason to be optimistic. “The fourth quarter is when the thing really crashed last year, so you better see a darn good increase this year, because a good portion of our production is sold during the holidays,” said Jack Cakebread, owner of Cakebread Cellars in Rutherford. “This is sort of the crunch time,” Napa Valley Vintners spokesman Terry Hall said, “because the fourth quarter really is the most active sales period for wine.”


The new ‘normal’

Regardless of how things go this winter, some say the Napa Valley wine industry may have changed forever. “I don’t think it can go back to normal,” Calistoga winery owner Laura Zahtila said. “I think we’ll have a new normal.” New Jersey wine merchant Gary Fisch agrees. “It will never be like it was,” he said, “and boy, did I like what it was.” Deborah Steinthal, founder of Napa-based Scion Advisors, predicts that $75 wines will move down permanently to $50, and Napa Valley wineries will be forced to reconsider their luxury-only portfolios. “I think we’ve got about three to five years to redefine our position in the world of wine,” she said, “and that means not just in terms of proving we can sell as much wine in the categories we’ve been selling in the past.” Ultra-premium wine producers could have an especially hard time if wine buyers permanently tighten their belts. “I think there’s going to be a lot less cult cab out there,” Zahtila said. “I think that wineries need to get realistic about what people should be and are willing to pay for their wine.” Bill Harlan, whose Harlan Estates wines go for up to $500 a bottle online, said he expects a shakeout in the next three to five years among cult wine producers, but he adds that those who survive will come out even stronger.

“I feel that if we stay the course and continue to work on producing better and better wines and build relationships one-by-one, then things will come back,” he said. Relationships may be the key to success, according to industry officials. As people change the way they buy wine, and as distributors change the way they sell it, wineries are beginning to focus more on selling directly to consumers than relying on other retail channels. “National distribution makes sense for some wineries, but direct is more critical to survival and growth,” Steinthal said. This may mean a new approach to marketing, one that emphasizes personal relationships with consumers. “If we just keep doing things as we have done in the past and hope things will eventually come around to the way they were 10 or 20 years ago, I think many businesses will be sadly surprised at the outcome,” said Ed Matovcik, vice president of Foster’s Wine Estates, and one of a group of wine industry representatives lobbying for fewer restrictions on local winery marketing events. Winemaker Mike Grgich said he believes that Napa Valley is entering “a new chapter of the wine industry.” “We can learn from this,” he said, “(but) we have to work hard and smart and learn new ways of marketing.” Some vintners say this means more than just changing their marketing techniques, it means changing to whom they market.

The younger generation.

Especially as Baby Boomers retire and cut back on their wine purchases, some wineries are starting to focus marketing efforts on the younger generation of wine buyers, including those born approximately from 1980 to 2000, known as the “millennials.” “The millennial category is really stepping up,” Steinthal said, “and wineries are learning how to market to millennials. Folks are really thinking through how to leverage the next generation of their family with a new category of customers, a new generation of customers.” Ceja Vineyards, for example, is one of the few wineries in Napa County that is actually expanding right now, and winery president Amelia Ceja attributes its success in large part to her children. “I have three children in their early 20s and they’re big on all the new technology and on the Internet,” Ceja said, “so that has been extremely helpful. We don’t do a lot of advertising, but our presence on online social sites has helped. We do a lot of videos and marketing on Facebook and Twitter.” Ceja said she and her children spend about an hour a day using Web 2.0 tools and social networking sites to market their wines. “It’s knowing what the customer wants and how to capture that customer’s attention,” she said, “and people are attracted to the millennials.” Ultimately, those who are quick to adapt may actually come out stronger than they were before the economic downturn. “In any kind of downtime, the industry gets stronger,” Steinthal said. “The innovators really show up, and so unfortunately, it means some folks drop out, but for the long-term health of the industry, the strong get stronger. Fisch agrees. “We’re entering a new economic age, and the people that can change and adjust will thrive,” he said. “The people that stick their head in the sand and say, ‘This is the way we’ve always done it and this is the way it will continue,’ I think will have challenges.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ken Forrester at the WOSA USA conference

Mike Ratcliffe
Warwick Estate & Vilafonte
P.O.Box 2 Elsenburg, 7607, South Africa

FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER www.twitter.com/mikeratcliffe

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Rootstock invites you to our last event of 2009. We explore GREEN ISSUES in the winelands, viz Organic , Biodynamic , Bio-logic  and Carbon Neutral . Join us to hear from our panel of producers how they are applying their approaches, and what they are doing to make a difference to our environment. Participate in the panel discussion which will ensue. We encourage active debate from all present. We can all learn from their experiences, and invite you to ask questions, in fact if you would like to email questions to us before the event - we will pass them on to the speakers. Emails to info@rootstock.co.za. Our panel consists of:

  • Michael Back from Backsberg on their Carbon Neutral work
  • Michelle du Preez from Bon Cap on their organic production
  • Johnathan Grieve from Avondale on their Bio-Logic approach
  • Johan Reyneke from Reyneke Wines on his Biodynamic approach.

