Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Zelma has just taken an amazing new photo that I wanted to post. It gives a fantastic impression of the location of our property in relation to the mountains! This is looking South towards the Drakenstein (Dragon) mountains. Stellenbosch is off to the right and Paarl is behind our left shoulder.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Great news today as both of our wines have received the ultimate score from influential German wine magazine 'Selektion'. http://www.vilafonte.com/media.html In an article on ICON wines called 'The best wines from South Africa', only 3 wines received 5 stars. Congratulations also to Kevin Arnold Shiraz! The ship continues sailing...
Sent via my BlackBerry from Vodacom - let your email find you!
Saturday, October 08, 2005
October is going to be an exciting month as Phil, Zelma, Bernard and myself get to finalise the blends for the 2004 Vilafonte wines. Bernard Pre Le Roux has joined the team as Zelma's right hand winemaker and he is certainly in for a steep learning curve. Watch this space as the wines develop.
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Thursday, September 22, 2005
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Also in a peculiar double whammy, well done to Bartholomew Broadbent and his Team at Broadbent Selections (our partner!) for being nominated as US Importer of the Year 2005. You deserve it guys!
Friday, September 02, 2005
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
We have had very exciting news today as Vilafonte becomes the first South African winery ever to be listed on the prestigious 'French Laundry' winelist in California. The Thomas Keller restaurant that has been named as perhaps the greatest restaurant in the world. We are also pleased to also have received a listing in the other famous Thomas Keller restaurant 'Per Se' in New York. We are all honored, humbled and proud!
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
South Africa needs to create brands that are connected to their origin in a greater sense and surround that with a veil of integrity, writes Mike Ratcliffe on the last leg of their launch tour of the US.
Travelling in America is always a pleasure with efficient transportation and enormous hotel rooms. When you compare the tiny 'shoeboxes' that they squeeze us into in Europe, the spaciousness is an enormous reprieve. Also, prices in the US can be quite refreshing with the strengthened Rand, especially if you make use of an incredible value website called www.hotwire.com. Most of our rooms were booked in this way and I found myself in one of three penthouse suites in Philadelphia after using the last minute Hotwire function for a grand total of $110 including tax and charges. Don't forget to add GST to any costs that you see when budgeting for the US.
Philadelphia is by far the largest and best known city in Pennsylvania, (Remember Sly Stallone aka Rocky running up the steps of the town hall in his training?), but is not the official capitol and seat of local government. I mention government because PA is one of a few government-managed 'monopoly' states in America. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) is one of the largest purchasers of wine in the world and should be a significant driver for South Africa in the US market - as long as we get our positioning correct. I met up with our regional Broadbent sales manager, Rebecca Foulk, in Philadelphia and made the 2½ hour drive to Harrisburg, where we had lunch at the Hilton with the buyer from the PLCB for South African wine. The PLCB has made a commitment to the South African category, but has been frustrated by many 'wannabe Yellowtail brands' that are targeting the $6-8 retail price points, but are under-delivering on quality. Yellowtail is successful not because of the quality to price ratio, but rather because they have been fortunate to spark a 'first-mover animal brand' buzz phenomenon that has engulfed the US. Second place in this category is always going to be an extremely distant second. South Africa needs to create brands that are connected to their origin in a greater sense and surround that with a veil of integrity. Australia as a country, unlike South Africa, is well entrenched in the US and we need to perceptibly over deliver on quality if we are to attempt to compete.We were joined at lunch by the affable Bill Kohl, GM of the Harrisburg Hilton who also runs one of America's biggest and most high-profile charity auctions called Trés Bonne Anneé, which raises millions of dollars every year. The PLCB is a patron of the auction. Perhaps this is an opportunity for South Africa to participate and raise our profile? We shall see.Did you know that WOSA's own representative for the USA, Suzanne Morton, was born in Harrisburg Pennsylvania?
