Jenny Ratcliffe-Wright was South Africa’s youngest Wine Master when she qualified. Following her qualification in Cordon Bleu, she pursued a successful career in food and wine product development before she turned her attention full time to all things wine. In this light hearted episode, she takes us behind the scenes in the wine industry and shares with us how they’re taking Warwick Wine internationally. She’s an Author of Spit or Swallow, a fun take on wine, as well as an international judge of judge and the Marketing Director of Warwick Wine.
- What it takes to become a Wine Master – and the exercises she did to enable her to taste brandy at 7am!
- The impact of globalisation on wine – and what makes a great wine
- She teaches us what makes a wine taste the way it tastes
- Her recent selection as a Mundus Vini wine judge – and what it takes to judge international wine competitions on blind tasting with industry experts
- The difference between South African and European and International wines
- How Warwick took their wine from a local South African brand to an international brand
- Lessons learnt from working in a family business
- The lessons she learnt in her first career in food development and wine buying on her current career
- Why she wrote her book, Spit or Swallow, to communicate her passion for wine
- When she feels most out of her depth – as an expert! – and how she manages that fear
- Her next brewing idea for her book
Learning more from Jenny
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Speaker 1: 00:00 Welcome to Working Women’s Wealth, where we discuss what it takes to build real wealth in a way normal humans can understand. Here’s your host, Lisa Linfield.
Lisa Linfield: 00:09 Hello everybody, and welcome to this week’s episode of Working Women’s Wealth. Today I’m joined by Jenny Ratcliffe, who is a phenomenally talented woman and someone who I’ve always admired. Jenny, welcome to the show.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 00:34 Thanks. Thanks for having me.
Lisa Linfield: 00:36 So you were South Africa’s youngest wine master. For those of us who don’t know, what does it take to become a wine master?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 00:46 First of all, you have to like wine, I would say would be the most important. But I come from a wine family. My mom was the first female wine maker in South Africa and I knew that I wanted to be in the wine business alongside the food business.
So I first started studying food. I studied at the Cordon Bleu in Paris to become a chef and then realized that without wine, food is not really exciting. So I chose to then do some wine courses while I was living in Paris and I was totally captivated by the world of wine. I thought, “This is something for me. This is something that can inspire me.” And it’s one of the wonderful topics that the more you learn, the less you know. And so it’s a very humbling topic and I found that exciting. And it’s not a static topic. It’s very much a moving thing as the world of wine changes.
While I was at university after studying to be a chef, I started doing part time some of these wine courses that qualify you to sit for the master’s program. You have to get up to a certain level [inaudible 00:01:49] diploma one and a diploma two, both in written exams on viticulture and enology, which is why I’m making, as well as tasting wines from around the world and being able to recognize them. And once you’ve successfully passed all those exams, you qualify to enter the master’s program. From then, you have four years to complete everything to become a wine master. Otherwise, you go back to the beginning again. It’s a bit like Monopoly.
Lisa Linfield: 02:18 [crosstalk 00:02:18]
Jenny Ratcliffe: 02:19 [crosstalk 00:02:19] return to square one. And so what was involved is there were four three hour written exams. One was viticulture, which is grape growing, which I find fascinating and it’s a science in itself. The other was enology, wine making. Then there was a spirits paper. So anything that is a distillate, we have to know about. So whiskey, tequila, vodka, gin, we have to know how to do those.
Lisa Linfield: 02:45 Oh, wow. As a wine maker?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 02:46 As a wine maker. Then the last one was general knowledge, which was the most unpleasant paper in the world because basically the person setting the paper could randomly select any question they thought was interesting about a wine from Kazakhstan or something and you had to know the answer and you had to get 80% to pass.
The other papers were fairly standard. There’s some textbooks. It’s all self study. So you just go and buy the textbooks that you think are appropriate and do them. But the general knowledge is the true test because somebody that isn’t passionate about wine could never pass that exam. You need to know what’s going on in the world.
