Thursday, February 25, 2010

Some cool pics taken yesterday during Martha Stewarts Warwick and Vilafonte tasting in our Mountain Penthouse

Martha Stewart, Norma Ratcliffe & Zelma Long
Inspecting the Warwick Wedding Cup
The view from the Warwick Penthouse in the Vineyards
Martha, Norma & Mike Ratcliffe
Martha Stewart & Mike drink from the Wedding Cup
What a beautifull day in Stellenbosch

Monday, February 22, 2010

A first look at World Cup accommodation in Cape Town Harbour- MS Amsterdam

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


Friday, February 19, 2010

Naples Wine Festival Auction Results!!!!!

Zelma Long, Vilafonté wine blogger

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

Thursday, February 11, 2010

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

There was great excitement this weekend in Florida as the renowned Naples Wine Festival Auction confirmed again that it is the largest wine auction in the world. The Naples Wine Festival and Auction has made headlines in the past as it has eased past the Dollar revenues of the Napa Valley Wine Auction to become the most prestigious and luxurious charitable event of its kind – anywhere. ‘This is certainly the place to be’ said Zelma Long, winemaking partner and co-owner of Vilafonté who attended the auction as a ‘featured vintner’ and rubbed shoulders with Hollywood movie stars and the top winemakers in the world. 
The highest price raised for a wine lot was achieved by the South African Vilafonte/Staglin wine trip lot which raised a mind-boggling $340,000, making it one the biggest lots in the history of the Naples event. This is also the first time that a South African winery has been incited to arrange and coordinate a lot of this size and magnitude. The Vilafonté lot was co-sponsored with generous donations by Southern Destinations Inbound tour operators, One&Only Hotel Cape Town, Singita Game Lodges and the Staglin Family in California. The 2010 auction raised in excess of $8,000,000 and was a platform for raising the profile of South Africa and it’s wines amongst the wealthy American elite.
Zelma Long is a former guest speaker at the Nederburg auction and a senior member of the Californian winemaking fraternity. Zelma was accompanied by importer Bartholomew Broadbent, son of renowned wine writer Michael Broadbent who acted as a ‘brand Ambassador’ for Vilafonte. Together they presented a Vilafonte wine dinner co-hosted with Garen Staglin with head Chef Christopher Lee of renowned AUREOLE in New York City as Chef.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A great 2010 harvest update from Phil Freese

A vintage update:
Yesterday, we brought in just a bit over 4 tons of H block Malbec. The processing is nearly completed this afternoon. The fruit looks good; the color release is amazing for just hitting the tank. It looks like we hit ‘physiological maturity’ that I have not seen lately. All of the indicators came together very nicely – analysis, flavors, vine ripeness, etc. That same first read of the vintage seems like it extends, at least, to Merlot blocks – I think we are sitting on another great vintage. All reports from the industry is low yields!
The yield in H was down a bit due to ‘grooming’ even up to the day before harvest.
Weather continues to be great, somewhat unusually cool nights and mild days!
We are picking Malbec V & W tomorrow, Saturday – again flavors and chemistry are terrific.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Jam in the USA - flavoured wines (Part 2)

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


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


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


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


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


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Saturday, February 06, 2010

A cheeky little bottle of Vilafonte to fight the cold

Playing in the Richmond Virginia snow with Bartholomew Broadbent

Orlando’s Annika Sorenstam debuts new wine at Naples Winter Wine Festival

This is a guest blog from my good food buddy Chris Sherman. Years ago he was the restaurant critic for the Orlando Sentinel and now edits the dining guide and Florida Trend restaurant awards.


NAPLES. FLA. – The stars of food wine and charity broke through the gloom of the recession and last weekend’s dreary weather to raise $8 million at the 10th annual Naples Winter Wine Festival for troubled children of Collier County. After the last tambourine rattled, the total raised in four hours on only 61 lots made the 10th Naples Winter Wine Festival again the richest wine charity in the world. Last year’s $5 million fell behind the long standing record in California’s Napa valley.

The success came in part from the flash of the world’s finest vintners, America’s top chefs and wine and some celebrities such as golfer Annika Sorenstam and actor Kyle MacLachlan who combined love of wine with fame from other fields. The bigger factor came from the 500 guests, primarily a small group of the rich and not so famous millionaires who make their home in Naples and donate many of the fine wines for auction – and bid furiously for other lots. After the counting, festival chair Francis Rooney, a builder and the former ambassador to the Vatican, said the organizers had not set goals knowing the state of the economy.

“We never talked numbers,’’ Rooney said. “All strata were hit by the economy including all the people under this tent. Every one who lives in southwest Florida knows we went through a boom, and now we’re making up for it’’ in defaults, unused inventory and unemployment. “I’m deeply gratified to this community that dug so deeply’’ for the people who suffered the most.

For Swedish golfer Sorenstam, who now lives in Orlando, the Festival was a chance to introduce her namesake wine, Annika, a sleek syrah from California, and win raves from fans and wine lovers.

