Monday, February 22, 2010

View of Cape Town from the (windy) deck of MS Amsterdam - World Cup Ship

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


Sunday, February 21, 2010

What a day - a view across the dam at the Warwick Estate Picnics

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


Friday, February 19, 2010

Naples Wine Festival Auction Results!!!!!

Zelma Long, Vilafonté wine blogger

The name of our Vilafonté and Staglin Vintner Dinner last night was "Xceeding Xpectations"…and we sure did. Our South Africa Auction lot, which includes wines from the Staglins, Vilafonté and Warwick; visits to the Cape winelands, a luxury stay at the One and Only. Safari trip to Singita, to various CapeTown locations; and other excitement, sold for…………………$340,000!! This was the highest wine lot in the auction. The 3 others at the same level or higher were all "trips" (Mediterranean cruise; Caribbean Cruise; U.S. golf tour) for multiple people.
Wow. These Napleites know how to raise money for worthy charities. Some other tidbits I learned today:
- they actually fund programs for up to 20 different groups; and a group of trustees
is responsible to review all proposals; and then track the work of each of the
awarded programs to be sure the money is being effectively spent.
- bidding paddles are sold to 500 bidders maximum; there is often a waiting list
- cost to attend the auction events and bid if $7500/couple
- if you want the best seats at the auction and specific people at your table, the
cost is $20,000.
They spare no opportunity to feature the children who benefit from the proceeds. As they say,,,bid early, bid often; and they did . A neat trick was to hang a small plastic packet on the paddles, one for $1000; one for $5000; and one for $10,000. . If you wanted to donate, you select the appropriate ticket and during one auction lot, volunteers come around with buckets to collect your "ticket" which has your paddle number on it They collected over $600,000 worth of donations in about 5 minutes, with this technique.
What was the total auction take, for charity for children??... $8 million plus. For 61 lots. Pretty amazing. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Vilafonte raises $340,000 at Naples Wine Auction in Florida

There was great excitement this weekend in Florida as the renowned Naples Wine Festival Auction confirmed again that it is the largest wine auction in the world. The Naples Wine Festival and Auction has made headlines in the past as it has eased past the Dollar revenues of the Napa Valley Wine Auction to become the most prestigious and luxurious charitable event of its kind – anywhere. ‘This is certainly the place to be’ said Zelma Long, winemaking partner and co-owner of Vilafonté who attended the auction as a ‘featured vintner’ and rubbed shoulders with Hollywood movie stars and the top winemakers in the world.


The highest price raised for a wine lot was achieved by the South African Vilafonte/Staglin wine trip lot which raised a mind-boggling $340,000, making it one the biggest lots in the history of the Naples event. This is also the first time that a South African winery has been incited to arrange and coordinate a lot of this size and magnitude. The Vilafonté lot was co-sponsored with generous donations by Southern Destinations Inbound tour operators, One&Only Hotel Cape Town, Singita Game Lodges and the Staglin Family in California. The 2010 auction raised in excess of $8,000,000 and was a platform for raising the profile of South Africa and it’s wines amongst the wealthy American elite.

Zelma Long is a former guest speaker at the Nederburg auction and a senior member of the Californian winemaking fraternity. Zelma was accompanied by importer Bartholomew Broadbent, son of renowned wine writer Michael Broadbent who acted as a ‘brand Ambassador’ for Vilafonte

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It's very early - and I am flying from Richmond Virginia to New York City

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


Monday, February 8, 2010

Jam in the USA - flavoured wines (Part 2)

On a snowy, cold and generally miserable day last week, I walked into a quaint Washington DC wine store and noticed a new facing on the shelf. The ‘Jam Jar’ is a marketing creation of Andre Shearer, the respected wine marketer that has been part of the team working tirelessly to put South Africa on the map in the USA. The ‘Jam Jar’ is a ‘sweet Shiraz’ in beautiful jam-jar-style packaging and selling below $10 which is the sweet spot (pun intended) for the volume wine market in the USA. I spent an hour presenting an in-depth tasting in this fine wine store to the owner who was intrigued by everything vinous, and particularly interested in the South African story. ‘Although I don’t like the wine, I stock it because it sells really well’ was the answer to my prodding question about the Jam Jar’s seeming intrusion into his collection of celebrated terroir-driven wines.


