Monday, November 23, 2009

Vintners Hall of Fame 2010 class announced today by CIA in Napa - Zelma is a rock star!

The Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA) based in St. Helena, California today announced the Vintners Hall of Fame 2010 class. The five new members to be inducted are Randall Grahm, Andy Beckstoffer, Al Brounstein, Zelma Long and Leon Adams. When we toured the hall earlier this year (see below for video tour) Loni wondered, “where are all the women?” The long, dimly lit, barrel room on the second floor of the CIA is indeed a mostly male place with famous names and faces such as Robert Mondavi, Ernest and Julio Gallo, and Charles Krug. But there are a few woman who also adorn the hall and have left their mark on the industry. Carole Meredith pioneered the use of DNA to analyze relationships among grape varieties. Jamie Davies (along with husband Jack) forged a path of producing high quality sparkling wines. And now the hall will have its third woman, Zelma Long, who became one of the first woman to run both a the winemaking and business sides of a winery.


Wine Tube TV: The Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley from StarkSilverCreek.com on Vimeo.
 
The ceremony will take place March 2010.

Vintners Hall of Fame, Class of 2010

Randall Grahm
Randall Grahm was educated at UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis, while earning a reputation as an “enfant terrible” for telling everyone he planned to make the first great American Pinot Noir. Instead, he found himself entranced by “ugly duckling grape varietals” thereby introducing American consumers to vinifera far beyond Cabernet and Chardonnay. His vintage 1984 wine “Le Cigare Volant” proved that it was possible to craft and sell great Rhône wine blends from California. His amusing marketing still defies and at times defines the pretentious approach, such as when he held a funeral for the Cork (aka Thierry Bouchon) in 2002. Grahm, a longtime proponent of biodynamic viticulture, downsized his production in 2006 to focus on small estate wines. His first book, Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology, was published by U.C. Press in 2009.

Andy Beckstoffer
Andy Beckstoffer came to Napa as a corporate executive in 1969, after earning an M.B.A. from the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. Recognizing the potential for growth in premium wines, he started a farming company which he eventually purchased in 1973. Beckstoffer Vineyards has grown to be the largest vineyard owner, farming group, and winegrape seller in the Napa Valley and the North Coast, delivering grapes to more than 100 of the state’s most famous wineries. Andy Beckstoffer developed a formula for paying growers based on the finished wine value, thus reducing the incentive for excessive yield and focusing growers on quality. He has played a major role in preserving agriculture in the Napa Valley and has contributed to efforts to restore the Napa River.

Al Brounstein
Established in 1968, Al Brounstein’s Diamond Creek Vineyards was the first wine estate in California to be planted solely with Cabernet Sauvignon. Noticing three distinct soil types on his property, Brounstein became one of the first California wineries to produce different Cabernet Sauvignons from single vineyards (Red Rock Terrace, Gravelly Meadow, and Volcanic Hill) on the same estate, setting the stage for what was to become known as super-premium Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley. His 1978 Lake Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – a wine produced only in exceptional years – was the first California wine with a suggested retail price of $100 a bottle—an important milestone in the production of premium wine from California. The graceful aging of Brounstein’s wines continues to be one of his main legacies to the fervent fans of Diamond Creek wines.

Zelma Long
After studying enology and viticulture at UC Davis in the late 1960s (where she was the only woman in her class), Zelma Long became the chief enologist at Robert Mondavi Winery, while also helping to establish Long Vineyards. She spent the 1980s and 1990s breaking the glass ceiling at Simi Winery as winemaker and CEO, becoming one of the first women to run both the winemaking and business sides of a California winery. Regarded as one of the early technical leaders in winemaking, Zelma has received national and international awards, including induction into the James Beard Hall of Fame in 1996 and receiving The James Beard Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year in 1997. Today she and her husband, Phillip Freese, are producing wine in South Africa under the Vilafonte  label.

