Cohort 8 visits Warwick, a family winery in South Africa

The students visited Warwick Winery on their final business visit in South Africa.

After a week of business visits, Cohort 8 students visited Warwick Winery, their final stop on their business tour of South Africa. A tour of Warwick Winery was actually suggested by student Raul Herrera, who is the general manager at Jiko at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. “We carry the Warwick Winery label at Jiko,” said Herrera, so he thought it would be a great experience to see the company make its wine firsthand.

Warkwick Winery started in 1912 when a farm was purchased from an Army general. In 1964, Stan and Norma Ratcliffe put in grape vines on the farm land and in 1984, Norma was the first female in South Africa to release a wine to the market.

The Ratcliffe family created a logo that has to do with a love story and a wedding cup. The logo and packaging over the years has not changed because the Ratcliffes said they believe it helps build their brand loyalty.

In 2003, Norma stepped down from everyday operations, but she continues to provide vision and guidance to the family and workers. Her son, Mike, is currently the managing director. He studied wine marketing and is poised to take Warwick Winery and a new wine company, Vilafonte, into the next century.

Upon the students’ arrival, they were treated to a gourmet lunch followed by an exclusive wine tasting and presentation by Nick, Warwick Winery’s winemaker. Nick explained the wine-making process in detail, including how different wines (red or white) are fermented to reach a desirable flavor. The cohort tasted Sauvignon Blanc and enjoyed the delicate fruity flavor that was caused by the cold fermentation process. The Chardonnay had hints of tangerine, orange and pineapple. It is fermented in barrels and the yeast is broken up to add to the flavor; it does well in cooler weather.

After sampling the white wines, the students moved on to the reds. “We are the king on this one,” said Nick, when he served the students First Lady Cabernet Savignon. “The flavor is approachable, it’s a good value, and it’s a blend of Cabernet Blanc and Cabernet Franc.” The wine is named after Norma Ratcliffe.

Raul Herrera, left, and Nick, Warwick's winemaker, shared their knowledge of wines with each other.

The next red wine was a Pinotage which ages well and has a hint of eucalyptus and a fruit smell. “This wine is my favorite so far,” said student Juliana Trujillio. Students also tasted winery favorites Three Cape Ladies and Trilogy, which is available at Jiko. “At Jiko, the label reads Warwick Winery only,” said Herrera, “but it’s this wine. It’s one of my all-time favorites, and I am bringing a couple of bottles back home with me so everyone can see the Trilogy label first-hand.” Trilogy is a blend of Cabarnet Savignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

After the wine tasting, Mike Ratcliffe spoke to the cohort. He talked about his other winery, Vilafonte, which is a 50-50 partnership with Zelma Long in the United States. Long is a well-known California winemaker, who manages her family vineyard, Long Vineyards. Long lives in South Africa 150 days a year to make the wine. Vilafonte has a third partner, who is a doctor with extensive knowledge in soil microbiology, agriculture and human-movement science. The partners use virgin South African soil called Vilafontez, the oldest soil type in the world and the inspiration for the company name.

Student Wesley DuBose asked Ratcliffe if the company makes any sweet wines. “No, we do not,” answered Ratcliffe. “We have tremendous success with our current blends and want to stick with our core beliefs of what makes Warwick Wines unique.”

Ratcliffe said the future of Warwick looks promising. Wine is in higher demand with the baby-boomers, as well as the middle-class population in China who are just discovering wine and its value. According to Ratcliffe, the consumption increase in China is attributed to the cultural beliefs that the color red equates to good fortune. Doctors have also discovered tremendous health benefits by drinking up to 1 1/2 glasses per day.

Student Jacob Walters asked if the global economic downturn impacted Warwick’s business. “During the hard times, we exported 65 percent, and 35 percent of our sales were domestic,” said Ratcliffe, pointing out that Warwick wines are distributed to more than 25 countries. “Now, with many currencies being weak, 65 percent of the sales are domestic and 35 percent are exported. The blend is different, but sales are still going strong and growing.”

The cohort stands in front of wine barrels at Warwick Winery.

Student Harley Wentzel asked Ratcliffe the recipe for Warwick’s success. “We like to touch our customers directly,” explained Ratcliffe. “The personal touch makes all the difference. We listen to our customers, share our wine expertise, and provide an unparalleled level of service.”

“Selling is not a passive sport, it’s an active sport,” continued Ratcliffe. “South African wines perform very well in blind taste tests. The key is confidence in marketing and promoting our wines to consumers.”

The members of the cohort really enjoyed their tour of the winery and hearing about the company philosophy. “It’s evident that Warwick Winery operates with the highest integrity and has a superior team to get the job done today and into the future,” said Dr. Stuart Michelson, Stetson University Executive MBA program director.