Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Simonsberg: Mountain of Women - Blog by Neil Pendock

"A mountain of tedious pretention" is not the comment of a dyspeptic wine critic on the attempts of the Simonsberg ward of Stellenbosch to promote itself as the heart of fine winemaking in SA (which it is), but rather a French review of Federico Fellini's La città delle donne (City of Women) at the 33rd Cannes Film Festival in 1980, immortalized in Wikipedia. "Simon\"s Mountain: a mountain of women"][/caption] In spite of being named after Governor of the Cape Simon van der Stel (urban legend insists it looks like a rather fat Si lying on his back after a couple of bottles of Tassenberg) the Simonsberg is Ground Zero for the feminine imperative in SA winemaking as it is home to a trio of Amazons: May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, Norma Ratcliffe and Anne Cointreau. One of the pioneers of SA wine, Ansela van de Caab, farmed on the Simonsberg and made wine at Muratie at the end of the 17th century. But naming the mountain after Simon's wife Constance wouldn't have worked as it would have caused confusion with that other bastion of female winemaking – the Constantia Valley – and complaints from Catherina Ustings (rumoured mistress of Si) at Steenberg. Although it would have been fun watching today's crop of Stellenbosch marketers try to deal with producers located on a Conberg. The internationally best known Simonsberg She is May, octogenarian former châtelaine of super second growth Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, somewhat more prosaically referred to as madam hier langsaan (madam next door) by the volk (farm labourers) of Ida's Valley. May cashed in at the top of the last economic cycle, selling a majority interest in her Bordeaux estates to the Rouzaud family of Louis Roederer fame, purveyors of Cristal bubbly to gangs of rap artistes. May bought a 123ha farm (310ha according to Wine Spectator magazine, confusing their hectares with acres) Glenelly in 2003, next door to South African wine royalty, Simon Barlow at Rustenberg. Although Glenelly may sound like a single malt whisky, the mountainous nature of the terrain makes the establishment of a golf links most unlikely, as does 60ha (57ha according to the Platter sighted wine guide) of immaculate vineyards laid out by Pichon enologist Thomas Do-Chi-Nam "after a precise terroir study". Besides, May looked more polo-style plutocrat then golf grandee as she sat on the first floor stoep (verandah) of her all-singing, all-dancing cellar on her first open day, the day after Bastille Day, when the Good Value Guru and I stopped by. The brash, bold winery ("contemporary" according to the French Chamber of Commerce website) was designed by a team of four architects: two Swiss, one French and one local. Which may sound like the start of a joke but the chunky concept matches the mountains in a Le Corbusier-kind of way while the acres of glass windows provide excellent vignettes onto Ida's Valley cowering below the behemoth. "Wait until the trees grow" apologized May "we're in winter now." Three vintages of a red blend Glenelly Hill were shown to the steady stream of lookie-loos who had accepted Madame's public invitation to get up close and personal with her winery: '03, '04 and '06 all made from bought-in grapes at controversial Johannesburg financial mogul Dave King's Quoin Rock cellar further along the Simonsberg. Our favourite was the '06 while a cellar tour revealed several stainless steel tanks full of '09 with barrels of '08 maturing quietly on level -2. Next to a set from the movie Cocoon - May's blue lit back-to-the-future private cellar – racks of Ch. Pichon on the left, local stocks (Beyerskloof a favourite) on the right. Our pourer related that '08 will be the first vintage produced from grapes grown exclusively on the farm. Expect a variation on a traditional Bordeaux theme of Cabernet and Merlot as there was Shiraz in the '04 and even Pinotage in '03. Winemaker Luke O'Cuinneagain reports he is especially convinced by Petit Verdot and has persuaded Madame to release a small quantity (2000 bottles) separately. An industrial stainless steel lift servicing three floors gives the winery the feel of a high-tech hospital, although a profusion of local art by 25-year old Cape Town artist Vicky Sanders does chirp up the fearsomely functional cellar nearly as much as the designer blue chemise worn by winemaker Cool-Hand Luke, which matches his laser blue eyes, to a T. Not all the art is local: medieval French tapestries, glass sculptures, colour-field blobs and colourful cartoons of hometown Bordeaux give the facility an eclectic air. May's art collection continues the popular tradition of Tasting Room as Trojan Horse for farts (Fine Art). The fart galleries of Woodstock (Linda Goodman owned by latter day Lorenzo the Magnificent Jonathan Beare, Brendan Bell-Roberts, Michael Stevenson et. al) are hopelessly too grob for monied art lovers and the wine served at their openings is usually dire dora indeed. But then May herself does look like Peggy Guggenheim in red, albeit with a more elegant nose. On the local scene, the best known lady of wine is the pioneer of Warwick, Canadian-born Norma, who celebrated a quarter of a