While I was in Harrisburg, Zelma and Phil were presenting the Vilafonté story and wines to the combined reps of the Prestige Wine Division of Eber Brothers (see picture), our NY distributors in Port Chester, a little town north of NYC. The meeting was extremely well attended and was filled with positive comment and enthusiastic response. Paramount is one of the most progressive regional companies and they are actively expanding their footprint across this region by purchasing smaller distributors. This is the face of American distribution and reflects the 'grow big or be swallowed' mentality that permeates the entire industry. The bad news for South Africa is that a smaller distribution pool translates into fewer possible placements which will heighten our internal competition and reiterate the call for SA to send the best wines to the US.We organized a car and driver for Zelma and Phil as they had to drive all the way across state and into New Jersey for their next midday appointment with the combined reps and management of the Meritage Wine Division, the fine wine division of the Allied Beverage group, our prestigious distributors. AC Nielsen has called NJ 'one of the fastest growing wine consumption states in America' and it has been in the 'Top 5 over $10 retail states' for a couple of years as it is really a dormitory state for wealthy Manhattan commuters. Zelma reports that they were inundated with enthusiasm and questions and that a warmer reception has not been had anywhere in the US. We are very positive about NJ and feel that we are with the right people and we are going to be spending a lot of time in this market. Furthermore, this is part of the Eastern Corridor focus that WOSA has identified and for this reason SA will also be putting funding into this area. After leaving Harrisburg, I had to rush back to Philadelphia to catch a flight to London. It was time to leave the USA with many fond memories, new acquaintances and fascinating experiences.
Saturday, August 06, 2005
This includes the most recent scores of 92 points for Series M and 93 points for Series C awarded by none other than the highly respected Anthony Dias Blue!
You can also read the fabulous article written by R.W.Apple Jr. in The New York Times.
I mention this because one of Vilafonte's Agents asked me why we didn't poste the reviews on the blog site.
Many good retailers all over the country list their wines on this site, so as the wine get's distributed, you should see more and more stores carrying it.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
by Mike Ratcliffe
After 2 weeks of enduring hurricanes, heat waves and almost 100% humidity, we were delighted to wake up to the first relatively temperate day of our tour. The humidity was down and the temperature had retreated to a moderate 28°C which was a relief. Today will be the biggest day of our tour.The majority of the US media and specifically wine media are situated in and around New York State. We arrived for our first meeting with Ray Isle, the senior editor of Food and Wine magazine whom I have known for some time. Ray had previously been editor of Wine and Spirits magazine and was thoroughly enjoying his new, all-encompassing gastronomic endeavors at F&W. We were joined by the energetic and vivacious Lettie Teague, the executive wine editor and Anna McDonald, her wine assistant. Our presentation and tasting were presented in their makeshift boardroom. F&W is part of the American Express publishing group and the entire building was in a state of flux as major renovations were underway. The wines were well accepted and we were peppered with a number of questions and observations.
Our pre-lunch meeting was uptown on the Upper East Side as we raced up Madison in a taxi driven by a man who felt the world owed him a favor (US spelling!). After our positive experience at F&W, we were too exhilarated to be perturbed by the endless stream of expletives and cursing by this man as he narrowly avoided the temptation to mow down anything in his path. A trip in a NYC taxi is something that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime! We reached the Sherry Lehman (www.sherry-lehmann.com) offices in one piece and were welcomed into this (seemingly) tiny fine wine store by the two owners who have been driving this company for so many years. Sherry Lehman is one of the most powerful direct sales companies in the world and certainly one of the most respected in the United States. With the ever changing legal environment in the US, the scope of their power and the reach of their sales are growing on a daily basis. When Sherry Lehman send out a catalog, it goes to a couple of hundred thousand households and also gets inserted into the New York Times! These guys know their stuff and their catalog contains thousands of wines and is upwards of forty pages thick! This is the coalface of fine wine sales in the US. We are happy to have secured a listing for our wines and, after tasting them, we plan a course of action for maximum effect. Zelma will return to the SL offices in November after Thanksgiving weekend for a customer tasting to reinforce the catalog and online marketing efforts. Our next meeting is on 22nd Street, at least half an hour by taxi, and we arrive late (again) for lunch at the Grammercy Tavern with Joshua Greene. Josh is the publisher/editor of Wine and Spirits magazine (www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com) and one seriously nice guy. W&S is one of the most powerful trade publications in the US with an enormous readership. He is inquisitive and exploring and delves deep into the Vilafonté philosophy. We also meet with Juliette Pope who is the wine buyer for Grammercy who asks if she can list the wines to which we eagerly acquiesce. Josh and I both ordered the seared salmon which is cooked like only the New Yorkers can . crispy on the outside and barely warm on the inside - delicious.
