Tbo Touch – the fruition of his wine journey
01 January 1970
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Jenny Crwys–Williams : Well, welcome to Old Mutual Live Wine Edition, on mobile, on digital, on demand and thanks for listening. I’m Jenny Crwys–Williams. Well, like everyone else who’s received their press release I can’t wait for my first taste of Touch Warwick.
This is the wine conceived and created by Warwick’s Mike Ratcliffe and deejay and CEO of Touch Central FM and Touch Warwick Wines and that’s Tbo Touch. He’s a blast and I cornered him at Cliff Central. So talk to me a little bit about wine because it’s a journey, it really and truly is a journey. Can you remember when you first tasted wine and was it sweet?
Tbo Touch: I was seven years old. I’m a grandson of what I call the pioneers of the gospel or charismatic Pentecostal movement in South Africa. My grandfather was one of the three pioneers, him, Dr Nicholas Bengwe and Thomas Dube in the late forties and started 78 churches across the country.
So growing up in that family in the eighties, we used to have Holy Communion, Saturdays they’ll deliver some wine. Today they don’t use real wine and as a child I used to steal the wine. One Sunday, I was nine, I even have a scar behind my ear, I had the worst whipping of my life. He hit me once and that was the first time I ever got a whipping from my grandfather.
I was nine years old because they discovered that I stole the wine. I said, “This has to be valuable if this man almost killed me. I almost lost my life over this. What in the world is special about this?” But being a child, being a rebel and I started attaching the amount of value to wine, and say, “How could this man hate me?”
It took me years to get over that type of a whipping and I said, but it was punishing and one day I used to joke about it. I said when I grow up I want to make so much money that I want to donate barrels to all my grandfathers churches.
TT: For Holy Communion, but then I started travelling. I left for the US at 15, lived in the US and I was grateful to be a part of one of the most affluent families, the Jones’s, who is the father to Grace and then Noel. May his soul rest in peace, he passed away in 2009. The Late Bishop Robert Jones took me as a son and we travelled extensively across the States and I started falling in love. As a foodie I enjoyed different experiences and I realised that Napa Valley boast of the best Cab Sauv and Russian Valley Shiraz.
You look at the farms like your Opus One’s, Paul Hunter, these are some great ways and Caymus Wines, I went to their vineyards and at that time I started establishing my love for Stellenbosch. Because when I left I didn’t even know about that South Africa has a similar type if not far much better vineyards than they do except their infrastructure is on another level, Some farmers in the States, how they get it so spot on, it’s interesting and I moved from being a consumer for some time and I started collecting other wines.
JCW: South African wines or wines in general?
TT: In general. I remember my basement, I lived in a basement in the Bronx. I won’t forget Bronx River ever, your small basement. I had more wine than text books, collecting it and I never drank them, I just wanted to collect wines. Then the other day I couldn’t afford my rent and I called, I told the landlord, I said “I actually have a couple of bottles that can take care of me for a year”.
JCW: You knew that without even –
TT: Wine saved my life because I would collect, I’ll travel to special events and collect. Until I moved out, of course things got better when I eventually lived with Grace Jones in Manhattan overlooking the Hudson, one of the most beautiful views ever. That’s where every meal was served with either a Chateau or you know because she’s big with the French collection. The area where she lived, the Greenwich Village is Lower Manhattan area there used to be this high-end wine store where I will go.
It got to a point where it was just cash-less. I’ll collect at month-end, they would just send us the bill after we’ve collected because it was just every day we’d have guests and every time she opens a bottle, she will always say: ”This is one of the most rare collections from…” and she will give us a presentation. I’m like “Just open the bottle”, you know and little did I know that I was picking up on that influence overall.
JCW: Of course.
TT: So when I started going out on dates, this is Touch, young, 23, sophisticated. I’m dating an average, let me not use the word average, and I’m trying to be quite, I’m trying to, you know, show my comprehensive understanding of the food and the wine.
I realise that it intimidated whoever I was on a date with because not everybody in America appreciates at that age, the journey of the whole process in winemaking, “Like dude, what are you talking about, just get me a shot of tequila” and I was like “Oh Lord”.
So I gravitated, I had to develop value standards on who I associate with and their knowledge for fine things in life and wine being one of them. Which that meant many broken relationships because I could not enjoy your space if I couldn’t enjoy my food and wine experience.
For me it’s a deal breaker you know, but I didn’t even know that. I thought I was caught up in, you have to look a certain way, you have to love. No, but I realise that food and wine for me is everything and eventually it started becoming part of my DNA.
I came back home in 2005 and the first thing I looked for in my Northcliff apartment then, I had to make sure that my Northcliff apartment has a bar. I didn’t even ask if it has a kitchen or a bathroom, and I wanted to look for space for a bar because I host a lot, I host people. It’s one signature that defines me, is I host people all the time.
I love having people in my space and I love people to remember me, not from just the conversations we had, but from the rare experiences they had. You won’t come to me and open a bottle that you know, I can guarantee you that. I said this to one man who collects the most wines in the country.
