Award-Winning Producer Sees a Bright Future for South African Olive Oils

After swapping grape vines for olive groves 20 years ago, the producers behind Mardouw Olive Estate are bullish about the future of olive oil in South Africa.

Mardouw Olive Estate
By Paolo DeAndreis
Feb. 16, 2023 18:32 UTC
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Mardouw Olive Estate

A series of tri­umphs at local and global olive oil qual­ity com­pe­ti­tions, includ­ing two Gold Awards at the 2022 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, has bol­stered Mardouw Olive Estate’s ambi­tions.

Winning awards eased our abil­ity to reach the national South African mar­ket through the major retail­ers of the coun­try,” Philip King, Mardouw Olive Estate gen­eral man­ager, told Olive Oil Times. Now we are actively explor­ing export oppor­tu­ni­ties.”

South Africa might have a small com­mu­nity of pro­duc­ers, but it is a com­mu­nity which works together.- Philip King, gen­eral man­ager, Mardouw Olive Estate

Initially, the estate, located in the Western Cape province, was ded­i­cated to wine-mak­ing. However, olive cul­ti­va­tion started to take root after the prop­erty changed hands in 2002.

Thanks to the sup­port of the agri­science fac­ulty of Stellenbosch University, we were able to iden­tify which olive tree cul­ti­vars were best suited for our cli­mate,” King said.

See Also:Producer Profiles

The cli­mate in the Western Cape province, South Africa’s most south­west­ern province, is often described as a Mediterranean cli­mate due to its hot, dry sum­mers and cool, wet win­ters.

Additionally, the province boasts many dif­fer­ent micro­cli­mates, pri­mar­ily due to the influ­ences of the Atlantic and Indian oceans, which meet on the province’s south­ern shores.

This char­ac­ter­is­tic cli­mate has led the vast major­ity of South African olive oil pro­duc­ers to estab­lish their home here since sev­eral dif­fer­ent olive cul­ti­vars thrive in these con­di­tions,” King said.

Approximately 95 per­cent of the coun­try’s pro­duc­ers are in the Western Cape.

Now, Mardouw’s agron­o­mists grow widely known vari­eties such as Frantoio, Favolosa (Fs-17), Coratina, Nocellara, Mission and Kalamata. Overall, the estate is home to more than 50,0000 olive trees.

Soth African Olive Oils

South Africa’s olive oil indus­try has seen sig­nif­i­cant growth in recent years, with the coun­try’s unique cli­mate and soil con­di­tions pro­vid­ing an ideal envi­ron­ment for olive cul­ti­va­tion. The indus­try has expanded rapidly since the 1990s, with the num­ber of olive farms grow­ing from just a hand­ful to over 200 today. The major­ity of South Africa’s olive oil is pro­duced in the Western Cape region, which is known for its Mediterranean-like cli­mate. Many small-scale farm­ers have also entered the mar­ket, pro­duc­ing high-qual­ity, arti­sanal olive oils. The indus­try has faced chal­lenges in the form of drought and pests, but con­tin­ued inno­va­tion and invest­ment bode well for its future growth and suc­cess. Ten South African brands were awarded in the most recent NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Our extra vir­gin olive oils tend to be robust prod­ucts,” King said. But we also pro­duce an extra vir­gin olive oil halfway between del­i­cate and medium.”

However, the sub­tle dif­fer­ences among Mardouw prod­ucts, which are sig­nif­i­cant to olive oil enthu­si­asts and pro­fes­sional tasters, may some­times be missed by the aver­age South African con­sumer.

The South African con­sumer, on aver­age, is still highly une­d­u­cated about high-qual­ity olive oil,” King said. That is also why we con­stantly work to inform the con­sumer.”

King added that there had been some improve­ment in con­sumer aware­ness over the years. Still, the chal­lenge for high-qual­ity pro­duc­ers in the coun­try remains in dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing their prod­ucts from cheaper, imported olive oils. King said this is cru­cial to set a fair price for South African pro­duc­ers.

We go as far as putting the acid­ity lev­els of our extra vir­gin olive oils on our labels and keep remind­ing peo­ple always to ver­ify that what they buy truly ful­fills the min­i­mum require­ments for extra vir­gin olive oil,” King said.

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As in many other mar­kets, grow­ing aware­ness about olive oil’s health ben­e­fits has been one of the dri­ving fac­tors behind improv­ing qual­ity. There is still a lot of work to do,” King said.

King expects the har­vest to begin this year in the first week of April. That is when we plan to start the har­vest,” he said. From the first day, all the hand-picked olives are trans­formed with state-of-the-art tech­nolo­gies and stored in steel con­tain­ers.”

Next, the estate’s expert blender eval­u­ates the qual­ity and the char­ac­ter­is­tics of each olive oil vari­etal. Based on this analy­sis, the com­pany decides which blends it will make.

While we work to obtain a prod­uct with cer­tain char­ac­ter­is­tics, our blend will be dif­fer­ent every year, based on how the sea­son went,” King said.

It is still too early for Mardouw’s experts to esti­mate how the new crop year will be. Summer at the moment is unfold­ing and is very hot; we even had a cou­ple of days over 40 ºC,” King said.

While the coun­try expe­ri­enced drought for sev­eral years before 2020, the cur­rent sea­son will unlikely be impacted by water scarcity.

In the high-den­sity olive groves man­aged by the farm, fer­til­iza­tion and irri­ga­tion are of the utmost impor­tance. However, dur­ing the recent drought, water avail­abil­ity for irri­ga­tion was con­se­quently reduced. Having suf­fi­cient water is prob­a­bly our num­ber one pri­or­ity,” King said.

Last crop year, the farm had a bumper olive har­vest, which resulted in a record olive oil yield. We pro­duced 55,000 liters of olive oil,” King said.

While there are no sig­nif­i­cant agro­nomic chal­lenges, such as pathogens that might dam­age the trees or impact the yield, one of the keys to Mardouw’s qual­ity is the con­stant mon­i­tor­ing of the trees.

That allows us to promptly inter­vene when­ever we see a tree is not far­ing as expected,” he said.

Given the high num­ber of pro­duc­ers in the region, Mardouw Olive Estate and its peers col­lab­o­rate for the har­mo­nious devel­op­ment of the sec­tor, which resulted in the cre­ation of the South Africa Olive Industry Association.

I think olive grow­ing is the one indus­try where the pro­duc­ers tend to stick together,” King said. We are gov­erned by the asso­ci­a­tion, of which I am also a board mem­ber.”

Activities car­ried on by the asso­ci­a­tion and its mem­bers include train­ing pro­grams for grow­ers. We do work­shops or sem­i­nars on the most rel­e­vant top­ics. Most grow­ers will take a day or two off their work to be updated or to refresh notions on a spe­cific mat­ter,” King said.

He added that local pro­duc­ers col­lab­o­rate for the com­mon good, includ­ing tast­ing events and reg­u­lar meet­ings where new ideas are shared.

I think it is sig­nif­i­cant,” King con­cluded. South Africa might have a small com­mu­nity of pro­duc­ers, but it is a com­mu­nity which works together.”


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