“I’m no expert on wine, but I didn’t want another California cab,’’ Sorenstam said. “”I didn’t have much wine growing up but when I started to travel I got to know some of the best food and wine. When I met the Wentes, who have such good wine, and a restaurant and a golf course [in Livermore] I knew we had the same passion.’’

Naples raised the money this year in its trademark mix of glitter and good humor. The prices are extravagant, averaging more than $100,000 for each lot. But the atmosphere is informal, a balloon filled tent party at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort. The raucous bidding was urged on by a rattling drum corps, maracas and pulsing rock, including its own mantra: “Bid higher, higher.’’ And of course fabulous wines, many rarely available at any price. Bidders fought to pay $150,000 for four monster 9-liter botttles from the Haut-Brion in Bordeaux Estate. They included two from 2005 and two more from the not yet bottled 2009 vintage 2009 added by the proprietor, Prince Robert of Luxemburg after he toured a youth shelter supported by the auction.

They also popped $140,000 for sixteen double magnums of great Burgundies donated by New York Mets star and wine connoisseur, $120,000 for Harlan Estates and $80,000 for 100 bottles of Australias’s best, including 12-year-old verticals of Penfolds Grange and Henschke’s Hill of Grace. Biggest bid of the day was $440,000 for a weeklong cuise in the Mediterranean on a 170-foot lot for one of many lots that combined wine and food with luxurious travel to Cannes and Thailand and one-of-a-kind experiences. One winner bid $200,000 for a Hollywood weekend that included back stage visit to Desperate Housewives and a walk –on role on Modern Family, another winner popped $140,000 for tickets to the Project Runway finale and a Michael Kors makeover. And there were other celebrity-studded lots: a New York trip including dinner at Daniel, lunch with Regis Philbin and VIP tickets to the Yankees, Saturday Night Live and other TV shows drew $170,000. Just for the chance to bid on such luxuries cost guests $7,500 a couple, which provided participants a weekend filled with world class food and wine and the celebrated names behind them.

Besides the auction the festival includes luxurious dinners for 25 in private homes. The meals are prepared by Americas most famous chefs including Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Tom Colicchio and Emeril Lagasse. Wines were provided by the people behind such labels as Antinori, Harlan, Grace Family, Staglin, Lynch-Bages, Vega Sicilia and Araujo. In addition, the festival drew new wines that are or soon will be cult favorites. These bottles can sell for $600 and only by mailing list — if you can get on. This year’s guests included the hot new South African Vilafonte by American Zelma Long, the luscious Scarecrow cabernet, rich and ripe Benovia pinot noir and brilliant Bodegas Chacra pinots from Patagonia made by the Tuscan producers of Sassicaia.

From television and the movies came, an elegant Walla Walla cabernet pinot noir made by Twin Peaks/Dune/Desperate Housewives star MacLachlan, a Washington native. He kids that wine is an alternative future “in case this acting thing doesn’t work out.” The auction itself started with an outdoor showcase by a brigade of chefs drafted from Ritz-Carlton properties across the state serving such delicacies as grouper gravlax and celery foam. But when the bidding started, the food shifted to popcorn hot dogs and sliders. The beverages of choice were a lineup of top wines like Duckhorn, Ridge and all the guest vintners. plus bottled water.

For many wealthy bidders and visiting stars, the central event of the festival was a bus trip on Friday to Youth Haven, a children’s center where they met many of the children they aid in depressed homes and migrant camps through literacy, mentoring, mental health and dental clinics. “’My father [winemaker Sir Peter Michael] said we had to come to this,” said Paul Michael, “It’s amazing.’’ Vintner Dick Grace bent down to show magic tricks to grinning four year-olds. MacLachlan watched in awe as a teen-age boy described his victory over mental illness, a woman tell of adopting a neglect child who weighed 12 pounds at age three and heard a chorus of learning deprived pre-schoolers read and sing. Piero Incisa della Rochetta, the bearded young Italian from Bodega Chacra, sat on a small stool blowing bubbles for severely autistic children.

”It’s so little, nothing, just bubbles but they smile and giggle,’’ said della Rochetta. “When we think we have problems, we don’t know what real suffering is.’’ “To hear these accounts first hand,’’ Prince Robert said later, “That makes all the difference.’’ The field trip won over Bart Araujo of Calistoga, Calif., who donated prize bottles from his famed Eisele vineyards and also bid high enough to win lots donated by others. Asked what distinguished Naples from other charities in the wine world, he recited the facts of its impact: “$74 million. 100,000 children. There’s nothing like it.”

Chris Sherman, former wine columnist and restaurant critic for the Orlando Sentinel is the dining critic of and writes . He lives in Tampa and can be contacted at

a rare photo of Bartholomew Broadbent & I after a long night drinking competitors Port

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


Thursday, February 04, 2010

Chocolate, coffee & sex in wine

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