Leon Adams
Considered a seminal historian of wine in the United States, Leon Adams is best known for his 1973 book The Wines of America, a comprehensive and ground-breaking history and survey of wine and wineries throughout the country, which celebrated American regional wines and their styles. Mr. Adams was a tireless advocate of the farm winery bills passed by many states in the 1970s and 1980s which eased the way for grape growers to open wineries and sell their wines retail and wholesale. Leon Adams was also a founder of the Wine Institute, a public policy and advocacy group for California wineries.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

MARKETING REFLECTS CHANGING DEMAND OF NAPA VALLEY WINE

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

Monday, November 16, 2009

WOSA USA WINE MARKETING WORKSHOP

VENUE: Vilafonté Function Room, Bosman’s Crossing Stellenbosch
DATE: Tuesday, 17th November 2009 - Registration and coffee from 09h45.
PROGRAMME:
Matome Mbatha: Welcome 10:10 – 10:15
Matome Mbatha is Wines of South Africa Market Manager for Americas and Africa

Zelma Long: Successful American Brands 10:15 – 10:45
Zelma Long is one of Americas well known winemakers with an enviable international reputation. One of the first women to study oenology and viticulture at U.C. Davis; she began her winemaking career at Robert Mondavi winery, rapidly becoming the chief winemaker. Zelma will share her knowledge of the American consumer and what makes a successful brand.

Panel Discussion USA Marketing 10:45 – 11:30
Mike Ratcliffe - Warwick
Ken Forrester - Ken Forrester Wines
Charles Back - Fairview
Neill Ellis - Neil Ellis wines
& Zelma Long - Vilafonte:

Ken Forrester of Ken Forrester Wines, Charles Back of Fairview, Mike Ratcliffe of Warwick Estate, Neil Ellis of Neil Ellis Wines and Zelma Long of Vilafonté Wines will discuss and share their market experiences in the USA market. There will be ample time for questions.

Wine Tasting - Zelma Long: 11:45 – 12:30
Zelma will conduct wine tasting and discuss 8 wines selected from the USA and share her views on what the US consumers preferences are at different price points.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

ROOTSTOCK: IS THE GRASS GREENER ON THE OTHER SIDE?

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 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

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

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.

Follow Mike Ratcliffe on Twitter www.twitter.com/mikeratcliffe or on FACEBOOK

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. Follow me on Twitter www.twitter.com/mikeratcliffe

Friday, September 25, 2009

Zelma Long Selected for Top Honors at ASEV’s Annual Meeting in Napa

DAVIS, CA, April 2, 2009
Each year, extraordinary contributions are made to the artistry and science of enology and viticulture. The American Society for Enology and Viticulture (ASEV) announced that its two highest honors, the Merit Award will be presented to Ms. Zelma Long at the Society’s 60th Annual Meeting to be held in Napa, California, from June 23-26.

Zelma Long, a world renowned winemaking master will be honored with the ASEV’s Merit Award. Her copious accomplishments are impressive and revered throughout the industry. She was the first woman in the industry to run both the winemaking and business side of a major winery and led Simi Winery to prominence serving as its winemaker/vice president, president and finally CEO in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, she is the owner and winemaking partner with her husband, Philip Freese, of Vilafonte (Wine Estate) in South Africa as well as owner and winemaker of Long Vineyards in California’s Napa Valley. Long has received national and international awards throughout her career for her leadership positions in wine industry organizations, which have included: founding president of the American Vineyard Foundation, chair of the American Viticultural and Enology Research Network (AVERN), founding president of the Alexander Valley Winegrowers, founding member of the North Coast Viticultural Research Group, ASEV Board director and member of the local Board of the International Women’s Forum. She will receive the Merit Award on Thursday, June 25.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

ZELMA LONG HAS BEEN AWARDED THE ASEV MERIT AWARD!!

Zelma Long, winemaking partner and co-founder of Vilafonté vineyards in South Africa www.vilafonte.com has been awarded the ASEV American Society of Enology & Viticulture's prestigious annual MERIT award for her distinguished career and contribution to the industry. The Vilafonté tem are very proud. Pictured is Zelma with Mike Silacci, the President of the American Society of Enology and Viticulture, and also Winemaker and General Manager of Opus
One (and a friend).

Congratulations Zelma!!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

the tasting has started - this is how it works

30 members of the wine marketing community in South Africa have srated the 'augmented reality' sms & Twitter wine tasting at Vilafonte.
First off, everyone is given a coupon - the coupon reads something like 'Text 333 to the following number 31497. Then the sms server at Mobilitrix immediately replies with a SMS coupon which reads

"This coupon entitles you to a Vilafonte interactive wine tasting. Please go to the Vilafonte tasting room for instructions. Your voucher number is: 5-AJQ'
Then, once the people have their coupon voucher they can move into the Vilafonte tasting area. On each botle there are a couple of codes which you can dial into your phone and SMS. For example - dial *120*33009*553# and you will be able to particpate in a 'TASTING SURVEY' or text the oter number and you can enter our competition.
All of the info that is sent by your customers is automatically collated and can be accessed through the Internet. This very powerful online tool provides an avenue for the savvy wine marketer to access the mobile phone of their most important asset - their customers.
Here are some more pictures of the wine tasting.