century making the stuff at the Vineyard Hotel in Claremont earlier this year. The venue was most appropriate as the hotel started out as the country home of Lady Anne Barnard, one of the heroic pioneer ladies of the Cape. Her 18th century vineyard has been revived along the stream at the bottom of the hotel's lush lawns and made the venue doubly suitable. As an aside, I was surprised to note that LAB was a pioneer of interior design. The wonderful Aesthete's Lament blog reports that "Lady Anne Barnard … and her sister [Lady Margaret Fordyce, later Lady Lamb] broke all the rules when they actually started their own 'business' [out of their shared Adam-style house at 21 Berkeley Square, London]. Short of money and with a natural talent for interior decoration, they took to buying or renting houses, doing them up, and letting them furnished for a considerable profit. One or two people had the bravery to see that this was an excellent idea, but others took the view of the lady who complained that 'she wished to God those two very agreeable women would leave off being upholsterers and begin to be women of fashion [again].'" Norma was MC'd by her son Warwick MD Mike who held up a bottle of her maiden vintage noting "the only thing wrong with this wine is that we misspelled the name." But then I can never remember whether her surname is Ratcliff or Ratcliffe and always have to check. The wine in question was La Femme Bleu, a 1984 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon. Norma has always been in the vanguard of wine fashion and the spelling mistake, like printing errors on stamps, makes her wine and its label all the more collectable. Of course if they'd called it La Femme en Bleu, the bleu wouldn't have needed a trailing "e" as Picasso noted when he painted La Femme en Bleu au Beret a century ago. His great rival Matisse did a Femme Bleue although there's much more than an "e" difference between the two paintings. Norma's first vintage was actually a decade earlier. "In 1974 we copied Rustenberg and made a Cinsault/Cabernet blend. The wine was stunning but we decided to go the Bordeaux route and the 1984 Femme Bleu was aged in 100% new French oak at the exorbitant price of R184 a barrel." When I asked my neighbour Adi Badenhorst, former winemaker at Rustenberg, what I should re-plant on Lemoenfontein (my Paardeberg conflict of interest - not!) quick as a flash he answered "Cinsault". Colour coded ladies were much on the mind of another artist, Denton Welch, in Maiden Voyage (Reader's Union, 1945). Recalling the Shanghai nightclubs of his youth a century ago, he remembered "a middle-aged woman dressed all in green. On the table in front of her stood a glass of crème de menthe and she held a green cigarette between her lips." He commented on her to his beefy dancing partner, who replied "Isn't she killing! I've seen her here in red velvet, sipping cherry brandy and smoking a rose-coloured cigarette. Tonight she's all in green. She always has everything to match." "What does she drink when she wants to go blue?" "I don't know, unless it's methylated spirits!" Norma follows in the illustrious footsteps of another Simonsberg She: Ansela. A freed slave, Ansela was wife to 17th century Prussian immigrant Lourens Campher who was granted een zeker stuk land genaamd De Driesprong gelegen onder de Stellenbosch in 1699 by governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel, son of Si. Today De Driesprong is called Muratie, a corruption of murasie or ruin, referring to Ansela's original single room house, an annex to a stable and chicken run and one of the oldest buildings in Stellenbosch. "The horses had the best accommodation" explains present incumbent Muratie matriarch Annatjie Melck, "as they were the most important." The most recent bee in Annatjie's bonnet is restoring Ansela's original homestead. The plan calls for the preservation of the cobbled floor, fireplace and wooden ceiling with the odd Persian carpet added for a splash of luxury and colour. Original mud brickwork to be exposed and the external integrity of the structure faithfully preserved. Restoring the historic house of Ansela after three centuries is architectural karma and another memorial for a unique lady who is commemorated in the estate's flagship blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. SA takes its women winemakers so seriously, there is even a Landbouweekblad SA Woman Winemaker of the Year Competition. The 2009 verylongnamedcompetition award went to Ntsiki Biyela, winemaker at Stellakaya who operates from a winery at Bosman's Crossing in the shadow of the Simonsberg. First prize in the competition is "a pamper package from the Lanzerac Wellness Centre and Spa to the value of R1000" which may just be enough to send feminist blood pressure off the scale, but then the winner also does receive "an all expenses paid trip to the winemaking region of Bordeaux, valued at R30 000." If Ntsiki times it well, she can visit May at Pichon with a side trip up to champagne, to Gosset, one of the oldest houses, owned by the family of Anne whose day job is running her Morgenhof estate on the Simonsberg. Morgenhof is a fairytale venue for weddings while its Fantail range of value-for-money wines are some of the best deals in town.

