Touch Warwick wines – a broadcast of love
24 October 2016
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Thanks for joining me for another episode of Old Mutual Live Wine Edition. I’m Jenny Crwys–Williams . October the 26th is the day the public will have its first opportunity to try the most hyped local wine in a long while. We’re talking about Touch Warwick, the wine created by Warwick’s Mike Ratcliffe and deejay and CEO of Touch Central FM and Touch Warwick wines, Tbo Touch.
This is going to be an interesting ride with the highly innovative marketing campaign. I spoke to Mike Ratcliffe at Warwick. On the line to me is the CEO of Warwick Wines, Warwick Wine Estate and we’re chatting to Mike Ratcliffe and of course. It’s a very, very big month for Warwick Wine Estate and we’re going to get to that in a minute. But Mike, I understand you are talking to me from somewhere just a little bit unusual.
Mike Ratcliffe: Well, that’s right Jenny, I’m standing in a vintage 1978 London telephone booth which we have bought and installed at Warwick Wine Estate, so it’s quite an unusual location.
JCW: Okay and the reason you bought it, was it just you woke up one morning and thought well, I need to talk to people from a vintage phone booth?
MR: Well you could say that except for the fact that I just think it’s really pretty and I had to have one.
JCW: Well, I think it’s absolutely fantastic and it’s virtually soundproof.
MR: It is entirely soundproof.
JCW: Well listen, you’re going to take a picture and we’re going to tweet it to everybody, but Mike, this is a really, really big month. I mean first of all I see that you guys are celebrating four decades of Warwick Trilogy and that’s the 28th vintage, is that right?
MR: It’s pretty exciting and we’ve been going for some time now. I often say that it’s going to take another 300 or 400 years for us to really know what we’re doing. But yes, at least we’ve rendered a couple of our strikes.
A great team effort of love at Warwick
JCW: No, but I mean you’ve been basically running Warwick for the last, almost 20 years, not quite but almost 20 years.
MR: Yes, well it’s a team effort, you know the whole family’s involved. So I’m very fortunate to have a mother and a sister that are actively involved, and it’s a family effort.
JCW: Well, it’s very interesting because I’ve recently done a couple of interviews with Jenny who’s been taking me through different varietals. Because what I find very exciting in South Africa at the moment, are the varietals that are coming online and are making absolutely fabulous wines.
MR: Yes, there’s a lot of innovation. I think a lot of the world’s top commentators have consistently, over the last four or five years said that South Africa is the most exciting wine producing country in the world. So we’re very proud to be a part of it.
JCW: What do you think of Tim Atkin and South Africa’s first growths?
MR: Oh, you know everybody has their opinion. One thing my mum taught me is when somebody says something nice about you, you tell the world. When they don’t, you don’t tell anybody, so we’re just very happy to be recognised as one of the top wineries in the country.
JCW: Yes, and of course there’s also, because you are the co-founder of Vilafonté and Vilafonté getting fantastic reviews.
MR: Yes, Vilafonté has been a labour of love, also 15, 16 years down the track. You know, in the wine industry as in life, greatness takes time.
The Touch Warwick Cabernet Sauvignon
JCW: Well, listen I’m looking at the press release that you sent to just about everybody under the sun I’m sure. Sharing the news of Touch Warwick, that was the project, but it’s Touch Wine. So tell us, it’s a Cabernet Sauvignon, the bottle is very, very drop dead sexy. But I think the marketing is what has got everybody so excited and they’re meant to be excited, aren’t they?
MR: Well, you know Touch Warwick is like everything that I do, it’s a labour of love. It really started out as a friendship started six or seven years ago with Tbo Touch and it’s actually quite ironic that we’re doing, essentially a radio-style interview now.
Because obviously Touch has made its reputation in radio broadcasting. But it was in 2013 that we decided to see why not make a couple of barrels of wine together. We both have a deep passion for Cabernet and so in 2013 we decided to do it.
We started planning and in 2014 we actually physically picked the grapes our self, which is quite unusual. Because I’m Managing Director, we have people that do this. So we produced our first Cabernet in 2014 and we have yet to release. But 26th of October, as you know is going to be the big day.
JCW: All right, so this is the day that Touch Warwick goes onto the market, but it’s not as simple as that is it because as I was reading. I mean first of all I am going to be speaking to Tbo Touch, but first of all I thought okay, so you know various places are going to get a certain amount of wine that they can sell. Because of all the publicity, but actually it’s not going to work like that at all. Tell us how it’s going to work? It’s very clever, it’s very sexy, and it’s creating a demand isn’t it?
MR: Well, I hope so. I mean ultimately you can sell anything once, but it’s selling the second bottle next year that is the challenge. So you know I think we can sell out the wine pretty easily in our sleep. But it’s about the people tasting the wine and believing that it’s actually valued at more than just the hype.