The wines are being prepped for the online SMS & TWITTER wine tasting...

More than 30 people from the wider wine industry have assembled at the
Vilafonté winery to learn about 'Social Media' & how it can be applied in
the wine industry. The afternoon is building a solid base for the
culminating event - an online, Twitter, Facebook and SMS enabled wine
tasting which will reverberate all around the world. The tasting is being
facilitated by Fred Roed from www.worldwidecreative, Jonathan Cherry from
www.cherryflava.com and the incredible team from www.mobilitrix.co.za - the
indominitable pioneers of cell phone marketing in South Africa. If we
achieve nothing, we will at least have some fun doing something that - we
don't think - has ever been done in South Africa before. Follow on Twitter
@mikeratcliffe

The SECOND BASE 'Social media' wine marketing conference has started.

Well the conference has kicked off - we will be keeping you updated throughout the day as we work towards launching our twitter and sms-enabled wine tasting. 30 people hunched over Macbooks are planning and plotting how to adapt social media to wine marketing. Please log onto @mikeratcliffe on Twitter to follow us or continue to update the Vilafonte blog through the day. Join us for the wine tasting later too! Also, if you haven't been to www.cherryflava.com, make sure that you log on to see what all the fuss is about.
The action is also being updated on the Vilafonte FACEBOOK page.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Zelma Long and Rebecca Mahmoud Present South African Classics: $22

Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant
Wednesday, September 9th, 4:30-7:30 pm


Join us Wednesday, September 9th, from 4:30-7:30pm, when we welcome Zelma Long, Winemaker for Vilafonte, and Rebecca Mahmoud of Warwick Estate, to our Wine Bar. These two South African wineries are considered to be in the top echelon of wines coming out of this exciting wine producing country. Come discover what all the buzz is about as these two charming women present the wines of Vilamonte and Warwick Estate.
Vilafonté is the first American and South African joint winemaking venture. They make two wines, the M, based on Merlot, and the C, based on Cabernet Sauvignon. Zelma Long is Head Winemaker for the Vilafonté project. Zelma is one of America’s best known winemakers with an enviable international reputation, and one of the first women to study enology and viticulture at U.C. Davis.
Rebecca Mahmoud represents the esteemed Broadbent Wine Portfolio, which includes the Warwick Estate Wines. Warwick Estate is owned by the Radcliffe family who first planted grapes there in the the 1960's. The name comes from a prior owner of the farm, Colonel Alexander Gordon, who purchased it after the Anglo Boer war. Gordon was an officer in the Warwickshire regiment.
We are sure you will love meeting these delightful women of the wine business while tasting through their wines from South Africa. Please join us and help welcome Zelma Long and Rebecca Mahmoud to Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant.

****AS A SPECIAL FEATURE ALL WINES SERVED ON PRODUCER FLIGHT NIGHT WILL BE ON SALE FOR THAT NIGHT ONLY AT A 15% DISCOUNT TO THOSE WHO PURCHASE A FLIGHT!!!
The featured wines are served as two ounce glasses. If you find a favorite and would like a full glass just ask your bartender. These wines will be available for retail sale while supplies last...
The cost of the flight will be $22 and will include the following wines:

2008 Warwick Sauvignon Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa Retail $19.50, 5oz. glass $8.25
2004 Warwick 3 Cape Ladies, Stellenbosch, South Africa Retail $19.50, $8.25
2001 Warwick Estate Reserve, Stellenbosch, South Africa Retail $31.50, $11.25
2004 Vilafonte M Series, Paarl, South Africa Retail $49, $15.50
2004 Vilafonte C Series, Paarl, South Africa Retail $67, $20
Click here for the complete Wine Bar Event Schedule. Many of our wines are available online at http://www.fpwm.com/index.html

Friday, August 28, 2009

Vilafonte becomes the first ever South African wine in the New York Times Wine Club


The Vilafonte flag was flying high today as the New York Times Wine Club went live. The NY Times Wine Club launch has been one of the most hotly anticipated launches of 2009 and certainly one of the most high profile wine clubs to launch - ever. With a massive readership, enormous online following and a high profile readership demographic, this launch has been anticipated to create quite a buzz.