So those written exams were very interesting. Then the tasting exams, they put 12 wines in front of you. There’s a red testing and white testing, sparkling, and then fortifieds. Then within fortified, they also put brandy.
Lisa Linfield: 03:39 Is fortified dessert wine?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 03:41 It’s like port and cherry.
Lisa Linfield: 03:42 Oh, okay. Okay.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 03:43 Which is absolute [inaudible 00:03:45]. Once again, I drink red and white wine. They put 12 wines in front of you and they could be from anywhere in the world and you have to be able to recognize them and say what they are. You have to say, “This is from Tuscany, this is from Napa, this is what it is, where it was made.” And tell a story about it. The sparkling, much easier because champagne tastes like champagne and MCC tastes like MCC.
Lisa Linfield: 04:08 What’s MCC?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 04:09 South African champagne. [inaudible 00:04:12] and Spanish champagne tastes like … They all taste, that one’s not too hard.
Then the last exam was the brandy and the port and the sherry. I don’t drink any of those things, so I was starting from scratch as a beginner, learning how to taste them. The funny part was the exam was at 9 in the morning. So I had to teach my brain to not gag tasting brandy at 9 in the morning. The way I used to do that was to practice before I went to work. So I would taste 10 brandies before work and then go to work.
Lisa Linfield: 04:43 Wow.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 04:44 Because I had to coach my palate to not actually feel ill from tasting something so strong so early in the morning.
Lisa Linfield: 04:51 Yeah.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 04:51 So that one, it must have been six months of trying to teach myself how to taste a product like that at that time of day.
Lisa Linfield: 04:58 Obviously you’ve got [inaudible 00:05:00] buying all these different brandies to have one taste of it.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 05:01 You have to, yes. But it’s good because then you have 20 brandies, cognacs, Armagnacs from around the world and you just give them a little taste every morning. And then brush your teeth. It did make me laugh every single morning when I did it. You go, “Really?” The commitment.
Lisa Linfield: 05:19 So anybody can give you any wine from anywhere in the world and you can know exactly what it is and where it is and how?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 05:26 Yes. Technically, yes is the answer. But nowadays, with globalization, you could have a French property owned by a Chinese person with an Italian winemaker who’s married to a New Zealander.
Lisa Linfield: 05:40 And a grape that came from South Africa.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 05:42 Exactly. You’ll get all of those influences. So the world of wine is becoming slightly more homogenized in some cases. But the base wines in the world still have what we refer to as typicity. They taste like where they come from. That is a sign of something really beautiful, a really gorgeous product. If you can taste it and say, “Oh, that’s a barolo from Northern Italy,” it means it’s a good barolo.
Lisa Linfield: 06:07 Okay. For example, Italy, it has many, many centuries of making wine. For a country like South Africa where a lot of the grapes have been imported, has it over time developed its own barolo signature or not?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 06:21 Grapes are very susceptible to where they’re planted. That is why it’s such an interesting topic, because a Sauvignon Blanc that is planted in New Zealand, you can take exactly the same plant and the same clone and everything and you can plant it in [inaudible 00:06:36] and then you can plant it in California and it will taste completely different.
Lisa Linfield: 06:41 Wow. And that’s because the soil conditions and the rain conditions and everything?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 06:44 Exactly. Often when I’m lecturing and I’m teaching people about wine, the beginners say, “How do they get the flavor into the wine? Did they put it in?” When I say it smells like rose petals or lychee, they ask me, “Did you put the lychees in?” That is the first learning to say all of those wonderful flavors come from the soil and come from how it’s planted, the aspect, the height above sea level, the wind direction, the row direction, the depth of the roots, the amount of water, the make up of the soil.
Lisa Linfield: 07:15 Yeah.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 07:16 Those will affect the taste of the grape.