If you would like to contribute to the discussion - feel free to participate after they have made their 10 minute presentations.

  • How do these approaches differ? How are they the same?
  • What impact are they making on their environment?
  • What impact are we making on the environment but not adopting similar approaches?

Bookings are essential through http://www.rootstock.co.za/ ONLINE only. You need to register with Rootstock to attend. Rootstock membership is free - but you pay for events attended.

  • Date: TUES 24th NOV 2009
  • Time: 5.30pm for 6pm start until about 8.30pm
  • Venue: Backsberg Estate (thanks to them for making their venue available and providing wines)
  • Cost: R50 (to cover snacks) - bring cash with you

If you book and do not attend - you will still be invoiced accordingly. For any urgent matters please contact Judy Brower on 083 301 8569 or email info@rootstock.co.za

Friday, October 30, 2009

here are some pictures of one of our concept 'Picnic Pods' at Warwick!

Pique nique Space4 Imag1.jpgPique nique Space4 Imag4.jpgPique nique Space4 Imag9.jpg



Mike Ratcliffe

Warwick Wine Estate

Stellenbosch, South Africa

phone Phone:       +27 (0) 21 88 444 10

email Email:       mike@warwickwine.com

email Web:         www.warwickwine.com  

email Web:         www.vilafonte.com






From: Vanessa Ratcliffe [mailto:vanessa@southerndestinations.com]
Sent: Friday, October 30, 2009 9:30 AM
To: mike@warwickwine.com
Subject: RE: Visit to South Africa


Hi Mike,


Apologies for delayed reaction, I was away.


Many thanks for including SD in your comms to Susan.  I will send her a introductory email.  


And... big thanks for writing so favorably about us on the YPO website. 


Neil has described Warwick's new Wine Safari concept, and I look forward to finding out more. 


And.....  Happy Birthday  !!!!!! 


See you at the golf day


Love Dort       


From: Mike Ratcliffe [mailto:mike@warwickwine.com]
Sent: 28 October 2009 06:02 PM
To: 'Susan Kostrzewa'
Cc: 'Lew Rood'; 'Annareth Bolton'; james@warwickwine.com; Neil Ratcliffe; Vanessa Ratcliffe
Subject: Visit to South Africa

Hi Susan,

I would like to introduce you to Lew Rood (cc'ed) who is in charge of PR and relations for the Singita game reserve group – acknowledged globally as the leaders in high-end safari tourism in South Africa and Southern Africa. I have spoken to him about the brief for your article and he has expressed a willingness to accommodate you & Chris. He also has a NY based representative who would be able to work with you more closely to design this segment of your trip to one or more of their game lodges. I have told him that ideally you are looking to write an article on the safari experience with a focus on 'safari' food and Stellenbosch wines. I am sure that you would be able to give a better brief.


In principle, they would arrange to get you to the lodges from Stellenbosch and return you to Stellenbosch. They would also coordinate your itinerary during these days with a potential 2-3 day duration..


Lew: Susan is coming to South Africa as a guest of the Stellenbosch Wine Routes and her expenses to get to SA and on this leg of the trip are being taken care of by Stellenbosch. Please would you take over from here and be in touch with Susan? Dates are tentatively first 2 weeks of February 2010 – to be confirmed by Susan.


Full Name:          Susan Kostrzewa

Job Title:              Senior Editor

Company:           Wine Enthusiast

103 Fairview Park Drive, Elmsford, NY 10523, USA

Phone:                  +1914 345 8463

Business Fax:     +1914 592 0105



Susan: I have also cc'ed Neil & Vanessa at Southern Destinations www.southerndestinations.com who may be able to assist with any on the ground coordination or general information requests. Southern Destinations are the premier inbound high-end agents who specialise on the USA inbound market.