It was extremely gratifying therefore that a South African wine was included in the intial luxury 'Reserve' pack. This was none other than the Vilafonte 'Series M' which has had considerable success in Wine Spectator, the New York Times and is the only South African winery to have ever been nominated twice for the Wine Enthusiast 'New World Winery of the Year' in 2005 and in 2008. Vilafonte has also been the subject of an extensive New York Times double page article by the late great Johnny Apple - read it HERE.
Click here NEW YORK TIMES WINE CLUB
South Africa in general and Wines of South Africa in particular has chosen 2010 as the year in which America becomes 'Taget number one'. It is gratifying to see a number of top-class South African wines creaping up the rankings and making an impact. The South African category, will still very small, has not been driven by the huge brands and is still showing promise of emerging with some dignity - rather than chasing pricepoints like the Australian 'critter' brands. it is going to be interesting to see how this develops.
Mark your calendar for May 11th 2010 - that is the New York City launch event at which the South African wine industry is going to stand up and be counted!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

SecondBase - The digital media 'how-to guide' for the South African wine industry [Part 1]

Blogging can be a very powerful marketing tool - when done right. Same goes for mobile tools, which are generally fairly inexpensive but can take a degree from MIT and a few episodes of Heroes to muster up enough geek in you to understand, let alone develop yourself.

We've therefore invited the legendary Fred Roed from World Wide Creative and Chris Rolfe from Mobilitrix to join us for an afternoon of 'how-to' in the winelands for our second SecondBase workshop.Fred runs an extremely successful online company and is an expert on designing, jump-starting and making profitable websites and blogs work. He knows the psychology behind what readers enjoy and how to produce websites that people are really going to want to become fans of. Chris is an expert in mobile marketing and runs a company that sells innovative mobile marketing products. We've asked him to come along, show us what they do, how they work and how they can drive your sales. We've used them before ourselves - so we know they rock. As part of the SecondBase workshop, which as you know is less talk and more touchy-feely, we'll let you push and poke and play with all the toys so that you leave not only with the info, but the know-how too.This workshop has been designed specifically for the wine industry, so for the first time we'll be hosting it at Mike Ratcliffe's vilafonté wine cellar in Stellenbosch.
As part of the afternoon, we'll also be using the occasion to arm you with some of our brand-new equipment courtesy of Nokia and show you a few exciting and practical uses of some of the tools in one of our legendary 'urban adventures'. Jon Cherry from Cherryflava also has a hunch as to how Steve Jobs would market his South African wine farm and will share those 'unusual' insights with you.If you're thinking of lifting your marketing game and need a practical guide to the best digital tools and trends right now - then this is your event.
Tickets are rarer than 5-stars in Platter, only 45 available.
Price: R950 per ticket
Date: Tuesday 8 September 2009
Time: 12:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Venue: Vilafonté wine cellar, Stellenbosch
To book your seat: E-mail Jon Cherry - jon@cherryflava.com
TICKET STATUS: Tickets for the SECOND BASE workshop are still available.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Do Wine Blogs Impact Your Brand?

New Study Highlights Wine Blogger Activity

by By Liz Thach, Ph.D., SSU Wine Business Professor

Should wineries pay attention to what wine bloggers are writing? Do they really have an impact on a wine brand? According to a new study just completed by Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute, it appears that the answer is yes -- especially for wineries with less well-known brands or located in new and upcoming wine regions.

How Many Wine Blogs Are There Anyway?

In order to conduct the study, it was necessary to obtain a random sample, so we consulted the Complete List of Wine Blogs, compiled by Alder Yarrow at www.vinography.com. You may be amazed to know that in the last 5 years, the number of wine blogs has grown from 1 to over 700. Of these, more than 570 wine blogs are in English, with an additional 170+ wine blogs in other languages, including Italian, French, Catalan, Czech, German, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Hungarian, Norwegian, and Indonesian.

Focusing on the English language wine blogs, we applied a decision rule of selecting a minimum of 10 blogs per alpha letter, and discarding those blogs that were not active. This resulted in a total sample of 222 blogs which were subjected to content analysis by 42 trained wine business students.

The 9 Major Categories of Wine Blogs

The first analysis included a thematic sorting of the blogs by major topic. This resulted in 9 categories as illustrated in the chart below. The most common type of blog is a Wine Review for which an individual blogger tastes and writes a review of the wine -- usually adding a rating from the standard 100, 20, or 5 point wine rating scales.


Blogs on Wine & Food with matching recipes, as well as information on restaurants was the 2nd largest category. This was followed by Wine Education where the blogger educates the reader on wine issues such as wine styles, varietals, how to taste wine and related topics. Blogs that focused specifically on Winemaking and Viticulture were placed in a separate category.

