Making SA’s best olive oil

At Andante Extra Virgin Olive Oil in Porterville, quality starts in the orchard with fine-tuned production practices.

Making SA’s best olive oil
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When Willie Duminy started producing olives on the 80ha Wêreldsgeluk Olive Estate near Porterville in 2006, he set out to produce the finest extra virgin olive oil in South Africa and ultimately the best in the world. Since 2010, Willie’s range of Andante Extra Virgin Olive Oil has received many local and international awards. Only seven years after planting his first olive trees, he became the top achiever at the SA Olive Awards this year, winning four gold medals for the Andante Extra Virgin Olive Oil range.

Two of the varieties, Intenso and Andante Forte, were also included in the Absa Top Five Olive Oils for 2013. “Another highlight was when the Andante Intenso received gold medals at the prestigious Los Angeles International Olive Oil Competition in 2011 and again in 2012,” Willie says. “With more than 640 entrants, this is probably the greatest extra virgin olive oil competition in the world.”

Getting started
Willie, a senior advocate in Cape Town, and his wife Lisa became so inspired by their travels to the renowned olive oil-producing regions in Europe that they became determined to produce their own olive oil. This prompted them to look for a farm in the Western Cape suitable for olive production.

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“After evaluating several, we found a farm in Porterville with deep, well-drained soil and great potential for olive production. We initially knew nothing about olive farming, so we read everything we could find on the subject,” he recalls. Willie appointed Jan Hendrik Basson, the farmer from whom he bought the land, as farm manager. He knew that the farm would benefit from Jan Hendrik’s knowledge of farming conditions in the area – although at the time Jan Hendrik also knew little about farming olives.

“We planted the first trees in March 2006 and now have 32ha under cultivation, growing about 34 000 trees and seven cultivars,” says Willie. “We hope to increase the total area to 50ha during the next few years.” The backbone of the enterprise is Frantoia, a cultivar widely used as the basis for the highest quality extra virgin olive oil.

Willie Duminy, owner of Andante, and (left) and Jan Hendrik Basson, farm manager.

“When choosing a cultivar, we focused on types well-suited to a warmer climate. We settled for a combination of cultivars for variation and stability, as some produce better table olives,” Willie explains. About 80% of the annual production is processed into olive oil, while the balance is used as table olives. The 32ha orchard consists of 33% Frantoia (oil), 20% Mission (table/oil), 15% Kalamata (table), 11% FS-17 (oil), 11% Nocellara del Belice (oil), 6% Leccino, and 4% Coratina (oil).

The farm’s output has increased enormously. In three years – from 2009 to 2012 – production trebled from 34t to 105t. And this year it doubled again, with Willie and his team harvesting 240t of olives.

Soil preparation
Jan Hendrik explains that most of the land on the farm had formerly been used to produce wheat and cash crops, while some areas had not been utilised at all.  “Before we could start planting olive trees, the soil had to be intensively prepared. We did a soil analysis, and neutralised the acidity accordingly by applying lime, adjusting the pH to about 6,5, and adding other ameliorants.

We then installed sub-surface drainage in areas that tended to become waterlogged. Where the soil wasn’t deep enough, we made ridges to plant the trees on. “We ripped the soil to a depth of between 1m and 1,2m and ploughed the planting rows to a depth of 60cm to 80cm. We then planted the young trees at a 4,5m inter-row spacing, 2m apart on the row.”

Willie stresses that poor quality olives will not produce good quality olive oil. “All our production practices are geared towards producing the highest possible quality olives. We drip-irrigate with water from the Vier-en-Twintig Riviere irrigation scheme, and manage the scheduling with continuous soil moisture logging probes. “Olive farming is one of the oldest agricultural pursuits in the world and despite centuries of experience, there’s still no consensus about the best production practices.

“In 2012 we irrigated about 4 500m³/ ha, but this year we reduced it to 3 000m³/ ha. The yield almost doubled,” he says.
Irrigation starts in early September before flowering, and continues until March or April shortly before harvesting and the first winter rains. Irrigation on olives destined for oil production is stopped about a week before harvesting, while table olives can be irrigated right up to harvesting, according to Jan Hendrik.

“We use biological farming practices – a combination of the best organic and conventional methods,” he says. “We monitor pest populations and use integrated pest management, relying on natural predators rather than chemicals for control. Fortunately, we don’t have many pests.” To promote micro-organisms and soil health, mulch is used in the orchards. It is made by chipping the pruned branches and feeding them, with leaves and twigs removed from the olives, into a chipper.

The Andante Extra Virgin Olive Oil range from left: Andante Forte, a limited release, medium-style olive oil; Andante Intenso, a limited edition, robust-style olive oil; Andante Standard Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a medium- to robust-style oil; and the delicate limited edition Andante Delicate.

Continual pruning, while working towards a single strong ‘leader’ in the tree, also ensures proper aeration and light penetration. The fertilisation programme, designed by a consultant, is based on soil and leaf analysis. Fertigation takes place weekly from October to February to provide boron, potassium nitrate and calcium nitrate for the trees. Granular fertiliser is applied after the harvest, according to a biennual soil analysis. The annual nitrogen application may be between 50kg/ ha and 100kg/ha as KAN, the phosphate application 50kg/ha as MAP or Maxifos.

Boron and zinc are the most important trace elements applied with other trace elements in three foliar sprays before flowering and two foliar sprays after fruit set. Olive trees come into bearing in the third year after planting and into full bearing about four years later, yielding about 10t/ha. Picked olives are cooled to 14°C before being fed into the press. “We process up to 15t daily,” says Jan Hendrik. “At an average extraction rate of about 18%, this is about 2 700l of oil daily. A ton of olives yields about 170l oil.”

Most of the oil is used for the Andante range. The rest is combined with that of other producers in the area, which together form the Porterville Group. This produces 120 000l oil annually for bulk sale.

Phone Willie Duminy or Jan Hendrik Basson on 021 424 5976, or email [email protected]. Visit