ON my last trip to Stellenbosch, my itinerary kept me neatly and tidily in the Helderberg sub-region. My base was Erinvale Estate Hotel & Spa, around which I visited Yonder Hill, Lourensford, and Morgenster. Not on this particular schedule but also right there is Vergelegen, which has a fabulous restaurant and gorgeous gardens. Make a note.
It was one of those typical every-season-in-one days, and the log fire beside which I was seated was comforting. The olive oils and accompaniments were laid out, waiting for me – and for tasting room manager Anri Steyn, who was there to tell me the story of Morgenster and its products. In 1992, when Italian businessman Giulio Bertrand was in his 60s, he bought the farm in the country with which he had fallen in love, and where he would spend six months of the year.
“He got tired of smuggling olive oil to SA so he decided to make his own here,” says Anri. Bertrand imported 3000 root stock from Italy started a nursery. Today there are 30 000 olive trees on the farm, and 90 percent of the trees in SA now come from Morgenster. In 2011, Bertrand received a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to the South African olive oil industry. Sadly he passed away in May 2018, which Anri says is still difficult for her to talk about. His daughters have taken over the business to continue their father’s legacy.
“There are 19 different types of olives on farm, which are used make all the products – table olives, olive paste and olive oils,” explains Anri. We began the tasting with the Montemarcello oil, which Bertrand always said reminded him of home. It’s a late harvest olive – around August rather than autumn. “When they are pressed you get a soft buttery oil, good for salads, or drizzled on mash… but rather don’t cook with it,” advises Anri. Olive oils are best within the first 18 months of bottling, after which they lose their intensity – even when kept in the cool, dark places they prefer. There’s nothing wrong with them; you can still use them for cooking, which would otherwise destroy the delicate flavours of a fresh oil. Keep those for dressings or any other use at the table.
Where the Montemarcello is grassy green, the prize winning extra virgin oil, which uses 14 of the 19 cultivars grown at Morgenster, has a more leafy greenness. If this sounds crazy, you’ll have to compare the two yourself and you will find this to be quite apparent. There’s also a bit more pepperiness at the back of the throat, and it’s perfectly acceptable – desired, even – to cough once, twice or thrice. The 14 different olives are pressed separately and blended only when required. “It’s a nice everyday oil, for stir frying vegetables, and on fish or chicken,” says Anri.
The Don Carlo is a natural cross pollination which resulted in the cultivar of the same name. Again, it might sound weird to say this one is more oily, but when you put it in your mouth you will understand this too. It’s rich and full and withstands higher temperatures and longer cooking processes so it’s good for marinating meats, and for stews, curries and roasts. It’s floral on the nose.
Then there is the most popular oil in the range, which is infused with lemon rinds for 48 hours in the barrel. It’s beautifully subtle and can be used for baking cakes, biscuits and muffins, as well as the normal savoury options like fish, chicken or veggies. If you really want to be adventurous, splash it over vanilla ice cream.
After the oils, Anri brought me a string of sublime red wines including the Estate Reserve and Lourens River Valley (both 2014 Bordeaux style blends), and Bertrand’s much-loved Italian varieties Nebbiolo (Nabucco) and Sangiovese which finds itself in a blend with Merlot and Cab Sav (Tosca). A winter afternoon doesn’t get much better than this.
PHOTO CREDIT: BIANCA COLEMAN ©