In addition, there were blogs that focused on Specific Wine Regions, such as a city, state, appellation or country. Some examples we found included Washington D.C., New Orleans, San Francisco, Paris, Seattle, Washington State, Oregon, California, and Britain. These blogs also emphasized wine shops and/or wineries available in these areas, as well as restaurants. A related category was Wine & Culture which focused on the association of wine with art, poetry, music, and literature.

Only 9% of the sample included Winery Blogs -- or those created by wineries to describe their wines and news at the winery. This illustrates an opportunity for more wineries to create their own blog. Other less frequent blog categories included Wine Business and Winemaking & Viticulture. The category of Other was created for those very unique blogs that didn't fit into major themes. Examples included "wine & hiking; wine & politics; wine under $20; and an emphasis on a specific grape, such as shiraz.

Numbers of Wine Brands and Ads on Blogs

 

Other analyses included counting and recording the number of wine brands and advertisements on the first page of each blog (we did not analyze older posts). Amazingly within the 222 wine blogs, 813 different wine brands were listed. These were sorted to determine which wine brands were cited most often. Interestingly only 3 brands were listed 4 or more times: Kendall-Jackson, Ridge and Penfolds. This analysis showed that many small unknown wine brands are described on blogs, as well as international brands from around the world.

Just under half of the sample (47%) included advertisements on the blog, for a total of 451 ads. These varied from simple ads provided by Google, to sophisticated winery, food, and wine product ads. It is important to note that the major way wine bloggers create revenue is through online ads, with professional bloggers able to make $20,000 - $30,000 per year in this fashion. Most wine bloggers have other jobs to supplement their online income. (Note: There have been some ethical discussions at the past two Wine Blogger's Conferences as to whether or not bloggers should accept ads from wine brands they review.)

Why Should Wineries Pay Attention to Bloggers?

There are several reasons that wineries need to pay attention to wine bloggers. The first is that the number of wine blogs is continuing to grow, and this provides an opportunity for wineries to have their brands featured on blogs. For wineries with a small public relations budget or those that can't get the attention of the larger media publications, this can be a positive alternative -- especially since some of the more popular wine blogs have thousands of followers and receive 30,000 to 40,000 hits per month.

Another reason is that we have entered a period of "democratization of media on the Internet." This means that anyone can easily establish a wine blog on the Internet using free blogging software (wordpress.com; blogspot.com; typepad.com, etc.). Since there are no official guidelines regarding what can be published, the stories and reviews may be positive or negative. Likewise, bloggers have diverse backgrounds in that some have a high level of wine knowledge and experience, whereas others have none and just want to share their viewpoints on wine. Therefore, in terms of writing quality and level of sophistication of wine blogs, there is great variation. Because of this wineries need to monitor what is being said about their brands online.

How Can Wineries Work With Wine Bloggers?

The advent of wine blogs and other Wine 2.0 applications (social networking sites, online videos, podcasts, message boards, etc.) has created both more opportunities and more work for the public relations function within wineries. Because of the fact that your brand may be discussed online by anyone who happens to buy a bottle -- and that the story can easily be circulated around the globe in a matter of hours, it is important to pay attention: 
• Monitor your brand online to keep track of what people are saying about you. Most wineries have now utilized the Google Alert system, but there are others such as Twitter Search, http://www.trackur.com, and http://www.monitter.com which can provide more information.
• If you find a positive review or mention of your name, consider sending an email to thank the blogger for featuring you.
• If you find a negative review, contact the blogger and ask them for more information. Consider inviting them to visit your winery or a tasting you are hosting so they can learn more about you. DO NOT get in an "online flame war" with a blogger (which has happened in the past). 
• Identify several wine blogs you enjoy reading and keep track of them to see what topics are "hot" on the blogs. 
• If you are a new winery with a less well-known brand consider contacting the blogmaster of wine blogs which interest you. Invite them to visit or taste your wine. 
• If you are in a wine region that is less well-known, identify bloggers who write about your region and invite them to visit or taste your wine. 
• If you are considering starting your own winery blog, make sure to implement it in a professional manner. This means making sure to write new posts at least once a week, but preferably more often. It also means writing interesting stories about what is happening at the winery and other issues, rather than just trying to market your wine. Finally, it means monitoring and responding to the people who post on your blog.
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Friday, August 14, 2009

Neil Pendock, the Sunday Times wine guru has an impromptu Vilafonte wine tasting

I’d always thought that Vilafonté would make an excellent brand name for an añejo tequila with a minature of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa on the label, like a Cuban cigar band. But Mike Ratcliffe got in first and Vilafonté is a brand name for two serious red blends from Paarl as well as a handmade Cuban cigar from the same company.

