My First Car. Mike Ratcliffe

‘Farmer’ Mike Ratcliffe

Mike Ratcliffe is one of the most successful players in the Cape Wine Industry, at his family farm Warwick. The Cape Messenger caught up with him to discuss his views on motoring, and a lot more…..

CM. What was your first car and what can you tell us about it?

MR. I built my first car with my late father – a Jeep kit-car called a VEEP – built on a shortened VW beetle chasis. It was the ultimate dune buggy and jeep crossover.

CM.  Do you still enjoy driving?

MR. Yes – I love it.

CM.  Your wine farm Warwick is known, inter alia, for the role your mother Norma played as a female pioneer in The Cape Wine Industry. How much more needs to be done in terms of transformation in what has been a very white, male business?

MR. South Africa in general has a long way to go in terms of fully integrating all segments of society, and the level of inequality should be a serious concern for anyone living in the country. I believe that education is the solution to so many of our problems and this is the cause that I have committed myself to wholeheartedly.

CM.   Are you a farmer or a businessman?

MR.  A farmer that is also a businessman will likely be a more successful farmer. I run our farm using business principles.

CM.  You are very good marketer. As well as making great wine, how important it to work on the business of wine?

MR.  The Wine business would be considerably stronger if it was more business orientated. The wine industry is traditionally a price-taker due to the over-commoditisation of wine. A solid business plan that is scrutinised and rigorously debated before capex is committed is always likely to be more successful. I have seen too many instances when wine business are purchased, capitalised and operated before the market is comprehended.

CM.   Along with many other wine farms, Warwick has a food offering, especially picnics. How important is it to diversify into wine tourism and other activities to bring in visitors.

MR.  Tourism is a natural extension of any successful wine business as the consumer, in my opinion, thoroughly enjoys the ability to connect the brand with the place. Warwick has made a lot of friends over the years.

CM. With regard to that, how united is the industry? Does it have a effective voice? What more would you like to see done?

MR.  The wine industry has come a very long way in the past couple of years. Under the leadership of Vinpro the industry has united around a common leadership and vision. I expect this trend to continue. I think that Michael Jordaan’s Chairmanship of Wines of South Africa over the past 3 years has really positioned the industry for sustainable export growth. The elephant in the room is the fact that we are competing against all of our (international) competitors who receive financial support for generic promotion from their governments. At this stage government support for the wine industry is pretty close to zero financially, and absolutely zero from a political point of view.

CM.  You travel a hell of a lot. Is it fun?

MR.  My mother always taught me to travel to places that I love, and to do business with people that like. In this regard, I love travel.

CM.  Have you ever had an accident with wine spilling inside your luggage?

MR.  I once broke a bottle of wine in my day old new car – it was never the same.

CM.  What annoys you most about other drivers?

MR. Road-rage is a ridiculous thing and is most likely symptomatic of a deeper psychological malaise within society.

CM.  Are there any road rules you would like to see abolished?

MR.  I love Uber – people should suck it up, and realise that this model has revolutionised travel in many respects. Incumbents should compete rather than complain.

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