Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Vilafonte team launches the blog as a 'coffee table' book!

The Vilafonte Team were the first winery in the world to launch a winery blog. With the first posting in June 2005, the story of Vilafonte has been detailed and captured in detail to provide a fascinating insight into the workings of our small luxury wine producer. Click HERE to see a preview.

Watch out for it on www.amazon.com - coming soon!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Turning oil into wine

26 October 2007 by Mike Ratcliffe

It was with a sense of trepidation and a hint of excitement that I recently flew into Talinn, the capital city of Estonia on the shores of the Baltic ocean between Latvia and Russia.

Trepidation only because it is a place that is certainly not considered a mainstream destination for a budding winery operator hoping to peddle his wares. The history of Estonia is chequered and violent and it is a tribute to the spirit of the people that it has risen above these tribulations to lead the pack amongst the former Soviet states that line the Baltic.

It would not be possible to say the same for neighbouring countries like Latvia and Lithuania that have had a very similar experience both having been occupied by Russian and German forces on at least two occasions in the last century. Estonia has embraced democracy and free market principles to establish a capitalistic society, as entrenched as possible, given its close proximity to the former Russian motherland.

In an unlikely twist, it is perhaps this proximity to Russia which has fostered a Western culture as America seeks trading partners to bolster its pool of allies against a Russian state intent on consolidating power and flexing its military muscle. It should also not be lost on even the most casual observer that a large proportion of Russian oil pipelines reach the ocean port in Estonia and that this country of only 1.4 million inhabitants benefits hugely from the oil export industry.

It was Gildas d’Ollone, general manager of Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, now owned by Champagne house and global distribution giant Roederer, that remarked on the potential of the former Soviet Republics. "Follow the smell of oil" is the advice which made all the sense in the world, but took some time to reveal its intelligence to me.

With oil predicted to scale $100 per barrel this year and a recent HSBC report predicting $400 per barrel within the next decade, it makes sense to acknowledge that oil, and its associated support industries are going to drive the creation of unimaginable wealth in the immediate future. Alternative energies notwithstanding, it is still oil which energizes the world and over which, ultimately, wars are fought.

So what moral direction does a young wine marketer follow in choosing target markets for luxury wines? Is it morally reprehensible to follow such a crass strategy? Is it wrong to target the wealthy simply because they have the money? The global wine market is still in a state of oversupply which some say will never come into balance. This oversupply exists despite the US baby-boomers urgent attempt to drink as much "healthy" wine as possible in an effort to harness the life-extending properties of this magical elixir. Should we be shamelessly chasing these markets that simply did not exist a decade ago? The answer is, of course, yes.

The world is constantly changing, demographics shifting, markets and currencies cycling and tastes evolving. It is the challenge of the marketer to interpret these shifts, to adjust their thinking and to realign their market strategy in tune with the prevailing trend – or fall behind. The emergence of new previously non-existent markets occur in tandem with an ongoing consolidation and increasingly aggressive competition in the established markets which are losing their attractiveness as profit centres.

The entrenched weakness of the US Dollar provides challenges to profitability which cannot adequately be solved through price increases or supply chain margin management. A shift in geographical awareness and an "out-of-the-box" look at the new-money markets is something that becomes attractive to the astute student of wine marketing.

The wine market does not start in the UK and end in Germany. Estonia is now a member of the EU and will adopt the Euro within 24 months. Perhaps Latvia and Lithuania will too?

A 2008 election in the US will almost certainly create a new Democratic government eager to strengthen relations with Russian neighbours and might even look to expand NATO into these former Soviet Republics. This kind of scenario was unthinkable a decade ago and is now being discussed openly as Russian and America face a missile stand-off reminiscent of the cold-war. The world is changing and areas that were formerly off limits have potential to develop rapidly.

People with money gravitate towards life’s perceived pleasures like fast cars and luxury goods and we should be positioning to cater to this new demand. Perhaps it is time to purchase an Atlas to add context to the "International page" of Die Burger and allow ourselves to contemplate alternative emerging wine markets more thoroughly?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My China travel diary – Part 3

China is not a contiguous wine market. Currently Hong Kong consumes slightly more wine than all of mainland China combined and has long been the driver of wine growth in China.. Hong Kong is referred to as a ‘Special Administrative region’ (SAR) by Beijing and has slightly different rules to those in mainland China. But things are changing quickly and it is forecast that for the first time in 2007, mainland China will surpass Hong Kong consumption (by volume) and the theory is that things will never be the same again. Hong Kong still commands by far the largest proportion of the Chinese per capita value spend on wines as witnessed by the smaller population with a disproportionately higher per-capita income and massive ‘ex-pat’ population which kind of skews the picture. There are a lot of foreigners in Shanghai and the party scene is hot!