Vilafonté winemaker Bernard le Roux
We drove past Vilafonté, the farm in Simondium, on the way to Nederburg cellarmaster Razvan Macici’s top secret Canon Route vineyard earlier this month, access to which is strictly controlled to deter lookie-loos and other unfashionables.
In a strange coincidence, I was sitting next to Kathy de Wet at a Great Gatsby dinner on Excelsior farm on Saturday night. Kathy was born on Babylonstoren farm and her late brother David Louw developed the secret Canon Route vineyard. Back at Vilafonté, the two reds are called M and C, which I’d always thought referred to the dominant cultivar Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon respectively.
Which works for the 2005 vintage but in 2006 the M is a mixture of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 15% Malbec and 3% Cabernet Franc and very nice it is, too. Far fresher with more supple tannins than M 2005 (52% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Franc and 17% Malbec). This confusion of recipes and changing horses between vintages is a common problem for wannabe icons. Just ask Giulio Bertrand whose Morgenster red blend changes recipe more often than the excellent Chris Kelly changes winery.
M 2006 can’t segue into C 2006 as that wine is already released (Cabernet Sauvignon 54%, Merlot 40% and Cabernet Franc 6%). Not that it would necessarily want to, as the C 2006 opened up with disturbing notes of coffee and mocha which thankfully soon blew off after the vigorous agitation of a Mexican revolutionary. I got to taste the illustrious trio after bumping into Vilafontéwinemaker Bernard le Roux slumming it at Chenin, the made-over Nose Wine Bar in the Cape Quarter.
So what does the M stand for? 007’s crotchety old bag boss in the James Bond franchise played by Dame Judi Dench? Probably not, as Bernard says ladies prefer C: “they have more demanding palates than men.” And deeper pockets too, as the C costs R110 more than the M at R375 a bottle.
Could it be that savvy Mr. Ratcliffe is paying court to the two most powerful wine opinion formers in SA, Michael Fridjhon (M) and Christian Eedes (C)? Or is that one conspiracy theory too many? If a name change is being mooted in the smoky cigar bar at Warwick, perhaps Z would work, in honour of founder Zelma Long and the rapier-like mark of Zorro that fits in with a Mexican theme.
But that won’t fly as Emile den Dulk got there first with his De Toren Z, even if he does pronounce it “zee.” So it’ll have to be N or P then, after Norma (Ratcliffe) or Phil (Freese), naturally, with any resemblance to my own initials, purely coincidental!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

We present a wine marketing workshop

An all-new SecondBase workshop for wine people

Blogging can be a very powerful marketing tool - when done right. Same goes for mobile tools, which are generally fairly inexpensive but can take a degree from MIT and a few episodes of Heroes to muster up enough geek in you to understand, let alone develop yourself. We've therefore invited Adriaan Pienaar from WooThemes and Chris Rolfe from Mobilitrix to join us for an afternoon of 'how-to' in the winelands for our second SecondBase workshop entitled: SecondBase - The digital media 'how-to guide' for the South African wine industry [Part 1] Adriaan runs an extremely successful blog theme company and is an expert on designing, jump-starting and making blogs work. He knows the psychology behind what readers enjoy and how to produce something people are really going to want to become fans of. Chris is an expert in mobile marketing and runs a company that sells innovative mobile marketing products. We've asked him to come along, show us what they do, how they work and how they can drive your sales. We've used them before ourselves - so we know they rock. As part of the SecondBase workshop, which as you know is less talk and more touchy-feely, we'll let you push and poke and play with all the toys so that you leave not only with the info, but the know-how too.This workshop has been designed specifically for the wine industry, so for the first time we'll be hosting it at Mike Ratcliffe's Vilafonté wine cellar in Stellenbosch.As part of the afternoon, we'll also be using the occasion to arm you with some of our brand-new equipment courtesy of Nokia and show you a few exciting and practical uses of some of the tools in one of our legendary 'urban adventures'.

Jon Cherry from Cherryflava also has a hunch as to how Steve Jobs would market his South African wine farm and will share those 'unusual' insights with you.If you're thinking of lifting your marketing game and need a practical guide to the best digital tools and trends right now - then this is your event.