The South African wine industry has been pretty unsuccessful in penetrating the US wine market – the biggest in the world. There are many reasons for this including a lack of political will, a sluggish DTI still convinced that SA should focus on the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India & China) countries, a WOSA board that until recently has lacked the commitment and perhaps most importantly, a lack of funds. The South African category barely exists despite the fact that the US potential continues to grow. On May 11th this year WOSA will launch its most ambitious marketing and public relations exercise and it is going to be interesting to see what kind of support it receives from both the producers and the US media and trade. If managed correctly, this event could be just the tonic to rejuvenate and revive our struggling efforts. It is no coincidence that the event happens less than a month before the kick-off of the biggest sporting event of the year in South Africa. This double-whammy has potential to give SA momentum in the USA – and the industry should be in New York driving it hard.


The USA is a commodity market driven by marketing and in this sense a strong and innovative marketing bias is going to be the perfect tool within the framework of raw capitalism. At the same time it is imperative that we manage brand South Africa to ensure that our reputation is maintained and managed. Perhaps it would be appropriate to refer to ‘Australia 101’; the ‘Yellow-tail’ and ‘Little Penguin’ lesson. This is an Aussie case study in which a (probably) unintended move away from solid generic marketing of tangible benefits to a new reality based on the commoditisation of Australian brand equity has caused considerable pain down-under. South African producers in general and WOSA in particular are adept at positioning South Africa correctly and have been doing a pretty good job in Europe and the UK for years – this path should also be followed in the USA, with the knowledge that a meaningful image takes years to craft and requires sustainable efforts and funding.


This brings me back to the question of coffee, chocolate, jam and other flavours that are popping up in SA wine brands. Is the development of this ‘flavoured’ category the ‘silver bullet’ that we need to sell ship-loads of wine to Wal-Mart customers or it the bastardisation of South Africa’s carefully manicured efforts at positioning. Ultimately we walk a fine line between an individualistic ‘whatever sells’ ethos and a ‘for the greater good’s generic marketing philosophy.


I believe that South Africa’s significantly improved marketing capabilities should be celebrated. We are no longer the ‘also rans’ in the creation of effective wine marketing strategies and this is being recognised by the trade and the media. The creation of new categories of wine and the rationale behind them should also be celebrated. I personally love these developments and have no doubt that they will effectively lower barriers to entry and increase the size of the pie for everyone. Let us, as an industry be cogniscent of the fact that South Africa is a country that has based it’s success on our excellent quality to price ratio.


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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Playing in the Richmond Virginia snow with Bartholomew Broadbent

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


Friday, February 5, 2010

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tasting-red-wine-out-of-a-Champagne-glass .com

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


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Chocolate, coffee & sex in wine

04 February 2010 by Mike Ratcliffe
While travelling, I often find time to think. To ponder is perhaps a more appropriate description of the processes that my mind engages in when dealing with the archaic travel and security restrictions that we are forced to deal with through the airports of the world. So it is that I have been pondering the meaning of the trends that are driving the South African wine industry.
One of the biggest trends is the emergence of the 'flavoured wine' category. By 'flavoured' I refer to the seemingly unstoppable rise to prominence of the coffee, chocolate and now jam flavoured wines that are starting to take market share from other non-flavoured wines.
Wow - OK, this is becoming a contentious column and I might have to start choosing my words carefully. There may be many who would claim that this category does not actually exist because 'flavoured' would imply that artificial flavours would therefore have had to be introduced which would go against the apparent rules or norms that drive our industry. My understanding is that the 'flavoured' category is in fact not 'flavoured'. In fact, these are merely wines that are marketing themselves based on some of the 'flavours' which appear to naturally occur in the wines - which makes perfect sense to me.
In appealing to the average punter, it would make perfect sense to sell the wine based on the flavour that they will perceive (cherry cola, Fanta grape) when they are experiencing the product. So the category is really a marketing creation driven by a group of winemakers that have identified a specific flavour attribute in their wine that they would consider so sufficiently distinctive that they can drive all of their marketing efforts based on this attribute. Was Fanta Grape created by a lab assistant having a Eureka moment when experimenting on alternative Fanta incarnations? Did he suddenly discover that adding purple food colouring to Orange Fanta suddenly made it actually tasted like grape? Et voila - a new category!
No, of course not, perhaps this momentum was started in that way by the early Wellington exploits of David Sonnenburgh (ex Woolworths) and the category is now on fire. Woolworths has long known that the best way to sell wine is not by exploiting the terroir, the famous winemaker or the variety - no way José. Next time you are in Woolies look at the labels "Perky Pink', 'Juicy red' and then also read the back label text which uses words like yummy, delicious & succulent while avoiding terms like 'harvested at optimum ripeness'.

NEXT I will discuss what came first - the flavour or the category?