He says, “Oh don’t insult yourself and think I’ve not been exposed to what you know of”. Then he came the other day and funny enough, we opened a 1981 Russian Valley, not Cakebread, I’ll think of the name. But it was a beautiful bottle.
Then he’s never even heard of the farm, never heard of the wine before and that to me is how we get to create an ecosystem of people that are experienced, are well-travelled, so we can exchange. It got to a point where we started exchanging wines, “Hey, where, what have you picked up? Hey I was in Germany and I picked up this pallet”.
JCW: You’ve got it bad.
JCW: You’ve got a bad dose, you definitely have a bad dose. So then how did Touch come about, how did you meet Mike in the first place, Mike Ratcliffe?
TT: I do a feature on a previous station I worked at where we did a feature every Tuesday, it’s a lifestyle feature. The thing about winemakers is they’re not as aggressive as, when you look at companies that do your whiskies and champagnes, they do activations, they go out to the market.
Johnny Walker sells more whiskies in Soweto than anywhere in the country because of their face, they are visible. It’s different with our winemakers, they are not there, you have to know of them, or if you’re not at Makro or if you’re not reading about it. You don’t see a lot of aggressive marketing with winemakers. I guess it’s the confidence in what they make, but I realised that I can be the bridge between the majority of the people who are not knowledgeable with wine and the winemakers.
JCW: Yes, definitely.
TT: When I made the connection with Mike, I said to Mike “Listen, demographics in this country, this does not afford you to be in your own space and not think there’s an untapped market that definitely wants to experience Warwick brand”. Because I’m excited with wine I want to learn how to make wine. Mike is one of the most spontaneous, when he believes in something he is an accelerator.
We were talking about it, the following week I was on Warwick farm sleeping over, conceptualising how we’re going to do it. It’s been a three-year journey that felt like a day because the excitement around working in untapped territories with unreserved, this resilience and no fear to try something that we’ve never both tested before. We said “You know what, I’m going to bring my experience, I’m a child of the soil, I was born in Sharpeville.
Historically, if you Google my family, we’ve been through, we’ve experienced the worst, families being in exile and my grandfather’s house was like a safe house for a lot of Comrades. My story can be told in volumes and volumes of books and I said “Mike, I’d like to do a partnership with you to say post-Nelson Mandela’s era, how do we celebrate the legacy of a black and a white family coming together? Create a product that we can export to the world that best represents South Africa today?”.
JCW: So it was conceptually Touch was your idea.
TT: It was a conversation between the two of us that led us to say “Let’s create a product”, you know. I approached him to say “I would like to make wine and I want to do it with you, but the type of wine I want to create is to also educate people that the black market is not cheap. There’s a serious, strong, sophisticated group of blacks that know their story. If you’re going to create something for the market I appeal to, we have to take our time. This is not a transaction for me, this is a product that we need to celebrate for decades”.
JCW: So you knew that it was going to be Cab for instance.
TT: I was clear with that because with Cab you don’t celebrate over a bottle of Shiraz or Merlot, Cab is a celebratory bottle. It’s something that to me is the mother of all if you get it right. That’s why some play safe and blended, you know. But you look at the guys like Etienne, who’s regarded as the King of Cabs, yes le Riche.
So I said to Mike, “Look this is something that I want the world to experience, not just South Africa, I want to tell a good story in a bottle of a 750ml, how do we tell that story?” and he said very clear, “You’re not going to be like any celebrity who just puts his name on a bottle, you’ve got to come”. I said “I want to pick the grapes” and we planned on it to say you know “Be there 04:00am, harvest”.
JCW: In February?
TT: Very, very hot, on a tractor. I drove a tractor for the first time in my life in Stellenbosch and the experience was impeccable because it also connected me with those hundreds of people who work on the farm. Sometimes you know, you see a finished product, but you don’t know the individuals who were involved.
I started talking to some of them on the farm, they’re from Khayelitsha, some from Gugulethu and I asked them “Don’t you think, if you can, if you have been making this for 20 years, when are you making your own, you know?”. He says, “Oh, you know, we just love doing this for Mike, Mike is our brother, Mike is…” and he knows every single one of them by their name, these are wine farmers.
I realised I didn’t make a choice to do business here, I made a choice to connect with people who I want to tell their story to other people who know of them and that just gave me some comfort to know that the brand Touch Warwick, if we put in those two brands.
Listen Warwick has been there for decades and decades, this is a well-renowned brand, Touch is about an individual who is not immune from the un-predictableness of life. But we came together saying we’re going to create something that’ll last for long.
JCW: It’s an absolutely wonderful story. I will interview you for your next release, but Tbo Touch, thank you so much. I’ll be waking up on the 26th like everybody else with a sense of deep, ruby red anticipation. Download the Old Mutual app from your app store to get your favourite podcasts. It’s also the best place to listen to our exclusive popup event stations.