What we really believe is that it’s certainly a pinnacle when it comes to our production of Cabernet and ultimately the proof’s in the pudding. You can do as much marketing as you want, but when people taste it, that’s the ultimate test.
A potential pinnacle wine
JCW: Why do you think it’s a pinnacle wine, what makes it stand out in your opinion?
MR: Well, you know I’m a great fan of Cabernet Sauvignon, I’m also a great fan of great wines around the world. So I’ve tasted Cabernet globally and it’s always been on my agenda to produce something that is, could absolutely stand out. I think if anything, given the fact that as a founding partner of Vilafonté, which is an American and South African joint venture, I’ve got an affinity towards the American style of Cabernet.
Then also given the fact that Tbo Touch has spent a vast amount of time in his career in Los Angeles in California. He’s also got an affinity for that style and so it’s really been the direction that we’ve been aiming is aiming to follow the great wines of Napa. But of course holding onto that intrinsic South African nuance.
JCW: All right, well it sounds intriguing. The trend worldwide is to have slightly lighter wines, isn’t it?
MR: I agree with that, although I think you have to differentiate between your wines that you might open on a special occasion and wines that you might have standing around the braai. We are all about quality not quantity. Our customers are limited to three bottles a year, so it’s never going to be your everyday drinking wine.
Also we’re going to put a huge amount of energy into educating our customers about not being in a rush for this wine. As in saying that greatness takes time, it also applies at a micro level when it comes to individual wines especially from Cabernet, you know you’ve just got to be a little bit patient.
JCW: Well, how long is patient? Are you talking about laying them down and drinking, when would you say would be the optimum time to drink?
MR: Well, I’ve got a lot of experience in that. Not everybody always listens to what I say, but often the people that do listen, might get an elevated experience. I know that because of a lot of excitement, it’ll be very difficult for our customers to simply put the wine away and not open a bottle.
So why not, open one when you get it. But you know, put the other two in the cellar, and drink them over the next three to ten years. I know the intrinsic quality of this wine and I know that if you happen to have some in the cellar in ten or 15 years’ time, you’re going to have a treasure.
The marketing of this wine
JCW: Mike, take us through the way you’re marketing because it’s actually not going into bottle stores.
MR: Well, you know there seems to be some sort of fallacy out there that if you’re going to produce a wine, you have to have year-round availability, and we don’t believe in that at all. So essentially we’ve created and we have a lot of experience in this, we’ve created a wine club called the Insider’s Club.
Essentially if you join up for that club you’ll get an automatic allocation of your three bottles annually, it’ll be shipped to you anywhere in the world at no cost. You’ll be guaranteed access every single year. So that’s going to be our predominant channel.
Having said that we’ve got deep relationships with the greatest restaurants in South Africa. There will be 22 restaurants in South Africa that are getting allocations and in many of those restaurants we’ll be getting 24 bottles is the kind of allocation we’re talking about.
Often we are even encouraging the sommeliers not even put it on the wine list. Our tagline is that because we’ve got relations with the sommeliers, the sommeliers will know who the appropriate customers are. Touch Warwick is going to be undercover. It’s not going to be screaming from the rooftops and people that know about Touch Warwick will be the right people and you know, it’s not for everybody.
You know, it’s very, very serious Cabernet and not everybody understands a serious Cabernet. Of course, we don’t want to be arrogant in any way about being exclusive, in fact, we’re being inclusive. Anybody who wants to join the club can join it. We’re just not, we’ve kind of got a good idea about who the right customers are out there and who would be able to appreciate a wine of this quality.
Restaurants stocking it will be on our website
JCW: All of this sounds really exciting, but you say that the sommeliers are going to know the right customers. But how do I as a consumer, I have listened to all of the spiel, I’m thinking I want to try one of these wines. I might not want to buy three bottles of it, but I want to go to a restaurant and I want to try it. How do I know in the first case which restaurants it is, are you going to submit a list of your kind of approved restaurants?
MR: Well, you know I don’t think it’s so much approved as a group of restaurants that have the type of clientele, so you know we’ve got deep relationships with these people. I think the restaurants and sales will be communicated again to their customers and you know each restaurant will take their own decision whether they want to put it on the wine list or not.
From that perspective that’ll be the communication but we will certainly publish on our website, a list of the restaurants that will be stocking our wine. You know, similarly our website which is touchwarwick.com will be a portal for everything to do with it. On top of that our members and people that sign up for our newsletter will be getting regular communication, so we’ll be telling people exactly where they can get it.
JCW: So if I go into one of those restaurants and it is not on the menu and maybe I don’t know as much about it as people will know if they listen to this and I just say “Do you sell Warwick Touch?”, I mean is that how it’s going to be and he says “Yes, I’ve got a bottle”.
MR: You know I think that’s one way of doing it. If you call up and make your booking you could also just ask them and they’ll tell you. I think the reality is that there is not always going to be wine available for 12 months. You know, when it’s sold out it’s sold out and that’s not such a bad thing. The people that get in at the beginning will get availability.
