Norma Ratcliffe : #SAWINELEGENDS

Thursday, 2 November, 2017
WOSA Blog, Malu Lambert
Norma Ratcliffe deftly slices celery in her Cape Town kitchen. She’s just got back from a morning of playing golf, and her pink shirt matches the healthy flush in her cheeks. Norma - founder of Warwick Wine Estate along with her late husband, Stan - is widely known as the ‘First Lady’ of the South African wine industry, as she was one of the first women in the country to make wine.

She was also the first woman to become a member of the Cape Winemakers’ Guild and the only one to have served as its chairperson (so far).

“I come from a very sporty family,” she says continuing to slice the makings of a salad. “We skied, ice-skated, did cross-country, the works. I skied all through high school and was a provincial champion. I spent a lot of time outdoors, hiking in the mountains and canoeing on the rivers.” 

She grew up, with a brother and a sister, in western Canada. Her father was an engineer, her mother a teacher.  She goes over as often as she can to visit her extended family—she has 27 first cousins, after all. 

Her home is crammed with family photos, and eclectic art pieces adorn the walls. We settle at the kitchen counter with glasses of white wine to chat. In 1948, oil was discovered in the area they lived and her dad in turn set up an engineering business. “My dad wore Stetson and cowboy boots to work,” she says reminiscing with a smile. 

“I come from quite an entrepreneurial family - and having watched them from a young age I learnt: if you’re going to do it, do it yourself.”

Along with sport, Norma also loved science, and so, she did a B.Sc. at the University of Alberta. She worked for a while in organic chemistry; but then… “I got wanderlust.”

She left for Europe where she worked as a ski instructor; before moving to Mykonos, Greece. “By day I worked in a restaurant and at night I was a DJ at a local disco.

“I was living there with my friend Frances, and she came home one day and said she’d met this nice South African guy. She had planned to line me up with his friend, but somewhere in the next couple of weeks things got turned around… So we swapped. Stan and I were married for 35 years.”

The couple moved to South Africa, where Stan had already bought a farm - Warwick Wine Estate - in 1964. “My dad was furious,” Norma recalls. “They were afraid for me, the news coming out of South Africa at the time was worrying.”

They got married in 1971 in a church in Canada: “my mother would never have forgiven me if we hadn’t done that,” she says with a laugh. “Sometime after that my parents came to visit us in South Africa - and then they got it.”

To read more online, click here.

Thomas Davidson

Thomas joined in May 2019 after graduating from Stellenbosch University with a BA in History & Ancient Cultures and completing a certificate in Business Management and Entrepreneurship at the Graduate School in Stellenbosch. He moonlights as a radio presenter at MFM - and has an incredible passion for wine. 
We are delighted to have him on the team.
Norma Ratcliffe (Photo Courtesy of WOSA)
Norma Ratcliffe (Photo Courtesy of WOSA)

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