Vilafonte’s Online Strategy

Vilafonte

Combine the vineyard responsible for Warwick Trilogy, the California super-winemaker Zelma Long and the marketing genius of Mike Ratcliffe and on paper you have a match made in heaven. If on paper this team is unbelievable, on the palate, their Series M and Series C Vilafonte wines are nothing less than transcendent. The matching of a California winemaker with a vineyard in South Africa puts the term New World at the back of the mind, and suddenly we think New Age. What a great time we live in where travel and communication make it possible for winemakers from across the globe to collaborate and work on foreign soil to create an international icon.
What is most remarkable, however, is the harnessing of the digital age to communicate the magic of a rural setting. Ratcliffe was perhaps one of the first wine marketers to implement a harvest blog and took time off from his business trips to write thoughtful and insightful posts that take you close into the life of a winery. Watch here to see the Vilafonte 2007 harvest; or alternately read their blog; get a closer look into the final phases of the winery’s construction or go to the site ewine.co.za where you can listen to Zelma being interviewed by clicking on the sound file link.

The possibility for consumers to purchase wine online is one thing. But the capability to personally link to homes all across the globe and share an insight into a multimedia rich day-in-the-life of a life less ordinary is nothing short of amazing. Their online effort gives them the tools to demonstrate first-hand a world where farming becomes an art that can express the essence of the land, and can then go on to make impressions on the senses of people around the world. This is unlike anything that has happened before. A year ago, under the guidance of Mr. Ratcliffe, Vilafonte was a brand ahead of its time, but today I am happy to see that they are not only at the forefront of the industry in regards to branding… but in many instances, they’re leading the way.

I had the great privilege of being tasted through the Vilafonte range by Mike personally last year at the WOSA tour. For a while after the tasting it seemed that I was following in his footsteps: After visiting Iron Bridge wines in Maryland I learnt that Mike had just been there; whilst in Baltimore I read one of his blog posts saying that he had just been jogging along the harbour front; and, even more unbelievably, I walked into Sherry Lehman in New York about a week later to find that Mike had been there just days before. Everyone seemed confident about the wine and we all spoke about it for a while. However, some months later I went back to Sherry Lehman and everyone was a little less enthusiastic; (also stuck on the shelves were Boekenhoudtskloof, Kanonkop, Rustenberg and Boschendal.) The feeling was that it wasn’t getting automatic pull from the shelf — that it was always the case that every South African SKU had to be hand-sold. It hurt me to hear this. Considering all the work Zelma and Mike are doing, coupled with being part of Broadbent Selections, you’d think the wine would be a constant sell-out and not a constant hand-sell.

And here comes my question… if a winery like Vilafonte has the right combination of importer, accolades, press awareness, terroir, packaging and online , what else could it possibly need? I can’t say that I can give a clear answer. What is clear however is that with over 10,000 individual wine-sites, it becomes increasingly difficult to be heard. Imagine buying a book without Amazon, and you had to go to every author’s website? There needs to be a single realm where Vilafonte and savvy marketers and winemakers alike can take their videos, blogs and insights direct to the consumer and where the consumer can purchase right there and then. Only then will brilliant wines overcome the complaint of being a ‘hand sell.’ Instead, Vilafonte could communicate with oenophiles around the world communicating personally from their facility in South Africa. A perfect world would be where the cellar-door could become a cyber-door, and the consumer could purchase the wine as soon as they were told about it.

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Posted in Culture, Stories, Travel, Wine, Wine Review, Wine/11 | 2 Comments »

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