After lunch we are late again and we race by taxi to Grand Central station to catch the train to White Plains, about forty minutes North West of Manhattan. From there we catch a cab to Elmsford, the home of Wine Enthusiast magazine (www.wineenthusiast.net), where we actually arrive on time. We are welcomed (see picture) regally with our names on the sign at the front entrance. We are met by Joe Czerwinski who is the senior editor and tasting director and given the grand tour of the sprawling WE offices. We are also pleased to meet with Daryna Tobey who has recently written an amazing in-depth article on the Adelaide Hills. Mike Duffy, the debonair tasting administrator leads us into the beautiful board room and we spend the next two hours presenting the wines and the project in its minutiae. It is always a pleasure presenting to professionals that are truly interested and the time flies. Our taxi driver arrives early and is forced to wait an hour for us outside. It is almost sad to bid farewell to Wine Enthusiast, but depart we must. It is also time for the Vilafonté partners to go their separate ways after two weeks of being joined at the hip.
I am on a tight schedule back to NYC to catch a train to Philadelphia where I am having dinner with a close friend and Zelma and Phil are catching a cab to Port Chester to prepare for an early morning meeting with our NY distributors, Paramount. It has been quite a day and we are exhausted, but this is what it takes to launch a brand and it is truly exhilarating. http://www.vilafonte.com/
Monday, August 01, 2005
New York greeted us with 80% humidity and 42 degree temperatures. The traffic was grid-locked and taxi lines snaked around the block at Pennsylvania (Penn) station. Eventually we managed to find a cab and checked into our hotel and headed for our first appointment at Morrells on Rockefeller plaza. This is one of the most significant East coast retailers and direct sales companies and we have all visited them many times. It is telling that within their enormous selection, not a single bottle of South African wine is on display. There is so much work to be done in the USA.
Not all of our experiences were rosy; Again and again, the Vilafonté team was confronted with journalists, restaurateurs and trade eager to promote the best of South Africa and talking about RSA being the next big thing, but so many times we hear of disappointing experiences with the wine quality. It is very clear that South Africa needs to give more of a quality focus to the US market. Too many producers send their 2nd quality wines to the US while holding the best for the European or other markets. American wine-drinkers are often very wealthy, generally eager to experiment and more often than not happy to spend the bucks … but never have we discovered ignorance or stupidity. Common sense mixed in with a good dose of Keynesian supply and demand reality prevails in the world’s biggest economy. In the market that AC Nielsen has names as the biggest wine market in the world by 2008, we cannot afford to deliver anything less than delicious wine within a well researched marketing and distribution plan. Too many producers are currently selling South Africa short and we all felt that even in the last year, enormous damage had been done. It would be worthwhile to read the more recent in-depth feature article by James Molesworth of the Wine Spectator in which this very point was raised. Yellow-tail is not a business model that we should be emulating. The tipping point is never tipped twice by the same phenomenon.
We spent the rest of the day planning and sorting out logistics for our launch dinner at Alto restaurant. Not completely coincidentally, Alto is owned by our generous host from Nashville and we are treated like Kings in a private dining room. Rory Callahan, the super efficient and switched on representative of Wines of South Africa joins our eclectic mix of retail, restaurant and distribution for dinner. Kim & Stew Leonard started a chain of dairy stores across the Tri-State area a number of years ago and have recently tied their fortune to the wine dirnking boom that is infectiosly spreading across America. They now own 5 mega wine stores and have at least three more stores in planning. We are pleasantly surprised when the erudite Alto sommelier (ex-Restaurant Daniel) immediately agreed to list both our wines. We had a fantastic reception and we can see that this is going to be a key market. Tomorrow wil be the biggest day of our trip and we are all excited, and challenged.
