MICHAEL Menzel, Sheffield’s first fine wine merchant and founder of Menzel’s wine bar, has died, aged 70. He had fought a long battle with cancer.
He was once described as Sheffield’s nicest German although until you knew him he could seem intimidating.
But this was the man nearly lynched in a local pub for laughing when David Beckham missed a penalty in an international game and who texted a friend from an ambulance taking him to hospital with heart trouble as he passed his shop.
Born in Bavaria, at Kressbronn on Lake Constance, he worked as a steward for Lufthansa, P&O as a waiter and, not having a word of English, came to work at the Grand Hotel, Torquay, where he met his wife Carol.
It was because of her he moved to Sheffield and found work with a wine company. He liked to tell stories of selling wines from suitcases on the doorstep in his early days.
His first wine shop was at Nether Green (opposite the Rising Sun) and by the early Eighties had moved to Ecclesall Road.
He found that he had accidently also bought premises at the back which he later turned into an eponymous wine bar, a move which cost him a fortune in rewiring and renovation, but it proved popular although he did have chef trouble.
Once service was so slow a customer phoned for a pizza to be delivered to her there.
He dealt in fine wines, particularly Burgundies. John Mitchell, boss of Mitchell’s Wines, recalled their friendly rivalry. “Everyone in Sheffield went to him. I used to joke that I would stop mentioning the war if he stopped going on about Louis Latour” (a big name in Burgundy wines).
Patrick Jouan, boss of Le Bon Vin, once told Michael that he had been his role model in the wine trade. “He said why don’t I come and work for you? I told him that wouldn’t be a good idea.
“He had a fantastic sense of humour but was never smiling. If people didn’t know him they would have misread him for a rude, arrogant German!”
Michael did good business at the top end of the market, selling to restaurants and hotels, until the likes of Oddbins and Bottoms Up came along and he sold the wine shop to the latter company in 1998.
He had already opened the wine bar (in 1994) down a courtyard at the rear of the premises. “They were the best of times and he instilled in me a love of wine,” said Jonnie Higginbotham, now boss of West 10 wine bar, Ranmoor, who worked for him at Menzel’s.
It still bears his name although he had no connection with it since 2002.
He later ran a cigar shop in Ranmoor, although he’d stopped smoking after being cleared of cancer for the first time in 1998. There he became friends with Attilio Botti and Wendy Gunnee (correct) of the nearby Ranmoor Deli, who recalled his fun and generosity.
He loved cars but loaned Wendy his new Mercedes when their vehicle broke down. Attilio remembers Michael and him inspecting a new Volkswagen Passat at Gilders on a very hot day.
“The car was right at the back out of view and we locked ourselves in. We had to sound the horn to be released.”
Michael, who would wear Bavarian dress (hat, shirt, braces and German flag) to watch Germany play football on TV in local pubs, installed a table football in his cigar shop. “I could beat him with one hand,” laughed Attilio.
He had a wireless door alarm for the cigar shop but when he fancied a drink at a local pub would plug it in at the deli. If it rang, the couple would see if it was a customer or family and text him.
Michael’s ill health returned and he had suffered with oral cancer for some years. He spent time at St Luke’s Hospice where, according to friend Alan Hutchinson, he discovered an unexpected talent for making scarves.
Michael, who lived in Graham Road, Ranmoor, was married to Carol, who died in 1998, and is survived by three daughters, Andrea, Julie and Lesley.
The funeral is at Mother of God RC Church, Abbeydale Road, tomorrow (Friday) at 10.30am.