It would therefore seem logical to use modern westernized Hong Kong as a ‘beachhead’ for a successful Chinese market launch. This is probably not a good idea. Hong Kong and China require separate licenses and to penetrate these two markets will require separate strategies. Another up-and-coming and oft under-reported market is the gambling paradise of Macau which, by some accounts (I have not been there) already generates a larger per-capita gambling revenue than Las Vegas with all the American gaming companies represented. Again, this lucrative market demands another license – so nothing is simple. There is no reason to believe that things are going to change either as powerful distributors lobby for the right to protect their turf, a situation similar to what has been experienced in the US for decades. What is clear is that the wine market is attracting the interest of Chinese investors and as a result will start developing and growing as education and investment spur experimentation. I might add that one of the largest drivers of growth in the Chinese wine market is the informal, but substantial educational effect and cultural influence that the army of ex-pats working in China bring into this market. An ex-pat army well versed in the tradition and culture of wine is playing a significant role in ‘westernising’ the tastes and social activities of their top Chinese business counterparts providing a strong, but subtle, top-down aspirational marketing effect which should not be discounted.

The importance of holidays
Like Christmas, Birthdays and Easter in South Africa, China too has a disproportionate focus of sales congregated around a couple of major holidays which are completely dissimilar to ours. Chinese Lunar New Year which falls in January/February and the Chinese ‘Mooncake Festival’ on the 15th day of the 8th month in the Chinese lunar calendar are by far the most significant holidays. At this time, the moon is at its fullest and brightest, marking an ideal time to celebrate the abundance of the summer's harvest – and drink lots of wine. Another difference is that a huge proportion of the purchases around these dates are slanted towards the Chinese tradition of ‘gift-giving’ which is pervasive and something that potential Asian wine marketers should bear in mind. Is their a fundamental difference in selling or marketing technique as a result of the variation in intention of the purchaser? Of course there is and it felt to me, at many times, that the wine industry is not capitalizing on this opportunity. This brings me neatly to a topic that caught my eye repeatedly. Packaging …

Every wine that comes into China requires a Chinese approved back label. This, unlike the norm in South African exporting, is not simply a small sticker at the base of a back label informing the potential imbiber of the importers details, but rather a completely unique back label with a full translation, in Mandarin, of every detail of the back label. The vast majority of wines on the shelves and in the restaurants that I visited had poor quality, cheap, wrinkled back labels which were clearly an ‘afterthought’ and were simply (and awkwardly) pasted over the existing back label to acquiesce to the onerous legislative requests of the overzealous wine authorities. It was clear to me that the whiskey and champagne producers had (again) stolen a march on the wine industry by sorting this issue out and generally had sophisticated and beautiful packaging specifically designed for the Chinese legal requirements. It should furthermore be taken into consideration that all existing marketing material, printing resources, websites and presentations have limited use in this country for the development of brands unless it is translated and, more importantly, contextualized to Chinese custom. Very few wineries had made the effort to design a Chinese back label and adapt their marketing materials. This is another small opportunity that potential SA exporters might seize to steal a small advantage on the competitors.

Overall, the Chinese market is in it’s infancy with much investment education and development ahead, but there is no reason why things could not change rapidly. There is potential here and it is really going to be interesting to watch the development of this and other Asian countries.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Vilafonte in China



Shanghai is not as expensive as everyone makes it out to be. It turns out that it is only relatively expensive when compared to the earning power of the average Chinese worker. Based on a number of discussions, the average wage for a factory worker is about RMB800 (about R700) per month in Shanghai. It was further explained that wages in the big cities are ‘much higher’ than in the country. I visited a massive factory and the workers were well dressed, the factory so clean it appeared sterile, the mood jovial and all were equipped with cellphones for the smoke breaks. (everyone smokes in China) It is not surprising after witnessing this spectacle of efficiency that China is heading for world economic domination.