Friday, July 29, 2005
Monday and Tuesday 25 and 26 July 2005
Photos and writing by Zelma Long
With thunderstorms along the east coast and south interfering with plane schedules; we flew from Nashville to Chicago and then on to Boston, but delays in Chicagoheld up the flight from Nashville and forced a reschedule, getting us late Monday evening into Boston. Monday was therefore a day of travel and computer work on the plane.We stayed in Hampton Suites, a new, spare but comfy (and moderately priced) business hotel, in the developing"South End" of Boston. The best feature of the rooms was free wireless Internet, allowing fast and efficient communication. The South End, a past home for the Irish-American community, has gorgeous old brick and brownstone homes shoulder to shoulder. It is a "hot" living area for Boston's young professionals, and many restaurants and small wine shops have settled there.Tuesday we visited several major wine stores: Marty's, Delucca, and the Wine Emporium. In the latter store we found a young South Africa wine fan; the wine buyer and lead salesperson. This was not the first time we had heard commentary on RSA wines; some themes have been:
1. RSA wine sales are showing very strong growth, in volumeand price point, in the U.S.
2. Several retailers told us they were convinced that South Africawas the "next big thing" in wine producing countries of the world.
3. Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc have caught the trade'sattention as good quality and value.
4. Red wines have a mixed reputation; several people acrossthe states mentioned encountering "bandaid" or "iodine"or "musty" smells.
5. There is some confusion about virus; many of the trade wesaw were aware of the presence of leaf roll virus in RSA, yet many were uncertain if (a) it was still a problem; (b) whatwere the negative effects of leaf roll.
A special visit was to the Harvard Club, a venerable institution with a dining roomand quite magnificent large rooms for major social functions, and therefore, a major purchaser of wines.We wound up our day receiving key trade guests for dinner at Pigalle, a small butvery fine French style restaurant in the heart of Boston, and speaking with Dr.Michael Apstein, a Harvard medical school professor, and wine writer for the BostonGlobe. Dr. Apstein has seen the Cape and he spoke eloquently and enthusiasticallyabout the land and its wines, posing many thoughtful questions about our project and itstechnical details (and general questions about leaf roll virus!).Tomorrow morning we will arise at 4:45 a.m. to catch the 6 a.m. train to New York City.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Written by Zelma Long
We rolled into Nashville late Friday night after a tiring week of travel and promotion. A weekend 'taking it easy' was in order and needed. We had been invited to stay with one of America's kindest and most prominent wine collectors and his generous Southern hospitality engulfed us. The temperatures were consistently over 100° Fahrenheit (35°C) all weekend with humidity hanging in the air; unusual they said, for Nashville.Nashville, (Tennessee) a Southern city, is the "country and western music" capitol of the U.S. with many large and small music producers, artists and writers. It is also the home of a significant number of wine collectors, and home of a major annual wine auction, Un Ete du Vin, raising funds, usually $1million plus, for cancer research.Hoyt Hill, a dynamic local wine retailer, (Village Wines) met us at the airport. Hoyt, previously a sommelier, is a well connected wine purveyor who works hard to supply his customers with wines they love. Much of his sales are via Internet; connecting with messages to customers when he finds a wine he thinks they will enjoy. He organized a Sunday late afternoon wine tasting (yes, Sunday) and sixty people showed up to taste, and buy, South Africa wines. He has "spread the word" about South Africa wines and is a great supporter.
