Michael Olivier is one of the larger-than-life personalities in the Cape food and wine world. Born on a wine farm, his veins run with cabernet and merlot, with just a dash of pinotage. Having run restaurants and worked on wine estates, he now consults to the wine trade, writes extensively on gastronomic delights, and is resident expert on the Die Vine Intervention wine tasting podcasts which are carried by The Cape Messenger. Now he has launched a new wine club. We spoke to him.
CM. What was your first car, and what can you tell us about it?
MO. It was a 1958 Volkswagen Beetle which I bought from the church organist in Gordon’s Bay. She was a friend of my mother’s and charged me the princely sum of R250.00. Her husband owned the local garage, so it was in excellent condition.
CM. You used to run Parks in Cape Town, regarded at the time as one of the country’s top restaurants. Do you miss it?
MO. I miss the contact with my guests and the youthful energy of my staff. Running a restaurant at the top end of the market is a tough job. People have expectations and you have to meet them. I still get a little ‘frisson’ when I go into a restaurant kitchen.
CM. How do you feel about the food scene in the Western Cape these days?
MO. I think it has relaxed a lot and you can get excellent food in a street café. There are a number of artisanal bakeries making brilliant breads and pastries. With home deliveries, the array of foods you can have brought to your home is eye-watering. A wide supply of produce is available if you know where to look for it.
CM. You are now very active in the world of wine. How has the South African wine scene changed since the days when you were working on wine estates?
MO. I think the major change is the way they now strive for a top-quality product. New varieties, new techniques. Very exciting. Our young people are harvesting in the northern hemisphere; there are traveling winemakers like Michel Roland who come and share their expertise with our wine people. Some new varieties are available now, leading to some exciting wines with very different flavours.
CM. Hopefully it is many decades away, but what grub and wines would you choose for your last meal?
MO. I often think of this. I would like a hunk of real aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a glass of good Cabernet.
CM. You have just launched a new wine club: wine4friends. Is there room in the market?
MO. I think that there is a market for people who follow me on the internet, who kindly and often ask me what wine they should be drinking. People are unsure about wine, are aware of the snobbishness of wine. This is a way around it. Here is a website where I choose wines, write about them, tell you about them and what to expect. Delivered to your door, a couple of bottles of each type to give you the chance to decide how much you like them. Wines you would be happy to have for supper, or when the boss comes to dinner.
CM. There are now 24/7 food channels on TV and a plethora of cooking shows. Shouldn’t the couch potatoes get off their couches and start peeling spuds?
MO. Yes. I spoke to the MD of a Food TV company once, and he told me that their research shows that people watch them as food pornography. While they are watching them, they are eating a piece of cheese and a biscuit!
CM. Do you drink and drive these days?
MO. I am very careful about drinking and driving. I am used to being careful! Fortunately there are many companies who will take you home – and bring your car along too.
CM. What bad habits annoy you in other motorists?
MO. Putting on their indicators and moving into your path immediately. In Australia, where I have driven often over 11 years, if you put your flicker on, people behind you slow down and let you in!
CM. Are there any road laws which irritate you?
MO. Speed limits in areas where they are not really required. Perhaps it is worth considering upping a 60km limit to 80km?
CM. And what about the water crisis. Does this worry you?
MO. Yes, it really worries me. I grew up on a farm where my parents really struggled with a lack of water. So I have always been aware of the weather, and the depth of the dam. I think that, having experienced El Nino in the past, the authorities should have made adequate provision for a supply of water. I don’t mind restrictions, but the thought of no water at all really worries me.