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


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Warwick picnic team having their 2nd lecture on recycling & waste management

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


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Warwick's first Landrover just arrived for the 'Big 5 Wine Safari' - we launch next week

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


Friday, November 20, 2009


Gourmet Picnic logo small.jpg         Big 5 Wine Safari.jpg








Wednesday, November 18, 2009


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


Wednesday, November 11, 2009


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 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 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

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Warwick 'Black Lady' Syrah label printing - at the press

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


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Back in your wine box, elitist critic

The letter, Quality wine in a box (September 21), highlights much of what is wrong with the wine industry. We hear of wine lakes on the one hand yet the price of wine continues its steady climb. Wine farmers plead poverty, and yet we are continuously presented with pictures of the great and the good unashamedly enjoying the life of Riley. Your wine columnist continues to opine in his quaint, elitist style, as if anyone who can’t afford a bottle at R150, or was it R1500-plus, is beneath him. Many wine writers give the impression that nothing below a certain price point will ever contaminate their nostrils, let alone their lips. Let’s get real here. Between boxed “carafe quality” and auction wines there is a whole array of, shall I call them “sumptuous, luscious, mouth- filling, affordable wines”? SA is truly blessed. Travel to Europe or the US at the moment. Many retailers are fighting for survival in these difficult times. While often avoiding discounting of brands, a marketing no-no, they are putting together “special offers”, co-branded deals, BOGOFs (buy one or two, get one free), and trying to maintain their relationship with their consumers by delivering value at affordable prices. Marketers should know that relationships that survive difficult times are potentially even better in the good times. Nothing wrong in trading down. Values such as trust, integrity and transparency are never to be taken for granted. Apart from the Sunday Times wine fundi, who has the confidence and knowledge to recommend wines from as little as R25 a bottle, most of the other writers deserve to be put back in their elitist boxes. If the wine industry wants to maintain, let alone grow, its “share of throat”, it will need to change.

Jeremy Sampson


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


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

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.

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 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 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.

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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, winemaking partner and co-founder of Vilafonté vineyards in
South Africa 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!!


Paying tribute to valued WINE CLUB members and celebrating Norma Ratcliffe’s 25 years of winemaking 


Warwick Wine Estate recently hosted a glittering and glamorous bash at Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay’s Maze Restaurant, at hotelier-extraordinaire Sol Kerzner’s, One&Only at the V&A Waterfront. This glitzy bash commemorated matermalias, Norma Ratcliffe’s, quarter-century milestone as the inaugural wine-maker and proprietor of the Estate: a noteworthy and significant landmark which bears testament to the resolute bedrock on which the brand is built. At the same time, the influential estate honoured prized members of their ever-expanding Wine Club. Aficionados, friends and family alike attended this swanky affair, toasting Warwick’s largely unrivalled success, as well as paying homage to pioneer and matriarch, wine-maker and style-director, the iconic Norma Ratcliffe. 