Saturday lunch was at at the 'Sportsman's Grill'. Zelma had 'pulled pork BBQ with corn cakes' (a typical southern dish) and the gentlemen had hamburger and fries. Lunch was accompanied by:Chateau La Mission Haut Brion 1982!!!!!Chateau Haut Brion 1989 !!!!!!!What a treat. The Haut Brion was tight, refined, and smooth; the La Mission was more developed; almost floral but succulent; a delicious mouthful. Thankfully we had the afternoon free to relax, swim and and catch up on emails…..Dinner was to be at F. Scotts, a restaurant named for the literary giant of the South, F. Scott Fitzgerald. One of the top restaurants in Nashville; it is owned and managed by a wine-passionate and wine-knowledgeable woman, Elise Solima ( www.fscotts.com ). We started with the mouth watering duck/truffle mini-sandwich that set the mood for the evening, highlighted by some legendary wines, thanks to the generosity of our host:
Domaine de la Mordoreé Côtes du Rhone Rosé 2004
Champagne Pol Roger Extra Cuveé de Reserve Blanc de Blanc 1996
Montrachet, Roland Thevenin 1945 - amazing for its age
Montrachet, Ramonet 1983 - a perfect white Burgundy
Chateau Latour 1929 - fadingLouis Martini 'Special Reserve' California Cabernet Sauvignon 1947 - extraordinary
Domaine de la Romaneé Conti 'Echézeaux' 1959 very good but in tough company
Particularly memorable for us Californians was the 1947 Louise Martini Cabernet; still with deep red brick color, rich and smooth; an impressive wine from long ago.And after dinner….a stop at the Bluebird Café, where songwriters Marc Beeson, Angela Kaset, and Gretchen Peters were playing their songs, some made famous by great "country" vocalists. The café is tiny; people crowded together; no talking allowed; very intimate and wonderful to hear this talent.
The main launch event of the weekend was Sunday night; our host invited 30 wine collectors for dinner in the main dining room of his 1878 Southern mansion. Josh Weekley, a celebrity catering chef from Nashville; known for his touch with seafood, presented a menu of elegant simplicity. His deft touch complimented our wines, resulting in happily received positive feedback about them.We received an invitation for our "first 10 year vertical retrospective Vilafonté tasting" to be conducted in Nashville in 2015!!! We are 10% toward the goal with 30% (3 vintages) harvested! Yes, it is a long term goal. Meanwhile we committed to a big-bottle of the next vintage, to donate to the Un Ete du Vin wine auction 2006.The weekend was memorable in many ways; for the lovely people we met; the great Southern hospitality; the extraordinary wines; the opportunity to show off what South Africa can do.
Monday we fly to Boston.
Saturday, July 23, 2005
by Mike Ratcliffe
Distribution in the United States is in an amazing state of flux as consolidatory and predatory forces jostle for market share, writes Mike Ratcliffe from Texas, USA.
In Texas, USA things really are as big as they come!After a hectic night and little sleep, we awake at an amazingly chic hotel in Austin called The San Jose (http://www.sanjosehotel.com/). Suddenly, everything is calm again and it is time to face another big day. We begin with a sales meeting with our local distributors Block/Republic. Big, bold red wine at 9am... and nobody in Texas sees anything strange in this.Distribution in the United States is in an amazing state of flux as consolidatory and predatory market forces jostle for market share. Every day, another small distributor seems to get snapped up by a larger competitor. I would not be surprised to see Southern (distributor) moving into a monopolistic position across America. This trend is problematic because it reduces the number of SKU's that are carried in the market making penetration by small producers (like Vilafonté) difficult as well as limiting consumer choice. Despite all the fuss about the 'opening' of America to direct shipping and the relaxation of the shipping laws, there is very little evidence that this is going to benefit the producers... yet!The one thing that is clear is that the distributors are fighting this and their massive financial contributions to the Republican Party still buy them a lot of influence in this country.Today was a momentous day for wine in the USA, to quote the Washington Times:'A Gallup poll released yesterday found that wine has surpassed beer and spirits as the stated drink of choice among those who imbibe. Oh, it's not by much: 39 percent of the respondents said they drank wine most often; 36 percent drank beer. Statistically, this is a mighty close race between the dueling beverages, as the poll has a margin of error of four percentage points. "For the first time in Gallup's measurement of Americans' drinking preferences, there is a statistical tie between wine and beer as the alcoholic beverage that adult drinkers say they drink most often," pollster Lydia Saad noted.'The meetings and interviews whiz by in anticipation of our Big evening function at the home of Susan and Ed Auler. Susan is a board member of the Texan Wine & Food Foundation and has invited the entire board as well as the chairman, Larry Peal. This is a big audience and we realise that we'd better not mess it up. Austin is only an hour by car from San Antonio, another centre of food and wine in Texas and we have arranged to bus a number of key influencers to Austin for the evening and put them up in a local hotel. Between us, we invited fifty key consumers, press and trade and the response was exceptional. Susan even hired a chef from the Cordon Bleu cookery school to cook for the evening. The response has been excellent and the Texan reputation for BIG hospitality proved itself again. Another early morning again tomorrow as we head for Dallas on the 08h52 flight.
by Zelma Long
OK, so whose great idea was this? Hurricane Emily is playing havoc with even the best and most fool-proof plans.
