Following the launch of the limited edition – and highly prized – Vilafonté 2011 Series C Magnum recently, Vilafonté co-founder and managing partner Mike Ratcliffe answered a few questions about this very special wine, wine investment and the wine industry in South Africa.
When Vilafonté was launched into the market as a luxury brand it was revolutionary in the South African marketplace. How tough a sell was it and do you find now that your competitors are following suit?
Vilafonté was conceived in 1995 as an opportunity to curate the greatest South African terroir, the oldest soils in the world and partner it with the greatest California winegrowing expertise. We launched Vilafonté as a high-quality artisanal product with no detail or expense spared in the pursuit of excellence. Our members and clients have an association with Vilafonté as a luxury brand, and we are very pleased with this perception.
In 2015 Vilafonté announced the first global release of Vilafonté 2005 Magnums ever: 30 Magnums each in South Africa, Europe and the States, 90 in total. Priced then at R7,500 a bottle. At the time it was the highest-priced bottle of South African wine ever. Were you nervous that the wine wouldn’t sell?
Vilafonté has built a fine reputation on the hand-crafted artisanal quality of our wines. We have always felt that our positioning reflects accurately our belief, that people that are respectful of quality will always recognise value. Providing long-term value and utility remains a core belief in our pricing decisions.
Why has the Vilafonté Wine Club been so important?
Vilafonté has been built around a core membership clientele of connoisseurs who have passionately collected Vilafonté since 2003. Preferred access to new vintages and insider events has always driven a huge loyalty. Members receive six bottles twice a year and priority access to the inner circle. We will soon be in a position where our entire wine club allocation is taken up pre-release. Vilafonté membership defines what is perhaps the most influential high-end wine consumer community in South Africa, with a deep passion for the finer things in life.
Tell us more about the 2011 Magnum?
The 2011 Vilafonté Series C has never been released in Magnum and is a true collectors’ item. The 2011 vintage was lauded by Wine Spectator and sold out in record time. Magnums provide the benefit of a delayed ageing trajectory and a gentler maturation. We believe the 2011 is now approaching the first stages where a connoisseur might consider it for a truly memorable occasion. We urge our members and collectors to respect time and to exercise patience as this wine could easily age and improve over the next 20 years or more.
And the wine itself?
The Series C 2011 is one of the most concentrated wines Vilafonté has grown, with a deep black colour, an expressive nose, leading with currants, crème de cassis, liquorice and graphite. This vintage has equal pawell-integratedlack fruits and minerals with beautiful espresso roast and mocha from well integrated oak. It is a black-black wine with weight and power, yet with a majestic richness, great fruit purity and incredible elegance.
Do you believe that wine is an investment?
Vilafonté members have been collecting our wines since 2003 and will have seen an annual compounded return exceeding 25%, but only a small number of our clients would ever relinquish their carefully curated collections. Vilafonté is one of the few South African wines included in both the Fine Diamond Wine Investment Fund as well as the Wine Cellar VIP Vintage Investment Portfolio. We are proud of the strong Vilafonté investment credentials, but are ultimately most proud of the consistent quality that we are able to consistently elicit for our members.
What about claims of style over substance?
Vilafonté is one of the most awarded wines in South African history. Vilafonté was voted as South Africa’s top luxury red in 2018 when Wine Cellar’s 70 tasters placed Vilafonté first in Cape Town and first in Johannesburg in the most decisive result ever. Vilafonté is the only South African winery to have twice been nominated by Wine Enthusiast as New World Winery of the Year and Vilafonté winemaking partner Zelma Long was nominated as International Winemaker of the Year in 2017. Every Vilafonté wine produced since 2003 has been awarded five stars in the Platter’s Wine Guide.
Is South Africa finally changing its reputation as a producer of bulk wine in the international marketplace?
South African winemakers are gaining confidence in their winemaking. There is a significant move towards artisanal craftsmanship, predominantly by young experimental winemakers curating old vines. We are proud to be part of the rise-and-rise of great South African wine.
How much has having US partners at Vilafonté affected the way you’ve run the business?
Vilafonté has always benefited from our international exposure to the rarefied atmosphere inhabited by the greatest wines in the world. Exposure to the greatest US trends, winemaking techniques, innovative styles and cutting-edge technology has been a huge advantage for our business. Our American and South African joint-venture has endured almost 20 years and we have all grown together. The future is bright.
The limited Vilafonté 2011 Series C Magnum is priced at R12 000 a bottle and is available at www.vilafonte.com.