The scale of the construction projects in China are also difficult to comprehend. In a one-party communist party with a trillion dollar budget surplus, the ability to conceive and then implement massive projects is astounding and it is difficult to even explain the enormity in words. I probably passed a hundred massive skyscrapers on the 1 hour taxi drive (crawl) from the airport to downtown with a similar number of uber-buildings under construction. I made liberal use of the METRO underground system which was certainly the most sophisticated train I have ever been on. There is something surreal about traveling underground at 160 km/h in almost complete silence, with live TV on the in-train plasmas and perfect unbroken 3G cellphone connectivity as standard. A return ticket costs about RMB4 (about R3) and even the stations are as clean as you could possibly imagine. There are 4 underground lines in Shanghai and the Communist party is currently building another 8 underground train lines, simultaneously, to be completed in time for the Shanghai expo in 2010. This makes the Green Point football stadium saga really look like a storm in a teacup!

Despite all the obvious wealth and a rather South African-like juxtaposition of wealth against poverty, the potential for wine in this market needs careful consideration. The obvious size of the population should never be seen as an indication of the potential for wine sales in China. The market for wine is tiny and can be likened, perhaps, to a single American state. Despite a vinous gold-rush of new wines onto the market, there remain few credible distributors and even fewer with national reach. ASC and Summergate are the two dominant distributors in the market. Wine lists are routinely bought and, again, it makes the aggressive market activities of Distel and DGB in South Africa look like child’s play. Access to many of the larger restaurants and chains is completely blocked by the ‘list-buying’ strategy of these market dominant distributors. Retail too remains dominated by these companies and it sometimes feels that a few independent smaller distributors are fighting for the scraps from the table. The private sales market shows great potential and is a channel that many smaller distributors pursue aggressively. This is a wine market for the bold and for the patient – but a market that will show exponential growth, despite the low base.

Restaurants routinely mark up their cost price 5 or 6-fold making the cost of even a basic bottle of wine on a top wine list prohibitive. Added into that formula is a punitive import tax regime which further adds significant cost to the equation. On-trade purveyors expect significant kick-backs, freebies, promotional activity and the underwriting of their functions before they will consider cooperation. The Champagne suppliers subsidise significant ‘free-flow’ pouring activity where a restaurant or bar will offer a fixed price for a ‘drink-as-much-as-you-can/want’ event. Many accounts will simply not deal with you if you don’t bring these tidbits to the table. Some of the larger hotel buyers are not even vaguely interested in quality and simply focus on ‘what can you do for me’ negotiations.

Despite the doom and gloom of the previous paragraph, there are a handful of new ,young, hungry distributors fighting back with more interesting hand-chosen portfolios of international boutique producers engaging the large distributors head-on with superior service, knowledge and selection. It is gratifying to see this and it provides hope that one day China will become a market significant enough to pour resources into. Right now, I would consider this market one of a new handful of emerging new markets showing enormous potential, but as yet not operating at full speed. Dubai, India and Russia are other markets showing similar potential. The good news is that there is no apartheid ‘baggage’ for South African wines. We can operate on an equal footing with producing countries from around the world. There are few of the obvious prejudices that South African producers routinely come up against around the world. While France again has the foothold here and are marketing aggressively, there is no reason why a small number of high-end producers can not craft and nurture a positive image for South Africa as a whole. It is going to be interesting to see how this all pans out.

Watch this space!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Shanghai launc h for Vilafonte

I touched base in Shanghai after a marathon – cross-Pacific fourteen hour flight from Chicago to find an environment like a sauna! Forty degree temperatures and 90% humidity is enough to scare the hell out of a budding wine marketeer attempting to peddle luxury red wines into the world's largest market.

There is nothing small about China and arriving into this former communist country combines feelings of trepidation with elation at the potential that this economic powerhouse offers. I had taken good advice and had studied closely local traditions and customs, and had at least a basic idea of what to expect, how to communicate, and how to avoid social embarrassment by embracing the ways of the locals.

I was met by my interpreter, Sharon, who was to shadow me all day for the four days that I am in China. At US$80 per day, she is one of the better paid people in Shanghai. In a country where the average wage is about the same as my weekend stay in a relatively nice hotel, she was worth every penny.

Mandarin, (the local language) bears no resemblance to English or any European language. I can honestly say that in my four days I did not ever (ever!) understand a single word that was said. Routine tasks like taking a taxi become challenging endeavours and, apart from rudimentary sign language, there is no way to communicate with your average Shanghainese.

