In my ramblings around the Cape’s wine country I notice more and more wine farms are planting extensive olive groves. In several cases vineyards have been uprooted and turned over to olive production. This is a reflection of several trends in our South African lifestyle. On the one hand a wine producer told me “People don’t steal olives. They swipe whole vineyards of grapes.”
But there’s a more positive angle to it than that. Many people – particularly in big cities, are turning to Mediterranean-style foods. They tend to be healthier than our traditional red meat, potatoes and gravy diet, and they use a lot more olive oil than butter.
Look around you next time you’re in a smart restaurant and you’ll probably see customers dipping their bread into a puddle of olive oil on the side plate, rather than spreading it with butter.
The local demand for olive oil is definitely growing rapidly, and as it grows, customers are becoming more particular about the quality of the oil they use.
New wine cellars open at the rate of about one a week in the Cape. The wine market is becoming flooded. Olive producers have not even scratched the surface of the olive market.
At Morgenster Estate in Somerset West, owner Giulio Bertrand grows more than 20 varieties of olives, using some of them to blend his estate’s olive oil, which has been judged among the best in the world. Our climate and soils are perfect for olive production, he says. For a different experience, go to one of their olive oil tastings. You’ll be surprised at the variety of flavours you’ll encounter. It’s not “just oil.”
Travel through Paarl, Robertson, Wellington or Riebeeck Kasteel and you’ll drive past rows and rows of healthy olive trees. They hold an annual olive festival at Allesverloren in Riebeeck West, offering olives and olive products in every style imaginable. At Delvera near Stellenbosch there’s a shop that sells nothing but olives and olive products. Everywhere you go…
And while we’re talking about Mediterranean style, there’s a wonderful new restaurant at Morgenster, Sofia’s, run by head chef Craig Cormack. It is relaxed and informal and has one of the prettiest settings of any Cape country eatery. My bet is that it will soon become a popular meeting place for food enthusiasts. The view from the restaurant stoep offers a panoramic vista of the farm’s vineyards and olive groves and the food is honest and seasonal and prepared mainly from local ingredients. The Morgenster wines on offer are based on Italian grape varieties like Sangiovese and Nebbiolo – warming and generous. You could be in Italy.