Lisa Linfield: 07:18 And have you ever wanted to actually make wine itself? You’re currently in the marketing and communicate side around wine. Would you ever, loving all the way grape grows, would you ever want to physically grow your own Jenny vintage?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 07:32 Well, strangely enough, my husband actually wants to make wine and then I think I’d be very good at bossing him around and telling him how to do it. I would, but it’s one of those great challenges about what would you make, how would you do it. To choose from everything in the world. Do you make a Chardonnay? Do you make a Cabernet? I could probably spend my whole life thinking about that.
But also, because of my husband’s work, we always have been in big cities, living in big cities. So that’s a dream that you slightly put on hold until maybe the French vineyard in your retirement or something, the little plot in France or something.
Lisa Linfield: 08:08 Well, you’ve got to have la la land. I think everybody has to have la la land where the world rules and the laws of gravity don’t apply to your dream. There’s a little plot in France for you.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 08:18 Exactly. And it might happen, but currently not.
Lisa Linfield: 08:21 Absolutely. You recently were selected to be one of the [inaudible 00:08:28] judges. Tell us about that.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 08:31 It’s so exciting. It’s a giant room full of wine nerds.
Lisa Linfield: 08:35 Okay.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 08:36 It’s absolutely fascinating. There are people from all over the world, all over the industry. You taste from 8 in the morning until 1, till lunch time. So you only taste in the mornings, which is quite nice because it can be quite exhausting if you taste in the afternoon too. And you all stay in the same hotel.
What’s fascinating is every morning, you go down, you have breakfast, you just sit at a table and start chatting, ’cause you know that everybody’s doing the same thing as you. So I chatted to people who were cork producers. One was a small organic farmer from New Zealand. There were people who were marketers of huge brands that trained as wine makers but were now general managers of international corporations that sell truckloads of, quite honestly, poor wine, and how they saw the industry. I see the industry from a very passionate, from a quality point of view. We talked about typicity of wines.
One person I talked to, he looked at wine as margin. How much margin is in that wine? So he was selling to supermarket buyers from a big Australian wine house. And he had a totally different aspect on it and I felt he needed to maybe spend some time back in his passion to understand the greatness of the world of wine. It’s not just selling widgets to supermarkets.
Lisa Linfield: 09:57 Yeah. So you’re sitting with all these other people and you sit at a table and you judge a wine and I’m assuming you’re all wine masters of various forms.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 10:07 There’s wine makers. Everyone’s in the industry in some form, but there’s many difficult qualifications in the room. There’s master sommeliers, there’s all sorts of interesting …
Lisa Linfield: 10:17 But you all know your stuff?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 10:18 Everybody knows their stuff and it’s amazing how accurate the process is. The Germans, I love Germans because they are so precise and everything is done perfectly, on time. So we have five or six people on a panel and we all judge the same wine. It gets poured for us. We don’t know what it is. The wine is blind. It gets numbered. All we know is the varietal. We don’t even know the country.
So you’ll taste a flight of 14 chardonnays. They could all be from one country, they could all be from South Australia, or they could be … Like, we had one flight where one was from Mexico, one was from Kazakhstan, one was from China, and then the four others were from Romania. So you’re judging the wine purely on quality. You have nothing before you to pre-judge it. You only know the vintage. They tell you if it’s oaked or not, but that can be inaccurate. And then you score out of 100.
Basically, the 100 point scoring system doesn’t really go below 60. So it’s actually only a 40 point scoring system and not many people go over 95 and not many people go below 80, unless it’s really terrible. We did have some that we gave them 60, but those wines were faulty and we all agreed that they shouldn’t really be on the market.
We were very much on consensus for most of the tasting. You would all taste a wine. You don’t even discuss it. You all hand in your paper to a panel chair and he would read out the scores and say, “89, 88, 89, 88.” Sometimes there’d be an outlier of an 85 or something. 85 was a silver medal. 90 was a gold medal. And 95 was a double gold.
