Michael Fridjhon is Director of RMB WineX, which is arguably the best opportunity curious quaffers will get to taste a huge variety of local wines. He also writes and judges a lot, and imports some fine foreign vintages. The Cape Messenger caught up with him for a chat.
CM. Do you remember your first car, and what can you tell us about it?
MF. My mother’s 1963 Opel Kadette which I shared with my brother until I was able to buy a Jaguar Mark Two (for R525) in the post-October War bear-market for gas guzzlers..
CM. You organise tastings, including the big RMB WineX events. What role do they play in marketing wines? And in informing wine-lovers of what is out there?
MF. They are crucial – they de-mystify wine, they serve to widen tasting experiences, enrich frames of reference – and for the price of a decent bottle they offer the possibility of tasting hundreds of bottles, of talking to winemakers, of broadening knowledge. Route-to-market is, in fact, the biggest challenge for the country’s wine producers, and wine shows which provide a suitable platform – appropriate audiences, all the necessary filters – are an essential component in extending the reach in a way that enhances producer viability.
CM. Some people regard the wine world as elitist and snobbish. Do you sympathise with this view, and how do we get around it?
MF. It certainly used to be the case. I don’t think it’s like that anymore – and the end of the dominance of the Old World with its long-established appellations is what has made the whole environment of wine more egalitarian.
CM. One of your businesses imports wines. Why? Don‘t we produce enough good stuff in the Cape?
MF. You don’t really expect me to take this question seriously? Wine drinkers the world over are promiscuous in their taste. If you’re feeling patriotic, support the Springboks, the Proteas or Bafana Bafana.
CM. You attend and host a lot of tastings, and are often a judge of wines. Is there a danger that you drink too much?
MF. No danger at all. When I’m tasting, I’m spitting. As a result, I often don’t feel like wine when I come home after a long day of tasting and judging.
CM. Do you still get a thrill when you win a convert to the joys of wine?
MF. I’m not evangelical – but of course, there’s a real sense of connection when someone you’ve been sharing wine with suddenly ‘gets it’.
CM. Transformation has been slow in the wine industry. Is it speeding up a bit now?
MF. No – if anything it’s slowed down. Land deals are getting harder and the industry bodies/organisations confuse paternalistic socio-economic support for wine land communities with transformation. So there’s very little meaningful change in the area of land ownership and virtually no people of colour in senior technical positions in the wine industry. If you point this out, as I did recently, you find yourself accused of “tarnishing the image of the industry”.
CM. Government is sending out mixed messages, often damaging, about alcohol consumption and its support for the wine producers. What is your view?
MF. There are real legacy issues arising from alcohol abuse, so it’s an easy message to voters who come from communities which suffered as a result. You’re not going to see this change until politicians stop grandstanding in pursuit of ever more elusive votes.
CM. Have you ever had a bad accident with a wine bottle? Maybe a champagne cork in the eye?
MF. I’ve been the recipient of a cork which flew across a restaurant and hit my eye – which fortunately blinked closed so there was no real damage.
CM. Back to motoring…do you ever drink and drive?
MF. Of course – but not when I’m anywhere near the legal limit. I have a breathalyser in my car.
CM. What annoys you most about other drivers?
MF. There’s not enough time to answer that question.
CM. Is there a driving regulation you would abolish?
MF. None I can think of – but many I’d like to see enforced.
CM. Do you always carry a corkscrew?