Kind regards




Mike Ratcliffe

Vilafonte Vineyards & Warwick Wine Estate

Stellenbosch, South Africa

phone Phone:       +27 (0) 21 88 444 10

email Email:       mike@warwickwine.com

email Web:         www.warwickwine.com  

email Web:         www.vilafonte.com






Thursday, October 22, 2009

Warwick 'Black Lady' Syrah label printing - at the press

Mike Ratcliffe
Warwick Estate & Vilafonte
P.O.Box 2 Elsenburg, 7607, South Africa

FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER www.twitter.com/mikeratcliffe

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Back in your wine box, elitist critic

The letter, Quality wine in a box (September 21), highlights much of what is wrong with the wine industry. We hear of wine lakes on the one hand yet the price of wine continues its steady climb. Wine farmers plead poverty, and yet we are continuously presented with pictures of the great and the good unashamedly enjoying the life of Riley. Your wine columnist continues to opine in his quaint, elitist style, as if anyone who can’t afford a bottle at R150, or was it R1500-plus, is beneath him. Many wine writers give the impression that nothing below a certain price point will ever contaminate their nostrils, let alone their lips. Let’s get real here. Between boxed “carafe quality” and auction wines there is a whole array of, shall I call them “sumptuous, luscious, mouth- filling, affordable wines”? SA is truly blessed. Travel to Europe or the US at the moment. Many retailers are fighting for survival in these difficult times. While often avoiding discounting of brands, a marketing no-no, they are putting together “special offers”, co-branded deals, BOGOFs (buy one or two, get one free), and trying to maintain their relationship with their consumers by delivering value at affordable prices. Marketers should know that relationships that survive difficult times are potentially even better in the good times. Nothing wrong in trading down. Values such as trust, integrity and transparency are never to be taken for granted. Apart from the Sunday Times wine fundi, who has the confidence and knowledge to recommend wines from as little as R25 a bottle, most of the other writers deserve to be put back in their elitist boxes. If the wine industry wants to maintain, let alone grow, its “share of throat”, it will need to change.

Jeremy Sampson


Friday, October 16, 2009

My last English pub lunch - beef pie, oysters and Guiness. Goodbye England.

Mike Ratcliffe
Warwick Estate & Vilafonte
P.O.Box 2 Elsenburg, 7607, South Africa

FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER www.twitter.com/mikeratcliffe

Is South Africa about to adjust it's positioning?

WINE.CO.ZA readers receive daily (sporadic) blog postings from the UK. Occasional contributor Mike Ratcliffe, the MD of Warwick Wine Estate and the American joint venture winery, Vilafonte, sends live updates and photos of what's hot and happening at the this year's Mega Tasting punctuated with personal observation and irreverent thoughts. This posting was written on the high-speed Virgin train between London and Glasgow - via wifi. Follow Mike on Twitter www.twitter.com/mikeratcliffe

The second day at the WOSA Mega-tasting was kind of like the first day, except that it was 24 hours later and I was feeling that much more exhausted. There was nothing of particular excitement to report in the sense that we were not surprised by a visit from Nelson Mandela or Robert Parker. The visitor numbers appeared to be higher and there was a general buzz around the room as everyone went about their business of sniffing, swirling and spitting. Again the lack of presence from all but actual wine buyers and journos was a disappointment as the mega-tasting is an excellent opportunity for everyone from MW students to waiters and budding sommeliers to have a one-stop shop for SA wine. While the coordination, presentation and winery attendance at the show were impressive, one cannot help but ask if a one-day show would have had the same impact. It is understandable that it is not always convenient to attend on a particular day, but with the exceptional lead times and forward planning you would think that the trade would be able to organise themselves. The problem with giving people too many options is that they tend to exercise them.

From a personal point of view, the event was well worth the time and investment and I feel satisfied that it would be very difficult to replicate the excellent face-time and new business that I achieved as a solo operator. Perhaps the brains-trust that organise the event could think of some way to further differentiate this event. Perhaps an indoor football tournament of SA wine producers and UK wine hacks would have added an element of fun to the sometimes sombre proceedings? But then again, this is a wine trade show in London and an element of formality is to be expected.

While the days have been focused on trade interactions, I have now spent three nights on the trot immersing myself in consumer tastings. In excess of 900 ordinary consumers pitched up for the three events in London and Glasgow and the incredible enthusiasm and support for SA wines warmed the heart of even the most jaded globe-trotting wino.

‘I had no idea that SA wines are so good.’