Tickets are rarer than 5-stars in Platter, only 45 available.
Price: R950 per ticket
Date: Tuesday 8 September 2009
Time: 12:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Venue: vilafonté wine cellar, Stellenbosch map: www.vilafonte.com
To book your seat: E-mail Jon Cherry - jon@cherryflava.com
Sent via my BlackBerry from Vodacom - let your email find you!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The best Japanese chef in the world visits Cape Town.

Nobu Matsuhisa, the eponymous chef that founded the internationally renowned NOBU group of Japanese restaurants visited Cape Town recently. Here he is pictured during a meal at Belthazar restaurant in the Waterfront with owners Ian Halfon and Jonothan Steyn.
Sent via my BlackBerry from Vodacom - let your email find you!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

Comments on 2009 Vilafonte Harvest - Zelma Long

Overview:
From the Vilafonte perspective, 2009 was an exceptionally fine vintage, yielding beautiful fruit, harvested in perfect condition, with exceptional color and flavor intensity, characteristics which easily carried through into the wines. For example, our Merlot may well be the finest in structure, balance and flavors that I have worked with, anywhere. Our good fortune was that our harvest was complete before a siege of hot weather hit the later harvested red varieties, and we were shielded by mountains from the fires that burned around Stellenbosch to Somerset West. This was a harvest to celebrate!

The weather: The simplest description for the ripening weather, through to our final harvest, was: “consistent, and mild”. It is not unusual for the Cape to experience weeks of warm weather in December, January, or February, but in 2009 our Vilafonte site did not see high peak temperatures. Our harvest timing was fortunate to occur during the mild weather in February; slightly earlier than we had expected, discussed below.

The vineyard: Vilafonte vineyard was in excellent condition going into, throughout, and for weeks after harvest. The vines showed a healthy green and maintained good water status. As a result of the mild weather, the grapes ripened without the hesitation that is caused by hot weather that delays photosynthesis and sugar accumulation; 2009 mild weather gave a very efficient ripening curve.

The harvest: This 2009 weather pattern produced fruit with lovely acid balance from vines with normal but not excessive stress…beautiful grapes, small but not tiny; deeply colored with fresh, lively flavors. Our crop was modest, neither excessive nor tiny. Both total and extractable anthocyanins (color) were quite high; but tannins were ripe and appropriate for the respective Bordeaux varieties. Harvest started February 5 with Merlot, and Malbec followed immediately. Our Vilafonte estate harvest was completed with the last Cabernet harvest on March 2.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Brand Hooligans conference - Mike speaks

 

Cherryflava conference: Brand Hooligans - Creating a brand experience that makes people nuts about you [video link]

On Thursday 28 May 2009 Cherryflava will host an experiential marketing conference in Cape Town called BRAND HOOLIGANS - Creating a brand experience that makes people crazy about you. The event will showcase the city's most creative and successful marketing practitioners in a unique marketing conference format designed to generate maximum insight into their successful strategies and future opportunities as they see it. It's a must-attend event for marketers, creative professionals, entrepreneurs and strategists keen to gain insight into how a carefully crafted experience can be the most efficient and effective marketing tool a brand can employ. Tickets to the conference are very limited. Only 30 are available for purchase. The speaker line up includes:

Rui Esteves & Brad Armitage [founders vida e caffe and and now Brewers & Union] - Building a world-class South African brand: The devil's in the detail
Jody Aufrichtig [co-creator of the Old Biscuit Mill and The Grand Daddy and one of South Africa's most prolific and successful business innovators] - Re-imaging the way things are done
Porky Hefer [celebrated creative director and founder of Animal Farm - an award-winning creative consultancy that is quickly redesigning the world] - Innovation inspiration from the world around you
Mike Ratcliffe [Platter's guide 2009 5-star award-winner and partner/owner of Stellenbosch-based Warwick Wines and Vilefonte] - Experience is the only real marketing tool we've got left
Gareth Cotton [the 24-year old entrepreneur and creator of Chariot Limousines] - 10 recession busting marketing ideas in 3 blocks
Jonathan Cherry [editor of Cherryflava] - How to market like Marilyn Manson

When: Thursday 28 May 2009
Where: Boo Radley's, Cape Town CBD
Time: 1:00pm - 6:30pm

Price: R950 per ticket. To book your seat: E-mail Jon Cherry - jon@cherryflava.com
Bookings close: 20 May 2009 [no tickets to be sold after this date]

[video link]

 

 

Saturday, April 25, 2009

To Russia with Love

Mike Ratcliffe, Managing Director & Owner of Warwick Estate and Vilafonté Vineyards (http://www.vilafonte.com/) visited Russia on a wine marketing trip recently. Here he blogs irreverently about the experience.