What we’re hoping and what we’re banking on is that they’re going taste the wine and feel like they’ve had incredible value and they’re tasting something special. That they will stay engaged with us and that’s really what it’s about.
We’re trying to build engagement and we’re, you know it would be easy for two people like myself and Touch to be arrogant about it, but it’s not really. I mean this two families coming together to do something special, so you know we’re quite humbled by the whole experience and we will remain humble throughout.
It’s an exciting announcement
JCW: You must also be quite excited because the release date is coming up what, in 25 or 26 days depending on when you listen to this. But on the 26th of October. Are you not excited? You must be terribly excited.
MR: Very excited. You know, for your listeners, it would be important to comprehend that from the time that we started this business together until the time that we’re releasing our first wine is over three years. That’s how long we’ve been working on them, on everything from blending the wine.
You know we did the blending, we flew all the top sommeliers from the entire country up to Joburg in August last year to actually help us make the blend. So the sommeliers were responsible for actually doing the blend with us. Then after August last year, then we bottled it in September and now it’s been sitting in bottles for 14 months and now we finally designed a label.
It’s a long process and it’s been really well thought through and it has been a labour of love. But you know ultimately, we are both professionals in our respective fields and we’re both intent on doing something brilliantly.
You know, we are imagining that Touch Warwick could perhaps be a metaphor for the greater good in South Africa about how different cultures can start cooperating to a greater extent as, if anyone thinks that’s wishy-washy. Well maybe but you know we’re living the dream and we’re doing it together and we do come from different cultures and it is exciting.
JCW: I see that part of the profits, correct me if I’m wrong, 10% of the profits are going to go to the Sommelier’s Association.
MR: That’s correct. That’s something that we’ve believed in from day one. I’ve been very involved with the South Africa Sommeliers Association and I’ve been involved in funding and helping develop their education programme, which I’d say has been a roaring success. But yes we’re both passionate in upliftment and education specifically. We will be in, not just this year but for evermore we will be putting 10% of all profits back to the Sommelier’s Association.
JCW: It is the 26th of October 2016, you’ve woken up at 05:00 in the morning. Tell us how your day is going to go.
MR: Well, we are actually going to be doing three days of launches for our top clients, sommeliers, and restaurateurs and that’s up in Jo’burg. We’ll be flying everybody into Jo’burg for those three days to participate with us.
Then also just because we believe that we need to be inclusive at all times and not exclusive, we are actually going to be participating in the RMB Wine Expo at the Sandton Convention Centre and Touch and myself will be physically and personally standing behind the stand for three nights. Introducing the wine one person at a time and actually engaging with everyone. So we don’t want to be seen to be too cool for the zoo, we actually want to be in the trenches and introducing people personally.
JCW: Listen, it sounds fantastic and I know some of those queues at RMB WineX and elsewhere, Trophy Wine Show and whatever. Sometimes you can’t get to the winemakers and things. How are you going to manage that?
MR: Well, look we have put in place, firstly we’ve taken four stands, so we need to have space, secondly, we’ve actually put in place a backup plan with some velvet ropes to try to ensure that things go smoothly.
We’ll simply do our best, but you know one thing my mum always taught me is if you’re confronted with a queue of people always talk to only the person in front of you. Engage with them deeply and that’s our goal is to engage deeply with as many people as possible.
What is it going to taste like?
JCW: Well, listen I think it sounds so exciting. Before I go and before you go to maybe turn the bottles or do something like that or maybe just to look at them before they go on sale. What is the taste, what is the mouth taste that I’m going to get? The taste in my mouth when I inhale, what am I going to get, obviously the Cabernet taste?
MR: Well, okay you’re going to get classic Cabernet and we always refer to Cabernet as The King, so it’s going to have some have some gravitas. It’s going to have structure, intensity, concentration and richness, it’s going to have a lot of grip in your mouth, it’s going to have a lot of tannin.
Even though it’s a 2014 we’re releasing the wine is still young and it will certainly reward some time and some patience and some confidence in the cellar, but what you will be looking for is some opulence. Some richness and some deep brooding dark berry flavours.
JCW: I think it kind of sounds like the wine that you want to have a pair of diamond earrings to drink with. I mean you’re on your own here but that’s kind of what I’m thinking, but it sounds fantastic. Mike, it’s also very exciting because it’s a new venture and it’s a new journey and I just think it sounds really hot to trot.
MR: Well, thank you Jenny and thanks for believing in what we’re doing. Ask me in a year’s time how it’s going and I’m hoping to tell you that it’s well. But I would like to invite everyone to go and have a look at www.touchwarwick.com. You can sign up for our newsletter, you can sign up to our wine club, everything’s there. It’s very simple and our business is wonderful because I believe that we are the only winery in South Africa that only produces one wine.
JCW: Join us again for another episode of Old Mutual Live Wine Edition on mobile, on digital, on demand.