We all knew whether we gave it an 87 or an 88 that it was silver, but it wasn’t a gold. It wasn’t good enough for that. There were one or two serious outliers where one person gave it 95 and one person gave it 60 and then you do discuss it and say, “Okay, you’ve either got this wrong or we need to agree. We can’t just [inaudible 00:12:18] of the scores and then give it a nothing, because it’s either highly loved or highly hated.”
So it was really interesting.
Lisa Linfield: 12:24 And did you feel, knowing the talent in South Africa, do you think that we hold our own in terms of an international forum?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 12:32 Absolutely. South Africa has some brilliant tasters, brilliant wine makers, brilliant qualified people. One of the traits of South African tasters is they don’t like wines that are not clean. Some wines have come from Europe … When I say not clean, they have slight technical faults in them that often some European tasters don’t mind. So there’s a yeast called [inaudible 00:12:54] yeast that can make a wine taste a little bit like a [inaudible 00:12:57].
Lisa Linfield: 12:57 Oh, lovely.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 12:58 South Africans can always pick it up, but in some instances it does enhance the wine and make it taste interesting. But in some cases, it just takes all the fruit out and leaves it very dry. South Africans in general, when I’ve tasted with them on a panel, would always pick out the wines that were technically a little bit faulty or a little bit not perfect where some of those wines were scored up by the other judges because they felt that wine had personality.
Lisa Linfield: 13:23 Okay.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 13:24 So that was very interesting.
Lisa Linfield: 13:25 Yeah. Wow. And tasting all these wines from all around the world, how are South African wines in comparison? Have we got a long way to go? Are we not as complex? Or is it the same bell curve as there is in every country?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 13:40 South African wines are doing brilliantly. They have some amazing, amazing wines out there. The quality coming from South Africa right now is admirable, but obviously there’s a wine of absolute watery, non-interesting wine that is being sold out of South Africa in bulk and being bottled with zebras and giraffes on them in far flying countries. Obviously those wines are not very good, bu the quality wines that are branded in South African and exported are amazing, and it led in two direction by a two prong approach. The one is properties like Warwick that are old family businesses that produce quite a lot of wine these days, but they are well known and respected, but they’re certainly not [inaudible 00:14:23].
Lisa Linfield: 14:23 Yeah.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 14:25 There’s a couple of those wineries that are selling high quality around the world and then there’s other wineries that are absolute … Like, boutique [inaudible 00:14:35], single vineyard, old vineyard. Somebody like even Saudi is one of those wine makers where he’s doing one barrel here and two barrels of that as a lot of guys in the [swatland 00:14:48]. We call them the young guns. They’re not so young anymore. Where they started up, they didn’t have any money, and they’re just, “I’m gonna make on barrel of wine and I’m going to save up for the bottles and then I’m going to sell the one.”
And so that very boutique- y wine making style that’s ultra, ultra high quality, is leading some of the exotic and interesting sides to the industry and making it a very nice subject to talk about globally. Then the good quality South African wines from medium producers as well. But yeah, I can’t say strongly enough how bad it is when people are selling bulk wine out of South Africa that’s just going to end up, could be anything blended with Romanian wine and no one’s ever going to know. It’s just alcohol in a bottle.
Lisa Linfield: 15:33 Yeah. So you also help manage a wine farm. How have you approached taking your wine brand and product from South Africa into a global market?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 15:47 The one thing with quality South African wine is it’s significantly less expensive than some of the French, Italian, certainly some of the Californian wines. So you really have the advantage of price and you definitely don’t want to be able to see you as a cheap wine. But $35 and above. But we’re not $100. So we already have that advantage of price, but then it’s about publications, getting them to talk about it, and it’s putting your feet on the ground and meeting the bottle store owners and meeting the restaurateurs and talking to the waitstaff at a restaurant and letting them taste the product and getting them to know you as a person, because wine is a lot about people. We always say in the industry, you never drink a wine from somebody you don’t like because you don’t have to.