Entering the Russian wine market is not for the fainthearted. The beaurocratic mess that is the Russian import regime makes South Africa's wine regulatory red-tape feel like a walk in the park. Add to that the shambolic politically motivated import restrictions and the punitive (and irrationally inflexible) customs duties and taxes and you have already accumulated a number of reasons to avoid the Russian federation all together.And so it was that I found myself facing a barrage of questions from a local customs official after disembarking at Moscow's Demondenova airport. To put it into perspective, the landing card containing numerous illogical questions (like university qualification, interests and hobbies etc) and needs to be filled out in triplicate. Despite a wealth of travel experience, I made the mistake of filling out the wrong form (in triplicate) and it was eventually explained that I had inadvertently used the form for 'Belarus' citizens and not the 'foreigners' form. Let me be clear that nowhere on the form did it mention any distinction between foreigners and Belarus residents.After navigating the murky corridors of taxi diplomacy, I seemed to be making progress. Stepping out of the airport into the crisp cold afternoon air was like getting slapped in the face with a bag of ice. Cold was the word of the day and boy was that word an over-traded commodity. After an hour of driving through a crazy snow-storm, I arrived at the Danilovskaya Hotel which was something out of a 1970's James Bond movie. Built to withstand a nuclear blast with windows designed to keep radiation out, this was a budget hotel in name only and without any service at all. Even asking the concierge (who didn't really speak English) to book me a taxi was met with an unapologetic scrap of paper with a phone number on it and a few other words in cyrrilic script. Communication in the Russian federation is challenging and I was quite surprised by my inability to decipher even a single Russian letter on signage or understand a single word of the local lingo. I downloaded a translation application on my phone and even this did not help as the pronunciations are challenging, even for a Stellenbosch educated Afrikaans speaking souty. I finally found that the only way to compare the words on the map with the words on the street signs was to compare the shapes of the letters.Now that I have set the cultural scene, let me explain that Moscow has never been accused of being a pretty destination. It does however have isolated examples of breath-taking architecture and somehow familiar examples of extraordinary (or grotesque depending on your angle) edifices that hark back to the days of the cold-war. I spent a late evening clearing my head wandering through Red Square in the driving snow and it certainly felt a little like a dream landscape, but the reality of mass unemployment and beggars on the street corner soon dispelled all hints of romanticism. I should also note that despite extensive investigation, there was absolutely no evidence of the iron curtain.Hot tip: There are easier places to sell wine, but the Russian market, even now, is flush with cash and if you can navigate the complicated entry procedures, South African wines are considered seriously good value and can, and do, make an impact. The Russian market is also untainted by any kind of historical (read early nineties) baggage that over-zealous wine marketers might have foisted on the British. Wines from South Africa seem to be considered cool and in the many high-end wine retailers that I visited were often positioned in the pride of place and amongst the best wines of the world. I also visited a couple of every-day supermarkets and was happy to see wines from South Africa being displayed prominently, and at price-points that seemed to indicate a relative value against our antipodeans and South American compatriots. Yes - the 'V-word' translates globally and it is just as valid here in Moscow. As an aside, have we considered how many people around the world that are trading down in price point, are currently trading down to the South African price-point. A wise man once said that there is nothing quite like a recession to realign markets and bring supply and demand back to an equilibrium of common-sense. Perhaps it was the same wise man that noted that some of the worlds biggest success stories were founded by opportunists and entrepreneurs during a recession. The South African value proposition is going to hold us in good stead over the ensuing months as the world shakes it's excesses out of the system.Back to Russia; the wine culture does not scream at you and to truly uncover the potential of this market you really have to scratch around a little. I did. I discovered wine, vodka and cigar bars hidden below ground behind unmarked doors. I found wineshops that were so eager to learn that they were prepared to shut down the store for an hour long presentation. I met serious sommeliers that actually listened to what a winery owner from South Africa had to say - and took notes. It is a far cry from some of the more established blasé markets that have been overrun by winemakers on their annual overseas holiday (read: wine marketing trip/employment perk) who are judged on their ability to limit their expense account rather than on tangible results.Some (secret agents and wine marketers) would suggest that departing Moscow brings a certain bitter-sweet level of relief and an inner calm - I would not disagree with this completely. Despite all of the mixed opinion above, Moscow has not scared me off - the market is exciting, edgy and pulsating with potential. A little adrenaline never failed to galvanise my resolve and I will be back.