On the positive side, the same communication issues that I experienced appeared routine for the locals as they were very comfortable with interpreters. A further barrier was that despite an excellent interpreter, there appeared to be a number of English concepts which did not translate into Mandarin and this complicated my voyage of discovery.

Even educated, affluent and urbanised Chinese are generally not familiar with even the basics of wine appreciation. Wine has simply never been part of the culture here and it is a tribute to an insatiable appetite to comprehend Western traditions that the body of knowledge is growing at a frenetic pace. It was told that even basic concepts like the difference between red and white needed to be explained.

I overheard a story that an affluent Chinese gentleman had a fight with a sommelier that had recently decanted a Bordeaux first-growth that he had ordered. It took a lot of explaining to the business man that decanting would indeed improve the wine and that the sommelier had not just ruined a perfectly good and ludicrously expensive bottle of wine. The same sommelier explained to me that he had a hard time explaining to people that winemakers did not actually add ‘gooseberries’ to Sauvignon Blanc and that a grape could produce the flavour of something else. Again, basic stuff...

I had arrived in China wanting to dispel the urban legend that the Chinese ‘mixed’ their wines with Coca-Cola. I could not! Simon Zhou, an extremely knowledgeable local wine merchant, explained to me that Chinese wine is by far the most common wine consumed in this market, but that the quality of the wine was generally of an extremely low level. ‘Great Wall’ appears to be the most prominent local brand which is unencumbered by local content and vintage restrictions.

Apparently the big local producers are a bit slack in updating the vintage on the labels and a vintage from the '90s has been on sale for the past five years, despite the vintages progressing apace. It is also not uncommon to find that the ‘Chinese’ wine is in fact a bulk import of low-quality juice from Chile or Argentina.

Not all was like this however; I made a point of experimenting with some local wines and found a recent vintage ‘Grace Vineyards’ Chardonnay Reserve to have a deep minerality, a welcome freshness, recognizable character, and a lovely integration of oak. Surprise, surprise! I immediately set about securing a couple of cases of Chinese and look forward to presenting a tasting for twenty people in the Vilafonté boardroom in a couple of months. (I will offer four places to the first reader to request a seat on our blog at www.vilafonte.com.)

I would suggest that anybody who underestimates the ability of the Chinese market to innovate and make a chameleon-like transformation into a quality wine producing country would be a fool. Over and over I read and heard about massive construction projects coming in ahead of schedule and under budget.

The energy, industrious nature and commitment of the Chinese people is obvious after even a few hours in China.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Michael Fridjhon on Vilafonté - A player with real potential at the top end of the market

From Business Day, 27 June 2007
The Butcher Shop’s Alan Pick has something of a reputation for worrying about margins and sales above all else. This is not entirely fair. I’ve known him for at least 20 years and if I had to name the features which have brought him his undisputed success, they would be his passion and his sense of detail. The two go together: if you don’t care enough, you can’t be bothered to focus on the small things, and if you are not constantly seeking to improve an already successful product, it gets old and stale before you realise it.

Pick was one of the guests attending the presentation by partners Zelma Long and Mike Ratcliffe of the last three vintages of the Vilafonte wines. As he left he turned to Ratcliffe and said, “I like the way you’re passionate about this”, rather than “I like the wines” or “I like the way you guys have gone about this”. It was a very telling observation, and in many ways sums up the partnership in which Ratcliffe joined Long and Phil Freese in an enterprise which aims to create a defensibly premium South African red wine.

I use the term “defensibly” for a reason: there is no shortage of wineries and brands that have been using price as a marketing strategy, working on the not wholly dangerous assumption that if the wine is expensive enough, post-purchase justification will make it taste good. In other words, it really is an intrinsic part of the Vilafonte enterprise — both as expounded (passionately) by its partners and evident in the wines — that whatever it takes to make the wine better must be incorporated in the production programme. Beyond that, you can expect all the marketing smoke-and-mirrors that come from a scion of the Cape Wine industry whose formal training finished with a wine marketing master’s degree from the University of Adelaide.