The choice of venue was fitting, as Warwick was in the proverbial spotlight earlier this year at the glitterati-strewn, paparazzi-fuelled opening of the One&Only, as Three Cape Ladies was the only red wine poured at this auspicious affair. And while the launch event boasted a guest list of stellar-studded, Hollywood A-list and haute couture fashionistas, Warwick Wine Club hosted their own celebrated A-List and rolled out the red carpet … literally. 


After guests had swanned about and sampled delectable canapés, marketing guru and Managing Director, Mike Ratcliffe, welcomed guests and introduced his mother Norma who invited patrons to taste her hand-picked ‘milestone’ wines. Magnums of Trilogy circulated…Norma, the inaugural Cape Lady, played the perfect hostess…and even Professor Black mouthed a few platitudes before retiring to complete his thesis.  The room resonated warmth and evinced a surreal enchantment which permeated throughout.   


Vintages ranging from 1988-2006, of Warwick Trilogy, the Estate’s Bordeaux Blend flagship,  are available on the Hotel wine list, including an 18 litre bottle of the 2005 vintage: currently the only South African wine in the Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines of the World (announced at the end of 2008). The One&Only is the inaugural Hotel globally to offer a vertical selection of Warwick Cabernet Franc, personally selected by Norma Ratcliffe herself. These wines are to be accompanied by hand-written tasting notes compiled by Norma and the winemaking team at Warwick.


It was a night to remember.


September 2009.


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

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 and the incredible team from - 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

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. 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!

Posted By The Vilafonte Wine Blog to the vilafonte luxury wine blog at 8/28/2009 03:53:00 PM

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 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 (;;, 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,, and 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.
Sent via my BlackBerry from Vodacom - let your email find you!

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:
To book your seat: E-mail Jon Cherry -
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!

Monday, July 20, 2009


Trilogy becomes only the 31st Five Star wine since WINE magazine was

founded in 1993. Trilogy is also currently the only South African wine

in the Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines in the World.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wide-angle view of the Warwick tasting room

From: Stephan Theron
Sent: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 2:03 PM
To: Warwick Wine Estate
Subject: Dankie


Dankie vir die wynproe gister.

Hier is 'n wye hoek foto wat ek gister geneem het.
Stephan Theron van Vishoek.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ivan Daniels proudly displays our new Warwick 'The First Lady' t-shirt

Bernard Le Roux was on hand to show off our winning wine at the Trophy Wine Show function