‘These wines present incredible value and knock the spots off the French’,

‘South African wines just keep getting better’

These were some of the typical comments heard over and again at the consumer tastings. So lets analyse, just for a second, the fact that the trade are the ‘gate-keepers’ for South African wine into the UK and there is no surprise that price and potential margin are almost always the primary variables for judging the acceptability of a wine. Given the excitement from the consumers, one could question if the trade has underestimated the enthusiasm of the general wine drinking public for the inherent quality of top South African wines? Is the old ‘value proposition’ positioning of South African wine artificially supported by the embedded historical purchasing habits of the gate-keepers. Are wine buyers taking sufficient initiative in realigning SA quality with appropriate pricing or are they simply perpetuating values that are, perhaps, no longer relevant? Are SA producers aware that South African price/quality ratios are ‘off the charts’ relevant to many of our competitors and that given current Euro exchange rates we have an ability reposition ourselves?

Consumers are generally honest and candid, especially given their power to vote with their wallets. If the consumer enthusiasm encountered over the past week were somehow translated up the value chain to the gate-keepers, it is hard to believe that South African wine is not about to adjust it’s value positioning in the right direction.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Warwick gourmet picnics are launching December 1st!

Megatasting update

Day 3: South Africa mounts a full frontal assault on the UK and Europe


WINE.CO.ZA readers can look forward to daily updates from the Mega Tasting held in London on 13 and 14 October. As of Monday, 12 October, Mike Ratcliffe, MD of Warwick Wine Estate and the American joint venture winery, Vilafonte, will send WINE.CO.ZA live updates and photos of what's hot and happening at the this year's Mega Tasting.


South African wine descended on Earls Court yesterday in a well coordinate panzer movement that was designed to strike fear into the heart of the UK wine community. In what amounted to a superb show of force it certainly felt like the SA wine marketing community have come of age. A huge proportion of the top SA brands both large and small turned out to woo and wow the locals in what is strategically an excellent non-conflicted pre-World Cup piece of UK wine calendar real estate. But was there a soccer ball in sight? One cannot help but think that we are procrastinating by not cranking up our media and marketing machine with only months to go before the largest sporting event ever to descend on Africa? It is well known that WOSA has been proactive in designing plans and programs that, I believe, have excellent vision in promoting brand SA, but why was it not unleashed here. Perhaps it will be revealed today as I depart now for the day 2?

OK, so the SA wine industry was in London, but how were my predictions on attendance figures? It is always difficult to gauge attendance at these events and I might be getting in trouble, so I will restrict this opinion to a very narrowly defined one – my own. I was really impressed by the attendance by European and even American interests. I was happy to spend time with my Dutch & Russian agents and enjoyed discussions with colleagues from Finland and Ireland. The New York sommeliers flown to London by WOSA were likes bees around the hive and it would seem took the opportunity to really throw themselves at the opportunity to educate themselves widely, although they lamented that the majority of wines on show were not available in NY – fair enough, it is a UK trade show. There were also some top journos and many of the big supermarket buyers were present, but where were all the restaurant owners, the independent wine shops, the sommeliers and the smaller wine buyers? Did I blink and miss them? After 15 years in the market I know many of the top people and they were, it seems, not there.

The evening was an altogether different affair as SA Wines Online hosted a consumer event that had many of the exhausted SA wino’s running hard with 400 plus consumers scrambling for a taste of some of SA’s top drops. It was a warm and heartening affair with overwhelming enthusiasm coupled with genuine interest that could have lead to excellent sales – an altogether welcome combination. I will be looking to boss-man Kevin Gallagher of www.sawinesonline.co.uk to give me some feedback later today, but my gut feeling is that it was huge success. Well done to all.

Follow me on Twitter www.twitter.com/mikeratcliffe


Monday, October 12, 2009

Day 2: London calling - Mike Tweets & Blogs from the UK

The buzz is building in Blighty as we inch closer to the Day 1 of the mega-tasting. London’s streets are riddled with South African’s armed to the teeth with wine – and with every intention to use it. Informal chats with some of the top UK journo’s shows that a strong media presence will be felt tomorrow and so far the top buyers from Waitrose, Sainsbury;s, Tesco’s, Morrisons, Wine Direct and the Wine Society will be descending on Earls Court to hob-nob with the who’s-who of the SA winemaking firmament. Will any of the South African journalists be present to record this auspicious moment of unity for the loyal South African public?