Freese is one of the world’s leading viticulturists — a man who headed Mondavi’s viticultural team at the time the Rothschild-Mondavi Opus One joint venture was established and who, for the past 10 years or so, has been a visiting consultant to many of the Cape’s leading producers. Long, his wife, was chief winemaker at Mondavi and then vice-president of Domaine Chandon in California. Ratcliffe — whose family owns Warwick in Stellenbosch — bought into the project a few years ago and has since overseen its international launch and the development of its own winery. In very little time Vilafonte has begun to prove to the wine world that it is not one of SA’s export fantasies, but a player with real potential at the top end of the market.

There are only two wines sold under the Vilafonte label. One is a Merlot-styled (and usually Merlot-dominated) blend where the label small print says “Series M” and the other is a Cabernet-structured (and thus far Cabernet-dominated) blend called — not unsurprisingly — “Series C”. The distinguishing feature of the Series M wine is that it is softer, plusher and more readily accessible — in keeping with the Merlot stereotype. In reality this is achieved as much with Malbec (which at Vilafonte seems to be performing remarkably — to judge from tank samples I have tasted from time to time). The 2003 contains 41% Merlot, the 2004 a mere 31% (but it does have 25% Malbec) and the as yet unreleased 2005 52%.

The Series C is massively weighted to Cabernet Sauvignon — as high as 82% in 2003 and down to 66% in 2005 — but it also reflects the character of a small percentage of Cabernet Franc. Unsurprisingly the whole feel of the Series C wine is one of power and intensity, layered with a range of the fruit aromatics associated with both cabernets —– blackcurrant, graphite and even the slightest herbal, almost spice-like whiff.

It goes without saying that these wines are not cheap. Some of the cost is accounted for in the intensity of effort which went into composing them, some in the prestige packaging which goes with their positioning. In the South African market they sell for R250 a bottle for the Series M and about R350 for the Series C. Relative to the US price of $50 and $70 for the two cuvees and the UK price, £35 and £50 respectively, the rand cost is not outrageous. And with a US Wine Enthusiast’s blind-tasting rating (for the Series C) as “the best Cabernet in the world”, it’s a snip next to the Chateau Latour 2003, which finished in third place.

WineNews 'Around the World Blog'

26 June 2007 by Mike Ratcliffe

The massive support in popular culture for terms like 'carbon footprint' and related language might just be the tonic that Wines of South Africa (WOSA) needs to ignite support for the ‘Variety is in our nature’ (www.varietyisinournature.com) campaign, writes Mike Ratcliffe somewhere over the Lone Star State.

Without digging too deep, there appears at first glance to be fortuitous parallels between the biodiversity campaign and the concept of ‘carbon footprint’ in that they are both based around an eco-friendly hypothesis aimed at reducing human impact on the environment. But digging a little deeper shows that the South African campaign needs to do quite a bit of repositioning if it intends to find some sort of alignment with popular culture and the global momentum that is feeding ‘carbon footprint’ awareness.

To take a step backwards and introspectively reflect, perhaps it would be interesting to draw a parallel with the bold WIETA (Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association) initiatives that were taken by WOSA in the past few years. WIETA is an example of pro-active marketing, creative fund-raising, and is something which WOSA and South Africa can be justifiably proud of as it can lay claim to making a difference at grassroots level. But WIETA is in danger of having all its good work overshadowed by not sufficiently tapping into global popular culture.

Fairtrade is certainly the international buzzword in the ‘carbon footprint’ sense of human capital exploitation. Supermarkets will always be our major client and source of sales, and will always look at ways of tapping into popular culture. The term ‘Fairtrade’ has become part of that popular lexicon and it would seem reasonable to assume that the admirable and noble goals of WIETA, although closely associated with the Fairtrade goals, will not be recognized by supermarkets while the unstoppable consumer potential of the latter gathers momentum. A closer alignment between WIETA and Fairtrade would have been strongly beneficial to our industry. Perhaps the door is not completely closed?

On the back of this lesson, perhaps the South Africa wine industry should be exploring synergy with the ‘carbon footprint’ movement before it becomes a requirement dictated by the dominant supermarkets. TESCO has already defined the 'TESCO global footprint' and has put in place aggressive plans and timelines to start rolling back its impact on carbon emissions. The cynic in me would also hypothesize that a ‘less public’ TESCO committee would also be working behind the scenes on how to spread the cost of creating a less ‘carbon messy’ image among its innumerable suppliers. At risk of stating the obvious, it would not be prudent to fight this.