So it’s a huge job to do it globally, but putting the Warwick stamp on things by arriving and talking to the trade and being in their face and getting to know them and having your broad South African accent and your smiley face and tasting the wine, they remember that forever.
Lisa Linfield: 16:50 Yeah. And have you selected specific countries or is there a process that you follow to broadly get distributors?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 17:00 We like to be well distributed in most countries because you don’t want to have one section of the pyre being too big in any country because it’s a risk. If something happened to that distributor, you would lose a huge chunk of your market. So our biggest market is still South Africa. We’re very much a South African brand and we feel we really like to work in this market and be as South African as we can, but we do have about 30% in the export market. All of those countries … America, you almost have to treat as 50 different countries in itself and Canada the same, across all those provinces.
But we do try and distribute it well across Europe and we’re starting to have more and more business in China. But that is not the silver bullet that everybody think it is. They look at the population and they say, “Well, that’s easy.” But you have to develop a culture of wine drinking and a passion for wine. You have to be on the ground with the sommeliers, doing the tastings and hand selling your product.
Lisa Linfield: 17:59 Yeah. Wow. It’s a huge task.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 18:03 Yes. It’s a huge task. The whole world [crosstalk 00:18:07] family business.
Lisa Linfield: 18:08 Absolutely. And what is it like to work on a family business?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 18:12 It can certainly have it challenges but the more structure you give it, the better it works. So if everybody knows exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, it certainly works pretty well.
Lisa Linfield: 18:23 Yeah. Goodness. It’s such a foreign concept for many people that your nearest and dearest are also your work colleagues.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 18:30 Your mother’s the chairman.
Lisa Linfield: 18:32 Absolutely. Tell me about your mom. One of the things that I have learned through all the different interviews that I’ve done is that the role models that you grow up with make a huge difference in terms of the trajectory of your life path as to what you think is possible and what you think is not possible.
Your mom was the first female wine maker in South Africa and did it for many, many, many years. How did that affect your path as you grew up to become who you are now?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 19:02 My mom has always been a role model, but it was certainly a team effort and a family business from the beginning. My mom and dad were partners in the business and they did everything together.
My mom is known as the first female wine maker and the first lady of South African wine, but she couldn’t have done it without my dad right next to her, sometimes being the checkbook, sometimes being the voice of reason, taking those decisions together. He didn’t necessarily need the limelight. He wasn’t the winemaker. But they ran that business and made every single decision together about cause and effect and what would happen.
It was a high risk game in the early 80s for a foreigner, my mom being Canadian, to be in South Africa in a man dominated world. Didn’t speak any African and thought, “Let me give this a go.”
Lisa Linfield: 19:53 And put herself in Stellenbosch.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 19:54 And put herself in Stellenbosch. But she thought, “I married a wine farmer.” Not many people accidentally marry a wine farmer, but there she was, and said, “Let’s do something with this business. Let’s produce our own.”
Lisa Linfield: 20:05 Yeah. And dis the influence your journey into wine at all or was it something that you actually stepped away from and then came back into?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 20:14 For me, I stepped away from it going down the food route. I’ve always had a slight fight in my head about food or wine and perhaps sometimes art, which are my first passions. As I said earlier, the two work alongside together, but you need to focus on one or the other. Food was definitely what I wanted to do after studying and I ran a catering business for a long time and then I was a food buyer at [inaudible 00:20:39] doing product development. One of the hilarious ones was developing rusks and the world of rusks is split into two. There’s [dankers 00:20:47] and [non-dankers 00:20:49]. The rusk has to be hard enough so that the [dankers 00:20:51] doesn’t fall apart, but soft enough so that the [non-dankers 00:20:55] don’t break a tooth. So we spent a year with tasting panels and different recipes and we had to have two, [dankers 00:21:02] and [non-dankers 00:21:04].
