Olive oil production in winter and wine in summer fit together like a hand in a glove

Stellenbosch may not be the first place on the list when thinking of world-class olive oil, but at Tokara wine farm on the hills of the Helshoogte pass between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, you will find a boutique-style production plant producing award-winning extra virgin olive oils.

“Extra virgin simply means the highest quality classification that we can give an olive oil,” says Tokara’s Olive Shed manager Gert van Dyk. “And you can only make extra virgin olive oil from a good olive.”

To create this quality of oil, the olives are cold-pressed at temperatures under 30° Celsius, within 24 hours of being harvested.

Planted on the steepest slopes of the farm, the Olive Shed project was started with a 4ha olive grove in 2000. A year later, the first 500 bottles were produced with purchased olives and were sold out within two weeks.

By 2002, Tokara produced its first 18 000 litres of oil from olives grown on the farm and bottled 8 000 litres under The Olive Shed label, making Tokara the first South African wine farm to produce a single varietal olive oil range.

“It is something you don’t readily find elsewhere and it is something the farm prides itself on. It gives the client a wider choice,” says van Dyk.

The Olive Shed processes about 2 to 3 tons of olives per hour with an average yield of about 16% to 18%. “Olive oil production fills in very nicely with the making of wine, which is a summer activity and then the oil, which is a winter practice,” says Van Dyk.

“If you go back to the Mediterranean diet, the two go together like a hand in a glove. Wine vines and olive trees like the same soil. They really have gone together since the beginning of time. The whole process is quite intensive and you have to ensure you are producing the best quality olive fruit possible to have a high quality oil.”

Olives are hand-harvested from the middle of March to the beginning of April and the range includes Mission, Frantoia and Leccino varietals. There is also a multi-varietal blend and the Tokara Premium extra virgin olive oil.

“Our Premium Olive oil is a blend of the multi-varietal with the Caratina varietal and that gives you a much stronger oil, that is made in the rich Tuscan style of oil,” says Van Dyk. The farm’s olive oil is made of olives that are about 70% green and 30% black, Van Dyk explains, adding that South Africans prefer greener oils. “Unlike in Spain, for example, where they enjoy a much stronger yellow-golden oil.”

Nothing goes to waste in The Olive Shed and once the olives have gone through the extraction process, the skins and pips are taken away and used to make compost. This holistic and local-focused approach to the oil production is something the farm takes seriously.

At Tokara, the approach to olive oil is also about changing perceptions about how it is consumed. And its chefs strive to include the olive oil range in their dishes.

“You can add it to anything and that’s where we want to go with how we present the options for how clients can use their olive oil,” says van Dyk. “From drizzling it over a salad to adding it to a minestrone soup, or even incorporating it in desserts – there is so much you can do with the oil to add to a dish; where olive oil is the special ingredient.”

As part of creating unique wine and dining experiences on the farm, Tokara hosts olive oil tastings at The Olive Shed at the Tokara Delicatessen and at its cellar along with its wine tasting offerings. “It’s something different to what other places do and we are fortunate to be able to offer that to our clients,” says Van Dyk.

For more information, visit www.tokara.com or like TokaraSA on Facebook.

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