The WOSA campaign has been criticized as being confusing to the consumer and the body itself has acknowledged this feedback. The term 'eco-friendly' is now apparently the one being used in all correspondence and communication as this is more easily understood. WOSA should be complimented for its ongoing public campaign to create environmental champions of producers who dedicate vast tracks of land to the biodiversity message.

This really is a remarkable concept with tangible results and benefits, but is it being communicated to 'the public' in the most effective way? There are detailed documents backed by voluminous research detailing the message that we try to communicate – but what are people hearing? Is our message hitting the top notes of popular culture? Is the message in harmony with the swing in understanding that the ‘man on the street’ is starting to develop about the importance of the environment? Are the sound bites synergistic with the ‘carbon footprint’ movement? Should they be?

Things change quickly. The timing is going to be crucial and perhaps we should be using our good track record and relationship with TESCO to be the guinea-pig of their carbon footprint movement. Is it not plausible that South Africa be the first wine producing country in the world to create a system to measure and monitor our own carbon footprint?

It is common knowledge that New Zealand is also pursuing the ‘green’ agenda and we should not be caught napping. What if we, as an industry, were to pro-actively manage our carbon emissions and be the first to engage pro-actively with key supply chains and distribution channels?

Popular culture should not ever be underestimated. South Africa has already made admirable progress in positioning ourselves in the ‘eco-friendly’ zeitgeist space that is so important. It would not be inconceivable to now take it to the next level. If we don’t, somebody else will, and we should not be scared of ‘going big’ when it comes to the environment.

Let us not allow those cynical of marketing efforts to undermine the good intentions of our campaign.

Next instalment:
IS SOUTH AFRICAN WINE PERCEIVED AS ECO-FRIENDLY RELATIVE TO OUR COMPETITORS'?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

'Around the World Blog' 22 June 2007


Mike Ratcliffe is a front man for the South African wine industry on many, well, fronts. His latest itinerary reads: Johannesburg – London - New York - Washington DC – Dallas – Houston – Chicago – Shanghai – Hong Kong – Johannesburg – Cape Town. He will regularly be touching base with WineNews's readers en route, blogging style. In this first posting Mike ponders "The 'Carbon Footprint' Tipping Point" and what it means for wine.

In a contemplative mood on an international flight en route to New York, I started considering the latest environmental catch-phrase of 'carbon footprint' which pervades daily conversations, not to mention the global wine industry's agenda.

There are many examples in popular culture when a tipping point has been reached, which has changed an obvious and logical idea into a broadly accepted fact that can drive the perceptions of an entire generation.

The discussion on global warming was partially re-ignited when terminology such as 'CFC' and 'ozone-layer' were coined, and through sustained consumer pressure this lead to the widespread withdrawal of this 'uncool' ozone gobbling propellant.

More than a decade later and after a million flight miles by Al Gore, it would appear that even the most hardened denialist agrees that the concept of global warming has at least some credibility, and that the wholesale dumping of secondhand carbon pollutants into our atmosphere is the major factor driving the artificial warming of our planet. So what does 'carbon footprint' mean? 

Wikipedia.org has it as follows:
Carbon footprint is a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide or CO2 emitted through the combustion of fossil fuels; in the case of an organization, business or enterprise, as part of their everyday operations; in the case of an individual or household, as part of their daily lives; or a product or commodity in reaching market. In materials, is essentially a measure of embodied energy, the result of life cycle analysis. A carbon footprint is often expressed as tons of carbon dioxide or tons of carbon emitted, usually on a yearly basis. There are many versions of calculators available for carbon footprinting.This is directly related to the amount of natural resources consumed, increasingly used or referred to as a measure of environmental impact. Carbon dioxide is recognized as a greenhouse gas, of which increasing levels in the atmosphere are linked to global warming and climate change.

'Carbon footprint' will almost certainly be the term, retrospectively, that defined the tipping point which brought climate change out of the laboratory and into popular culture. History shows that popular culture is what drives voters, gets politicians interested, and leads to meaningful change. So what should the wine industry be thinking - or rather doing - about this?
Over the past few years, Wines of South Africa (WOSA) have dedicated substantial resources to the conceptualisation, distribution and promotion of the 'Diversity Is In Our Nature' message - a campaign designed to communicate the 'eco-friendly' nature of our industry on the one hand, and to promote the massive diversity of our environment on the other hand. Critics of the WOSA campaign have been quick to slam the positioning claiming that it is irrelevant to the consumer, confusing, distorted and not easily understood by the producer community - that ultimately is funding the positioning statement through statutory levies. The wine industry has supported the campaign, but it is not uncommon to hear grumblings of discontent around the winelands' watering holes.