It was really hilarious. Nobody thought it was funny at the time except me. In the world of food development, it was a really interesting journey. Then I ended up at Wolworth doing the wine buying, which I loved. I really, really liked.
Lisa Linfield: 21:16 What was it about it that you liked?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 21:19 It was going into cellars … You’re almost developing products in your head as you go. You need interesting products for the Wolworth shelves, but you have to match the concept of what you’re trying. For instance, we needed a range of wines in the 30 to 40 range that were varietal.
Lisa Linfield: 21:36 Okay.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 21:37 Good quality, but affordable. So you know what you’re doing. Then you’ve got to find suppliers. [inaudible 00:21:44] go to this winery, they’re going to do the sauvignon Blanc in that range. We’re going to go to this winery, they’re going to do the cabernet. And you have to make sure that each of those wines that obviously can’t taste the same because they’re different varietals, but they have to taste the same quality level. One can’t taste terribly posh and one taste watery because somebody’s going to trust the range and that’s where they buy from for their dinner parties.
It’s very interesting to see wine rom a different angle like that and almost try and make it fit into boxes.
Lisa Linfield: 22:12 And I suppose stretch you away from high quality into being forced to be able to stretch into each one of those boxes.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 22:20 Absolutely. One of the challenges at the time, [Simon 00:22:24] [Sesman 00:22:24]was the MD and he came to me and he said, “Okay, the challenge here is to launch a wine that costs 9 rand 99.” Even in those days it was hard. 10 rand for a bottle of wine was hard. That was around 2000 or 2001.
I said, “Okay, fine.” So we had to look at a supplier who could do high quality at that price, one. We had to look at packaging, we had to engineer that product and strip out every cent where we could to get it onto the shelves at 9.99 at full margin.
Lisa Linfield: 22:53 Wow.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 22:53 I don’t know if it’s still in [Worley’s 00:22:56], I haven’t looked, but it was called [Zesty 00:22:57] White.
Lisa Linfield: 22:56 Okay.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 22:57 And there was Juicy Red. And they were so popular and everybody loved them. My uncle, who’s quite stingy when it comes to buying wine, thought they were the best in the world because his niece had invented them, so it must be fine [crosstalk 00:23:10] to drink wine at that price.
But we had to engineer the product and we actually did a wine making trick. We lifted the sugar slightly, so you put grape sugar back into the wine in order to sweeten it ever so slightly so that it tastes rounder in your mouth. It’s not illegal, it’s perfectly legal to do it and it’s harmless. But you know when a wine just tastes thin?
Lisa Linfield: 23:30 Yeah.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 23:31 All of a sudden, you’re lifting that a little with a tiny amount of sugar and the wine tastes delicious. Everybody says they don’t like sweet wine, but if you just put a little bit of sugar in, they do.
Lisa Linfield: 23:40 Yeah. That’s wonderful. So you have this great career in Wolworth and you learn a lot and then you became the editor of a wine magazine. How did that journey go?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 23:52 Well, it really interested me because I thought, “I’ve done so many spheres in the industry, from being a producer to being a buyer and a judge and an educator.” I wrote a book about wine. So that’s actually where it came from first where somebody saw my book and said, “Oh, okay, that’s tongue in cheek and fun. You sound like the right person to edit this magazine.” And I loved it. I loved the industry, the media industry and it was so fun. But the problem with it is it’s so desperately hard to make money in print. And in print magazines and in the lifestyle like wine. So to find the right advertisers, all the wineries send you samples because they want you to write about their product, but when you say, “That’s fine, would you mind advertising,” they don’t have budgets. So they can make it up in wine stock, but not in actual cash, which makes it extremely hard to make a magazine like that work. All over the world, wine magazines are looking for other revenue streams. That’s why they do wine shows, they do competitions. The [Mondesvini 00:24:53]competition I was just tasting at in Germany, it was linked to a magazine and so producers pay to enter the competition to get the gold medals to make their wine easier to sell.But that became a revenue stream for this German wine magazine.