We were delayed for three-and-a-half hours in Dulles airport in Washington DC and arrived in Austin Texas at one in the morning. At least it was a successful day in DC.We split up and spent the morning seeing restaurants and key retailers with the reps from our local distributor, 'The Country Vintner'. It is immediately apparent that the South African category is much more developed in metropolitan DC, Virginia and Maryland. It was an inspiring day and we received an amazing welcome for our wines. The wealth is thick in the air and not an eyebrow is raised about the retail prices of our $50 'Series' M and $70 'Series C' Vilafonté wines. We managed a 100% strike rate and our mood was lifted by the experience.Mike and I met up again at the legendary Bobby Van's Steakhouse for lunch with Ben Gilliberti, the well-known wine expert of the Washington Post.This country is 'Atkins Diet' crazy and we eat off the special 'low-carb' menu. We ordered gourmet burgers - a 'low-carbohydrate' burger which comes without fries or even a bun. The irony is that it is 'stuffed' with blue cheese, covered in bacon and served with the health option spinach - fried!Ben is a great guy and is going to consider a visit to South Africa. He works as a lawyer and has spent the past eight years on the Microsoft case. He is fascinated with and wants to learn a lot more about South Africa. The imminent changes being instituted by SAA to change their USA hub from Atlanta to Washington DC is going give this market huge impetus as the gateway to the US for South African wine. We see that the acceptance of South African wines is high already and this is very gratifying.Then, we rush for the flight ... this time to more presidential country ... Texas. We certainly didn't factor a hurricane into our plans!
20 July 2005
by Zelma Long & Mike Ratcliffe
A visit to the nation's capital. Today's column is written by Zelma Long & Mike Ratcliffe.
The South African category in the United States is tiny and there is a huge amount of work to be done to raise awareness of our inherent quality. In the wealthy suburbs of Chicago, we spent a few fascinating hours introducing Vilafonté to one of the most influential retailers in the United States. This wine store is a high-end and trophy wine-hunters delight. With hundreds of the worlds top wines on display, an average customer spend of $80 per bottle and over $900 per visit, this is a man who is highly qualified to comment on South Africa's status. Although he is very knowledgeable, South African wine represented a small proportion of his store and is an 'underdeveloped category'. There is a lot of work to be done by the high-end wineries to develop a culture of fine SA wine in the USA.It is clear that more and more people are experimenting with wines from around the world. There is an international wine culture developing and this creates a great opportunity for us.Because of the oppressive 30°C+ temperatures, we are forced to fly a detour route and our short flight to DC becomes a bit more tedious. With Hurricane Emily brewing in Texas, we count our blessings. After the success of Chicago, we are buoyed by the prospect of visiting the Capital city, Washington DC, the centre of political power and wealth in the world. Our hotel is so close to the White House that the US's might is very tangible!DC has the highest concentration of international embassies in the world and is a prime target market for Vilafonté and for South African wine in general. We are very pleased to hear that wine sales in DC are booming and growing at over 20% annually with our particular distributor - and they are very pro South Africa.Dinner was at the celebrated La Chaumiere with a group of key influencers and distributors. It was an amazing five-course experience. After a late night with too much wine, we will split up in the morning to visit some of the more influential retailers and trend-setting restaurants. It has been a long day...http://www.vilafonte.com/
9 July 2005
The Vilafonté team has just embarked on a tour of the US to launch their wines - proclaimed to be 'South Africa's first luxury wine brand'. They intend keeping WineNews informed of their whereabouts, experiences and impressions whilst on tour.