This year WOSA is bringing a couple of new angles to the event. About a dozen top New York sommeliers are being flown from the USA to attend the mega-tasting which is an incredibly efficient and intelligent use of WOSA and winery resources, effectively killing two birds with one stone. I will be dining with the sommeliers this evening and will be sure to blog about this tomorrow to hear their impressions. This global WOSA strategy is a good omen demonstrating the WOSA board’s commitment to a new USA wine strategy which is going to culminate in another mega-tasting of sorts in New York City on May 11th 2010. More USA buzz is going to be evident on Tuesday the 17th of November when the WOSA USA workshop kicks off in Stellenbosch. But I digress…

The idea that a mega-tasting hosted in London should be a purely UK-centric affair is getting old. London is the cross-roads of the wine world and WOSA’s decision to use it as an American and European platform is excellent. The effort to travel to the event from Europe is minimal and I understand that this year the event has been extensively marketed by the European offices. The proof is in the pudding, but ultimately an event of this nature is a the next best alternative to the ‘Cape Wine’ events that have been so successful in the past, but actually at a much smaller cost.

So what defines success? This is an open-ended question and one that would have a hundred reasonable answers. In my observations in many London off-con outlets, I have too–often bumped into brands that I have never (or seldom) heard of. There are too many brands that are once-off brands or buyers own brands (BOB’s) that have got no particularly identifiable source or origin. Too often these are ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ brands (BOGOF’s). These are characterless wines bearing the ‘Made in SA’ moniker, but seemingly devoid of any of the unique South African ‘Brand-DNA’. So what would define success for the mega-tasting? A successful SA category in the UK would see fewer BOB’s, fewer BOGOF’s, a lot less CRAP and much more inherent South African-ness in our brands. Success would see a tighter marketing message and a more clearly defined point of differentiation about what exactly South African-ness is. It is my hope that the unified marketing message being promoted by WOSA as the ‘BRAND DNA’ of the Wines of South Africa will be adopted and embraced.

Now, I am off (in 5 minutes) to dinner with the USA sommeliers – more from the tasting tomorrow.



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Sunday, October 11, 2009

London calling - Mike Ratcliffe Tweets & Blogs from the UK

The bi-annual Swallow-like migration of South Africa’s wine making and wine marketing elite to London started this weekend with flocks descending on Cape Town International for the trip to the ‘other’ London Wine Show – the WOSA ‘Mega-tasting’. The biggest showing of our collective wine muscle outside of the Cape Wine show starts flexing at Earls Court on Tuesday and one can be sure that the UK media and wine trade will again be as supportive in their attendance as ever.

South Africa’s generic wine marketing function has always been under the spotlight and over the years has been a punching bag for winemakers struggling with excessive inventories, but lately there is a growing body of evidence that WOSA has come of age. Recently Su Birch and her exceptionally able and experienced band of ‘merry men’ (and merry women) presented the marketing strategy for the year ahead including a document on the ‘Brand DNA’ of the Wines of South Africa. Now, there is no secret that I am generally predisposed to marketing orientated discussion and have, over the years accumulated an ability to assess this type of communication, but it would be an understatement if I said that I was impressed by the WOSA presentation. In fact I can take it one step further to say that the WOSA Brand DNA presentation for South African wine is one the slickest strategies that I have ever seen and is an asset that we as an industry need to embrace and celebrate. To put it simply, there is no generic wine marketing competitor that could boast anything like what we have and that is a pretty cool thing. Have you read it? Is this news to you? Well, please go onto the WOSA website and download it or call the offices and ask them to send you one of the very tastefully designed brochures that spell out the vision – and then make sure that you and your winery start implementing.

So, here I am sitting in a Kensington wine bar wondering why I am paying £7.75 for a glass of very cheap red Burgundy and pondering the relevance of this whole circus known affectionately as the UK wine market. It was Oscar Wilde that said that ‘The man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world.” Any seasoned wine marketing campaigner will tell you that London (or now apparently Hong Kong) is the centre of the wine world. On every corner there is a wine bar or wine shop plying it’s trade to a public that have come to acknowledge wine as a necessary staple as ubiquitous as a loaf of bread. If consumer acceptance is the bedrock of wine marketing nirvana, then London is where it is at and where competition is more aggressive than anywhere on the planet. For this reason I have been dispatched by the ‘powers that be’ at wine.co.za to scout for stories and anecdotes that exemplify our South African efforts and which I will be reporting on over the course of the next week – that is the full extent of my mandate.

Stay tuned – I have no idea where this is going.

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