Lisa Linfield: 25:08 Okay. And you mentioned your book. What made you write a book?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 25:13 I was traveling a lot. I was selling wine around the world and I had time in airports and things. I thought, “Let me do something with that time.” In the wine industry, I always see how little people know and how much they want to know. So I thought, “Let me put it in a fun, casual way.” That’s when I wrote Spit or Swallow. It’s written in a Sex in the City, slightly smutty, tongue in cheek look at wine. But just trying to say to people it’s okay to laugh. There are some facts, there are some myths, but it’s okay to laugh and it doesn’t have to be all so serious.
Lisa Linfield: 25:48 So who’s your target audience?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 25:50 For the book? Any wine drinker. Anybody that’s interested in wine, young and old.
Lisa Linfield: 25:55 Do you have to know a lot?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 25:57 You can know nothing. It starts you in the beginning.
Lisa Linfield: 25:59 Okay.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 26:01 And a lot of people are too embarrassed to ask questions. They feel they’ve been drinking wine for 20 years, they feel they should know the answer to that. When I was lecturing a group of waitstaff, I do staff training for waiters to help them to really understand the product to know what they’re doing, somebody asked me what wine was made from. They didn’t know it was made from grapes. The next question was, “Is it a tree?” I was like, “It’s a vine.” “What’s a vine?”
And these were people that drink wine. They were selling expensive wine as well in that particular restaurant and they just didn’t even know it came from grapes. So when I’m training waitstaff, I start with why is wine important. Why do we care? Why do we have special glasses? Why do we open and show the bottle, pour a little bit? Why do we have these rituals? And it’s because it’s special. It’s making the client feel special because wine is special because wine has a sense of place because every wine in the world tastes different and when people start seeing it through those eyes, they have much more respect for the product, and I say to them, if you show respect for the product, being the wine, you will sell more wine, you will sell higher priced wine, and therefore you will have bigger tips. So it’s a direct link to your income to actually, even if you’re not a wine drinker, to care and show other people that you do care.
Lisa Linfield: 27:17 And so I go to a restaurant, I’m taking someone else out for dinner. How do I know what wine to choose?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 27:26 Well, I hope you choose what you like.
Lisa Linfield: 27:28 But if I don’t drink wine?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 27:30 Then hopefully you ask them and they do. In many restaurants now, they have either a sommelier or some form of a wine water.
Lisa Linfield: 27:37 Okay.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 27:38 I often say what’s the most popular if you really don’t know what you’re doing, ’cause you’ll get quite a good result. The most popular is never the cheapest and it’s never the most expensive. It’s somewhere in the middle. Because people feel embarrassed to buy the cheapest and they feel it’s a bit over the top to buy the most expensive.
Somewhere around the middle, you’ll find the most popular wine on that list.
Lisa Linfield: 27:57 Okay.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 27:58 I don’t know. Drink what the table nextdoor is drinking. Most people still, even if they know wine, they buy on label, what the label looks like, they buy on price certainly, they buy on something they may have heard of, which is where our job as marketing and communications is really important. Make sure they’ve heard of it.
Lisa Linfield: 28:18 And how do you market and teach wine and build an industry? You talked of China, you talked of different challenges. How do you go about educating every day people about what is a good wine and what isn’t?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 28:31 It’s basic as I’m saying of put your feet on the ground and going out there and meeting people and spending the time, being generous with your time, and educating. First of all, it’s South Africa [inaudible 00:28:43] about wine. Some people don’t know South Africa even grows wine. In some countries, they think it’s only French that exists. So you’ve really got to start at the beginning. Everyone likes to see a [inaudible 00:28:54] South African face and promoting it through wine dinners and any sort of publication media that you can do, it all makes a difference.
