From Texas ranch to Riverland vineyard
Ashley Ratcliff is an inspiring man and with all his achievements I feel he should be mid 60s, not mid 40s. I was lucky to catch up with him in Adelaide CBD (before he headed off to Canada and the US) and find out more about the family man, his branding, where his passion comes from and what’s next for Ricca Terra.
Riding horses for Australia
On meeting Ashley, he is full of life and smiles. You can’t help but be lifted as he talks about his past, his brands and answering all my questions on how it all started. He has an untypical past, especially for a winemaker. Ashley represented Australia riding horses as a teenager and was picked on the Australian team. He went to Texas after finishing school and stayed for one year. Here Ashley worked on a Texas ranch breaking in horses.
“We have a wine called the Bronco Buster as breaking in a horse and planting a vineyard is very similar, if you get it wrong, it is quite painful,” Ashley explains.
Horses and vineyards
I would not have thought horse riding and winemaking could in any way be connected but Ashley adds, “The mentality of breaking in a horse and growing grapes is very similar. There are different methods to break in horses. The good way is about trust. It is very much like a vineyard. We would get in about thirty horses at a time. You always start with the calmer horse, sitting on the side with the nice big eyes. You avoid the horse that is trying to kicking the others and wanted to be the king horse. If you start with a soft horse, it is easier to break in and get your confidence.”
“With growing grapes, it is similar, you plant on the best bit of ground first as that will give you the greatest reward. Then the next part of the vineyard is a bit more difficult but you are still confident and get good cash flow. In contrast, if you go and plant in the worst part, it will dent your confident and you will not get the vines to grow.”
After returning to Australia Ashley studied Agriculture. Then he moved to Pernod Ricard as a Grower Liaison where he stayed for six years and studied viticulture. Although he had a viticulture background he had never planted a vineyard. With his passion and drive, Ashley decided to move to Kirribilly and planted 700 hectares in one year as Assistant Vineyard Manager.
Ashley worked for a few different companies buying grapes before moving to Yalumba in 2002. It was here that he became interested in alternative varieties and rootstocks. He stayed at Yalumba for 15 years with his final role as Operations Manager looking after bottling and logistics. Moving to different companies enabled Ashley to gain so much experience which he has brought to Ricca Terra.
Ashley and his wife Holly bought the land for Ricca Terra in 2003 and focused on planting alternative varietals that are best suited to the warm climate. With the effects of climate change including an increase in temperature and less certainty for water, they want to plant varieties that thrive in these harsh conditions. The 2019 vintage was 20% down due to lack of rain, heat and poor fruit set but what was interesting was that their Italian and Portuguese varieties did not suffer at all with no difference in yield.
The labels were created two years ago and include:
- Ricca Terra
- Ricca Terra Farm
- Ricca Terra Consulting
Ricca Terra produces 6,000 cases of 12 from the 10 vineyards of 70 hectares. His goal has always been 10,000 but there has to be a market for it. Ricca Terra Farm includes about 80 hectares.
“Terra do Rio”
Never one to sit still and always passionate about a story, Ashely has created a new brand is called “Terra do Rio” (meaning “Land of River” in Portuguese). He had bought an old pumpkin batch back in 2014 and is focused on planting estate grown Portuguese varieties only for “Terra do Rio”. You should see his branded cap “Terra do Rio”, it’s pretty funky.
As a winemaker, you would expect it natural for Ashley to be passionate about grape varieties. His focus is on alternative grape varieties and he loves Italian grape varieties.
However he is also so passionate about branding and making the brand his own having completed a Masters in Marketing and really putting that into practice. Ashley is focused on creating the right branding and messaging enjoying creating tension and excitement about his wines. He is right when he says, “you are the most important person to your brand.” When it comes to Ricca Terra, he is the brand.
Ashley believes in his wines and the fact they sell out shows his consumers do too, as well as their awards. Holly and Ashley received the 2015 Gourmet Traveller’s Viticulturists of the Year.
It is hard not to become as passionate and focused as Ashley. This man wants to create change and you can’t help but feel you want to be taken on this journey with him.
Another brand Holly and Ashley are working on will only be online. With what Ashley and Holly have been doing to try and tackle climate change, they want the profits of their new brand of New World alternatives to go back into environmental projects. Ashley and Holly are looking for a partnership with a distributor who is as focused on making a change/difference for specific projects. Click here to read a recent article about Ashley and his thoughts on planting varieties best suited to the region.
With all these projects and plans you would be mistaken to think there was a large team behind the brands. The fact that the team is very small is equally impressive.
In his spare time between travelling among vineyards you will find Ashley taking his kids to various sporting events, running (he’s completed 13 marathons around the world) and in his down time, playing golf.
Where to buy
You can find Ricca Terra wines in an equal split across the on premise (restaurants/bars) and off premise (stores and independents) in Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Sydney. Sydney and Brisbane are the biggest markets followed by Perth and Melbourne with increasing awareness in Adelaide. Elsewhere in the world, Ashley’s wines are sold in Canada, UK, Thailand and Scandinavia. Their problem is a good one; they don’t have enough wine for everyone.
Swanny Cellars is a big supporter of Ricca Terra. Drop in and talk to us about these wines.
Text written by Ruth Turnbull, Swanny Cellar’s Roaming Reporter.
About the Roaming Reporter:
Ruth Turnbull is the Roaming Reporter for Swanbourne Cellars. Having studied the WSET Advanced Certificate and WSET Diploma in Wines and Spirits, Ruth has worked in the wine trade in both London and Perth for over 15 years. While living in WA, Ruth was a regular Panel member on the Liquor Barons Panel and managed the digital marketing for Swanbourne Cellars. Now based in Adelaide, Ruth focuses on meeting the winemakers and the people behind the brand in order to highlight and share their story on the Swanbourne Cellars blog and social media channels.