Stellenbosch is famous for its wine route, arguably one of the best wine discovery experiences in the world. Tapping into a South African wine heritage that dates back as far as the late sixteen hundreds when Jan van Riebeek planted vineyards in the newly established Cape of Good Hope supply station.
Stellenbosch is the second oldest wine region in South Africa, after Constantia, and is responsible for about 14% of South Africa’s annual wine production.
But Stellenbosch has another fine offering to which few people pay much attention. Stellenbosch has an Olive Route.
Well not an official one, so perhaps we should not capitalise it. Stellenbosch has an olive route. Probably the best unofficial olive route in the country, in terms of the number of places where products can be tasted and also the quality of the products.
The olive industry does not have a long history in South Africa, even though olive oil has been produced elsewhere in the world for thousands of years. As recently as 1994, South Africa only had approximately 1 000 hectares of olive trees and only 10% of that was used for olive oil. The industry has grown significantly since then and by 2014 SA had approximately 6 000 hectares of olive trees, of which 80% are used for olive oil.
Our local olive oil is recognised as being among the best in the world.
Sadly many South Africans think that imported oils from traditional olive oil producers like Spain, Italy and Greece are better than our local oils. That is seldom the case as the oils that are imported here are generally of a very low quality, even though they may say ‘extra virgin’ on the bottle. It would be good if South Africans started using local olive oils as this would help the local industry to grow and create jobs.
Some very well-known producers are located in and around Stellenbosch, which makes for a great olive route. These farms are my top 5 selection of olive tasting experiences in Stellenbosch.
We have to start with Morgenster. Guilio Bertrand, the owner of Morgenster, received a lifetime achievement award from the SA Olive Industry Association for his role in growing the olive industry in South Africa. He introduced olive varieties from Italy which today form the backbone of many olive oil blends.
Morgenster olive oil wins awards, locally and internationally, every year. They produce an estate blend, two single variety oils (Monte Marcello and Don Carlo) and two flavour enhanced oils (lemon and white truffle). The range of oils is complemented by a balsamic vinegar. In addition Morgenster produces black olives (Kalamata) and green olives (Nocellara del Belice) as well as black and green olive pastes made from these olives.
The olive tasting experience at Morgenster is superb. The tastings are done in the same area as the wine tasting, with the option of sitting inside or outside. Inside is very appealing in winter due to the large fireplace, and outside offers a pleasant view and is lovely in summer if it isn’t too hot. The staff are very knowledgeable about both the wine and olive products, and will guide visitors through the tasting experience.
Morgenster does not have a restaurant but they are currently developing a restaurant adjacent to the tasting room.
Tokara is an impressive place to visit. Imposing buildings with opulent finishes and breath-taking views create a sense of grandeur. Visitors should plan to spend some time as there is much to be seen, tasted and enjoyed.
The olive tasting takes place in the same area as the wine tasting. It is generally advisable when doing both the wine tasting and the olive tasting, to do the wine tasting first as the olives and olive oils can impact the palate.
In the tasting, Tokara offers three single varietal olive oils (Mission, Leccino and Frantoio), a multi varietal blend of those three and the premium limited release blend. A balsamic vinegar is included in the range. Calamata table olives also form a part of the tasting.
Tokara has two restaurants, one is the fine dining restaurant located by the winery and tasting room. But a short drive (or pleasant walk through the olive groves) away is the delicatessen. One can also taste the olive oils more casually at the deli.
Tokara are masters of packaging. If you’re looking for gifts, this is where you will find them. There are several different gift packs in different price ranges which all look fantastic.
Most people visit Hidden Valley estate for its restaurant. Chef Bertus Basson has maintained Overture’s status as a top ten restaurant in South Africa for many consecutive years. But Hidden Valley does produce great wines and delicious olive oil too.
The tasting room at Hidden Valley is located next to the restaurant and both the wine tasting and olive tasting take place there. Visitors can choose to sit inside and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the busy restaurant next door or appreciate the magnificent views outside.
Hidden Valley creates one olive oil, a blend of all the varieties grown on the farm. Visitors get to taste the oil along with green (Noccelara) and black (calamata) olives.
The fine dining restaurant on the estate, Overture, uses the Hidden Valley estate oil. This is a testament to the quality of the oil.
Yonder Hill / Olyfberg
Yonder Hill is a wine producer, not an olive producer. But it shares the same owners as Olyfberg olive farm in the Breede River Valley and the Olyfberg olive products are available to taste and sample at Yonder Hill estate in Stellenbosch.
The olive tastings are done in the wine tasting area and consist of two olive oils, a balsamic vinegar, table olives (mission) and olive tapenade. Both oils are blends, but one of the oils is softer than the other, making it better suited for cooking as the flavours will not overwhelm the food.
The 1 litre and 2 litre bag in a box packaging is an excellent storage medium for olive oil as it protects the oil from light and oxygen. This can extend the shelf life of the oil significantly. Additionally it travels very well, making it perfect for overseas visitors.
Olyfberg also produces, and sells, a wide range of cosmetics made from olive oil. The range includes olive oil soap, olive body butter and face cream.
For those that are interesting in learning a lot about olives and olive oil, Portion 36 is the best of the 5 options. Portion 36 is a very small producer, and tastings are by appointment only. The owners of the farm make the olive oil themselves and also personally take visitors through the tasting.
Visitors are carefully led through a single variety tasting to understand the characteristics of each olive oil, which would make up the components of a blend. During the tasting visitors will learn about the process of making olive oil and what factors impact on the quality of the oil. There is ample opportunity to ask questions.
The tasting takes place at the dining room table in the home of the owners. There is no wine offering, nor is there a restaurant, but they will cater for groups if it is pre-arranged.
Visitors can purchase the single variety olive oils, but bear in mind there are no credit card facilities. Portion 36 also offers a tasting pack of 50ml bottles of each cultivar. These make great gifts or even a great way to add an education element to your own home entertaining, by doing your own olive oil tasting at home with your guests.
There are many other wine producers in Stellenbosch that also produce olive oil but don’t necessarily offer tastings. Look out for, or even ask for, olive oil at each of the places you visit and you’ll be surprised how often you’ll find a delicious olive oil available for purchase.
Next time you plan a visit to Stellenbosch, don’t just focus on wine. For a different experience, include some of these great olive oil producing estates in your itinerary and introduce yourself to the delicious (and super healthy) world of South African olive oil.
DAx Villanueva is a freelance writer and zealous olive-head. He expends much of his energy trying to educate South Africans about their beautiful local olive oil. Learn more about the SA olive industry at www.olive-central.co.za and keep up to date by following Olive Central on Facebook and Twitter.