Swinging with Norma and Warwick

Published by under Reviews and Views

Norma Ratcliffe - Grand Dame

Ever since Mike Ratcliffe talked me into buying a membership of the Warwick Wine Club two years ago, I seem to have a lot of this farm’s stuff lying around. I’m not going to stake a claim to being a Warwick boffin, but I can spot the Estate’s wine in most line-ups, just as I can tell my dog’s bark from 320 others running around De Waal Park.
Of course, being somewhat intrigued by the wines from Simonsberg, Stellenbosch’s Pauillac, delving into my Warwich stash is always going to be more than just opening another bottle of something.
The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot do not give as much heady fruit intensity as Kanonkop, Warwick’s one neighbour. Nor to these varieties portray the likeable leanness of Le Bonheur just up the road.
For me the Warwick reds show wine’s ability to bear a seductive power. Tannins are evened out, but the presence is weighty and potent, without any hint of after-burn or over-extraction. Of course, a reason for this is the dominance of Cabernet Franc in the Trilogy Bordeaux blend. Having perfected Cabernet Franc, the farm is able to bring out the best in this variety, namely grace and poise enveloped by an assertive juiciness. For Cabernet Franc can be greener than a Kommetjie whale-hugger.
I was thus not going to let the opportunity pass me by of attending a tasting to celebrate Warwick’s 25 years in the winemaking business, held last week in the Vineyard Hotel. I wanted to see where everything came from. The bash behind the stash.
Norma Ratcliffe, Mike’s mother who placed Warwick on the wine map – amongst other noticeable achievements – led the assembled group of hacks and friends through a tasty line-up.
But this was a tasting Norma style. No weighty diatribes on yields, smart cellar decisions or philosophical statements on wood maturation. Just Norma talking animatedly about some of the Warwick wines she likes and using a few nostalgic titbits to complement her vivaciousness, knowledge and personality. (Isn’t the thought of young Mike among a pile of pumpkins just adorable!)
Norma tells it all, her way. She is, after all, our Grand Dame.
Okay, so first up was a 1984 Warwick Femme Bleu (sic), the first commercial wine made by Norma on Warwick. A Cabernet Sauvignon, this 25 year old model was in perfect condition. The colour was garnet. The nose honey-comb. Lean fruit on the palate, a hint of cedar. No oxidation or stuffiness.
The 1986 Trilogy was similarly brilliant, although the addition of Merlot and Cabernet Franc to the Cabernet Sauvignon allowed for a tad more complexity and depth. Once again, it was crystal clear on the palate and the good acid ensured it was still as tight as an Eric Clapton guitar string.
A lot of the anti-Pinotage gang rip into anybody willing to state that a Pinot Noir character can become evident in Pinotage. Well, Norma put up a 1997 Warwick Three Cape Ladies (Pinotage blend) which almost knocked one over with the whiff or pure Burgundian forest floor, wet haystack and Algerian vineyard worker arm-pit. This was more Pinot Noir here than in a lot of Pinot Noirs themselves.
Of course, the wine was huge in the mouth, making an assertive Pinot Noir entrance and ending with ripe cherries and hints of Fortis syrup.
Heading onto the 1995 Cabernet Franc and the 2001 Cape Winemakers Guild Femme Bleu (sic), it was enormously satisfying to begin recognizing the stylistic traits of my current, newer Warwick wines. Looking at my 2006 Trilogy and Cabernet Franc, it appears the wines are actually fuller and more voluptuous in their youth. After a couple of years, the fruit and tannins separate giving the wines a different structure all together, whilst maintaining pureness and depth.
Norma threw in a 1998 Chardonnay, and what a humdinger. It was big, it was nutty, it was limey, it was a Staffordshire terrier of Chardonnays, just waiting to rip the gonads out of anyone wearing an “Anything But Chardonnay” T-shirt. Some, like wine-trader Mark Norrish, were so inspired they shouted: “This is Burgundy, Norma!”
The evening ended with dinner, and I enjoyed more of the Chardonnay – albeit a younger model that, unlike the 1998, hadn’t been stirred with Norma’s golf club – and Warwick’s wonderfully supple Pinotage.
This was definitely the wine event of the past year for me, for you can haul out the best wines in the house, but the event don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.
Keep swinging, Norma, because you’ve got it.

E Louw Joubert


Monday, June 08, 2009

Mike, Naftali & Friends at the Trophy Wine Show awards function in Cape Town

Mike Ratcliffe
Warwick Wine Estate
Phone: +27 (0) 21 88 444 10
Fax: +27 (0) 21 88 44025
Skype: mikeatwarwick

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Drinking from the wedding cup

Dear Mike,

I promised you a photo that was taken at Warwick on 30 April.   The lovely young couple Andrew Hunt and Rachel Read are from Oxford and both involved in a tour operator called Audley who sends many English wine fans out to the Winelands. They are getting married in September and came out to the Cape to source the wine that they want to present at the wedding to some 100 guests. Isn't that nice?  Hopefully they will eventually decide on Warwick ‘The First Lady’ which is my favourite.


Pietman Retief



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 -
Bookings close: 20 May 2009 [no tickets to be sold after this date]

[video link]



Sunday, April 26, 2009


Mike Ratcliffe, Managing Director & Owner of Warwick Estate and Vilafonté Vineyards ( 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.