 I would contend that the WOSA positioning statement, subject to one or two more consumer-friendly tweaks and some wording adaptations, might be one of the more forward-thinking promotional strategies ever seen in the world of wine. Let me explain… The world changes quickly. The major forces of producer fragmentation and retail consolidation that are shaping the global wine industry are not mutually supportive. The supermarkets are becoming bigger and are getting more focused on addressing the large impact that they have on the environment. While nobody can deny the intelligence and logic expressed by the Chairman of TESCO in his recent address on environmental  awareness, some would question the rationale for this retail behemoth in placing such emphasis on the environment and in creating a plan to measure the TESCO 'footprint'. The future is being mapped out as TESCO has committed to pouring considerable funds into creating a usable and consumer-friendly methodology for accurately mapping and defining the complete 'carbon footprint' for each of the products on its shelf. South African producers dealing with TESCO should brace themselves for new packaging rules which will have them reflecting the carbon footprint of that particular wine on the packaging. Producers should also brace themselves for the additional cost of compliance as TESCO has never been shy of shifting costs onto its suppliers. It is not unreasonable to believe that TESCO will move quickly as they attempt to swiftly tap into the 'carbon footprint' wave of popular culture in an attempt to steal a march on their competitors, achieve first-mover status, gain much-needed positive PR and drive their ever burgeoning bottom-line (although analysts panned the stock this week for only growing sales by 4.7%). It is also reasonable to make the assumption that where TESCO and other global retailers lead, the world will follow; and that we are on the brink of a cultural paradigm shift where the common household starts assuming responsibility for climate change.
The power of the consumer, it seems,  is going to be unleashed once again to manipulate the full extent of the supply chain to become more efficient - and to reward those that are the most efficient at becoming more efficient. 

Note to readers: The author acknowledges the obvious contradiction in this column in that sitting on an international flight is not improving his own personal carbon footprint. No paper was, however, wasted in the writing of this column. 

On Monday: Can WOSA's biodiversity campaign play into this pop culture momentum or will it be sidelined?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Friday, April 13, 2007

End of harvest - it feels great!


It’s a wonderful feeling you get when you look back on three months of harvest and you see all the frenetic activity and all the hard work and it seems to have paid off, but its also great to kind of slow down a little bit and relax and kick back. Its amazing, I feel like I have a little bit of free time I’ve actually got some time to see my friends to do something social as opposed to working all the time and spend time with my family.
I would say that every South African producer is probably finished harvest now -perhaps there might be some late harvest producers who are still going but it seems that it’s all done and dusted.
The leaves are starting to change colour on the vines as autumn approaches. There is a little bit of a nip in the air we’ve got a cold front in the air for the last few days, we had some torrential rain over night and a few days ago, even switched on the heating in the house so that’s obviously the first time that harvest is over and winter is upon us. Now there’s a calm before the storm as I start planning all the travel and the promotional activities around the world the use their company. The launch of the next Vilafonté vintage will be on the 4th of July 2007, it’s a 2005 vintage and we are very excited about it but much more about that later.
See you…

Here is an image of the prosed signage on the back wall of the new winery...

Friday, March 09, 2007

Famous Dutch journalist visits Vilafonte

We had a very interesting visit this week from Jan and Yvonne Rook - influential and extremely well travelled wine journalist from Holland whose www.flyingwinewriter.com www.wijnplein.nl websites are one of the most influential wine mediums in Dutch industry. His comments are published daily to the site and are read but a dedicated trade following of almost 3000 people. He was funny and interesting and provided so many amazing stories of his travels around the world. It was a pleasure to be around such experience. have a look at the video that we filmes - Jan said that he is usually the one doing the interviewing and that he was unaccustomed to having a wine producer interview him ... we like to turn the tables.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Harvest Team 2007

From LTR:
Bernard le Roux (winemaker), Edward Pietersen (Viticulturist),
Zelma Long (Winemaking partner), Phil freese (Viticulture partner),
Mike Ratcliffe (managing partner), Ronald Spies (Viticulture manager)