The Pursuit of Perfection – Italian Olives in South Africa

Has anyone ever told you that you could do anything you put your mind to? Even if it seems too difficult or it’s never been done before?

Written by Leska Tomash – Like embarking on a mission to create “the best olive oil in the world.” In South Africa. But with the best varieties from Italy.

That’s kind of what Giulio Bertrand did when he searched the far-reaching corners of Italy to find unparalleled olive varieties to relocate to Morgenster estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Well, not kind of. That’s exactly what he did.

Here’s the story.

1-419-78-morgenster-mGiulio Bertrand was born in Biella in North West Piedmont, Italy. His family textile businesses brought him to South Africa on a regular basis. In 1979, Bertrand, being a lover of nature and conservation, bought a game farm. In 1992, with retirement in mind, he bought Morgenster, one of the “jewels of the Cape.” With the help of a local architect, Bertrand restored Morgenster’s manor house which was built in 1786.

With that task completed, he turned his focus to the hill in his backyard which was very similar to the landscape of his native Piedmont. Experts had some good news for Bertrand: the terroir of Morgenster was ideal for growing red wine grape varieties and olives.

Retirement would have to wait.

15-10-08-morgenster-95-01In true Bertrand style, he set out to produce wines comparable to Bordeaux’s best. So off he went to France to meet up with Pierre Lurton of Chateau Cheval Blanc. Then the two trekked back to Morgenster where Lurton acted as consultant to the local team in establishing vineyards of Bordeaux varieties and building a cellar.

In 2013, Bertrand was inducted into the South African chapter for the Commanderie de Bordeaux which recognized his creation of Bordeaux styled wines of the highest order in South Africa.

Okay, so he had wine production locked down.

What about olives?

Well, although in Italian culture the production of fine wines and olives go hand in hand, this was an innovation in South Africa at the time.

Bertrand built and fostered a long-term partnership with the Olive Oil Research Institute of Italy from which he imports the world’s most current olive tree cultivars, or varieties, and production technology.

giulio-bertrand-and-flos-olei-2014-trophy-medium1His lifelong, guiding philosophy of “Where there is quality there is no compromise,” resulted in, not surprisingly, an extra virgin olive oil judged “Best Blended Olive Oil in the world.”  According to the Flos Olei Guide, Morgenster is “one of only seven oils in the world which has achieved consistently quality at an exceptionally high level for over four years, earning 97 out of a possible 100 points each year.” Morgenster Extra Virgin Olive Oil has an intense aroma of freshly cut grass and secondary aromas, brought out by warming the oil slightly with your hand, green tomatoes, almonds, artichokes and a little green apple.

On Morgenster’s website, you can find a ton of really tantalizing recipes supplied by various sources.  Morgenster’s olive oil is well-suited for dishes such as Apricot and Olive Oil Cake, Balsamic Cherries and Ricotta and Baked Artichokes with Cannellini Beans and Thyme Breadcrumbs.

Well, then. Bertrand, it appears, is one of those highly motivated, driven individuals—on a mission to create the best.

morgenster_estateBut, it appears, he is also a really good guy. He supplies tens of thousands of olive trees a year to other local farms, as well as equipment and farming consultancy services. Bertrand brings in international experts to run judging and oil appreciation coursers. In doing so, he has helped South Africa’s young olive oil industry climb to the same level as long-established producer countries.

Well, then, again.