Lisa Linfield: 29:03 It’s hard work.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 29:04 The funny thing you know about marketing is you never know which bit’s working. Social media is obviously a big one with wine and because wine and food go together and posting at certain times of day and all of those things make a difference.
Lisa Linfield: 29:17 Yeah. When has there been a time where you have felt most out of your depth?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 29:23 There are days, often, all the time, still now all the way going through this industry. Yeah, even just going to judge wine in Germany and I thought, “What happens if I just get this wrong and everybody else is loving a wine and I’m scoring it down because I think it’s rubbish?” You’re putting yourself out there and thinking, “I could be making the most giant mistake and look like a total clown, but I’m just gonna press on anyway. At least if I make giant errors and I admit to them and try and fix them, whatever they may be, you can get onto the next thing.”
I think one has to be, you can’t say not afraid of failing, but you have to look at a situation and say, “What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen here?” The chances of that happening are actually quite slim.
So when I’m going through a challenging situation, that’s what I think. What’s the worst outcome of this? Then work back to say what’s the most likely outcome? That’s how I get out of sticky situations.
Lisa Linfield: 30:23 Put on your brave face. Yeah.
Well, Jenny, it’s been fantastic to chat to you. I’ve learned so much. How would other people learn more?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 30:33 About wine?
Lisa Linfield: 30:34 About you, about wine, about the work that you’re involved in.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 30:38 Well, there’s a lot in terms of the work that I’m involved in on the Wave site on the Warwick social media. We’re always posting about what we’re up to. I did the most phenomenal tasting the other day for some of the top sommeliers and wine palates in Johannesburg where we were tasting top Cabernets from around the world and showcasing it with our cabernet and saying, “We are so confident that our cabernet is fantastic that we are prepared to put it against some of the most expensive Cabernets in the world.” Once again, there was a fear moment saying, “What happens if ours isn’t great or ours isn’t the best?” But of course, because you’ve put it out there and you’ve tasted the wines and you’ve chosen them specifically, you get past those and you know exactly what you’re doing.
But the point is that it was all over social media, so people can either follow me on Instagram or on Facebook at Warwick Wine.
Lisa Linfield: 31:26 At Warwick Wine.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 31:30 And Warwick Wine, you follow all those and you’ll see what we’re up to. There’s a social media policy in the business that everybody has to post a certain amount. So you’ll see our wine maker, he’s posting the grapes coming in and then you’ll see my brother, he’ll be posting himself in Singapore doing some wine dinner and I’ll be in Johannesburg doing a cabernet tasting. Everybody’s very much involved and you can follow the family Warwick, et cetera, and you’ll always know what’s going on.
Lisa Linfield: 31:58 And how do people get a hold of your book?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 32:00 It’s on Amazon. It was written quite a few years ago, but it’s on Amazon. I might write another one at some point. I’ve got one brewing in my brain.
Lisa Linfield: 32:09 What’s it brewing on?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 32:10 I think probably wine, but something … I’m thinking about wine scandals. There’s been so many.
Lisa Linfield: 32:16 There has? I wouldn’t have known how you can have a scandal with a bottle of wine.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 32:22 Too many. And forgeries and faking.
Lisa Linfield: 32:26 Really?
Jenny Ratcliffe: 32:26 Horrifying.
Lisa Linfield: 32:27 No way.
Jenny Ratcliffe: 32:28 Yeah. See, there you go. I have to write the book.
Lisa Linfield: 32:32 Well, good intrigue is never a bad thing. Never a bad thing.
Jenny, I wish you all the luck with writing your next book, trailblazing your brand across Europe and being the fantastic mom and wife you are. So take care, and [inaudible 00:32:46].
Jenny Ratcliffe: 32:46 Thank you.
Lisa Linfield: 32:47 I don’t know about you, but I learned an enormous amount about both wine, the industry, and the fantastic talent that is Jenny Ratcliffe. I hope you all have a great week everybody. Take care.