While Tokara makes some award-winning wines, they are also responsible for some delicious and noteworthy olive oils too. In our latest installment of the #LocalisLekker series, Nancy Richards sits down with Tokara co-owner Anne-Marie Ferreira to find out what goes into making her tasty olive oils. Is there a brand that you haven’t seen in our series yet? Then let us know below and you could win big.
This story was first published in the April 2008 issue of SA Country Life and was updated on 13 June 2019.
🕒 9-minute read
High on the slopes of Helshoogte Pass at Stellenbosch, Anne-Marie Ferreira has gone for grey-green groves and the glow of ‘liquid gold’.
We’re at the Olive Shed on Tokara wine estate above Stellenbosch when a large authoritative Italian South African with whom you wouldn’t want to argue spills the beans on some of the olive oils imported from his home country. “They mix it with what goes into diesel for colouring – don’t touch the stuff, tastes like paint stripper!” he says.
He, his wife and his sister-in-law have come to the Olive Shed to buy 10 litres of its olive oil (why mess around with 500ml bottles when you entertain on a big scale) and next minute we’re in animated conversation about tins, plastic, presses and chemicals. The world olive oil industry is clearly not as pure as you would think. Anne-Marie Ferreira, owner of the Olive Shed, promises to look into bulk containers with taps and later, when the Italians have gone, wishes her conversational Italian were better.
Anne-Marie is thorough about everything she does, so when she decided to go into the olive oil business it was only ever to produce the very best. But why olive oil, why olives? “Well, at first it was going to be cheese, but my neighbour from Thelema winery, Barbara Webb, said, ‘Don’t go there, cows need milking twice a day. It’s too much like hard work.’ Then I thought maybe balsamic vinegar, but that takes too long to mature. Finally I chose olive oil, possibly because I love to cook.”
And so we have award-winning olive oils from the Olive Shed at Tokara on the crest of Helshoogte Pass.
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The Olive Sheds Light
When Anne-Marie and her husband, GT, relocated to the Cape 24 years ago, it wasn’t with the intention of farming anything – but that’s history, because as anyone in the wine industry knows, they also produce award-winning wines at Tokara. The olives came only after Anne-Marie, who’d spent most of her married life concentrating on the family and bringing up children, decided it was time she found her own focus with a small business. She never anticipated that it would grow so big. GT pops his head round the door while we’re having tea and jokingly says, “She’s the only one who’s making any money around here.”
To give me some perspective, Anne-Marie scrolls back to the beginning. “We started off in 2000 on four hectares with 1 000 trees. We bought many of them from Giulio Bertrand at Morgenster, where the trees are certified. So if they say it’s a Mission, it’s a Mission, which is not always the case at nurseries.”
Because it takes five years from planting to the first picking, they bought in olives from other farms and, with a little ‘Olio Mio’ press imported from Italy, started producing their own oil. The inaugural batch of 500 bottles sold out in a flash. But then came the first harvest from Anne-Marie’s own trees. “It was wonderful,” she says. “I helped with the picking myself and at the end of the day I knew about each and every muscle in my hand!”
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Last season they produced 55 000 litres, using their own olives as well as others. Over the years Olive Shed has been extended to help with the increase in volume. The Delicatessen on the Tokara Wine Estate sells Anne-Marie’s oil as well as other locally manufactured products.
With about 7 500 trees now, the picking teams use rakes to remove the fruit, which falls onto nets beneath the tree. “We’re lucky we can still hand-pick here because it’s much gentler on the fruit,” says Anne-Marie. “In Australia they have machines that vibrate the olives off two trees at a time, while in some places in Europe they wait until the fruit is so ripe it falls by itself. But it’s best to pick the fruit when it’s half-ripe. The yield might be less, but you get a much richer and more complex oil.”
At the beginning of her venture, Anne-Marie went to Italy and Spain, including the groves of Umbria and Tuscany, looking, researching and questioning with her oil producer at the time, Jannie Pretorius. She’s also been on courses there with the South African Olive Industry Association. “Everyone was incredibly giving, as they have been here in South Africa,” she says. She absorbed the information like fresh bread soaks up oil and it’s a treat to listen to her as she takes us on a guided tour round the Olive Shed’s glass-walled processing plant.
The little Olio Mio was then by a much bigger Rapenelli which, in season, thunders through weighing, washing, crushing and separating tons of freshly picked olives at a time for days on end. As production increased, Anne-Marie installed a Pieralisi press in 2013 which can process three tonnes of olives per hour. It’s resting now and Gert van Dyk is in charge of keeping it in working order.
The thing about olive oil in the end, though, is the flavour. The taste.
Anne-Marie was on the tasting panel of the SAOIA and every second Monday she would go through to Agter Paarl to taste oils submitted by members, as well as other local and international producers, for approval, which is a stringent process. Today however, she’s stepped back from the panel and now Gert attends these tastings.
At the Olive Shed, once the oil has been in the settling tanks for between three and four weeks, been filtered and is sitting in the cool room in stainless steel storage tanks, the delicate art of blending and tasting the Olive Shed’s own oils begins. They produce two single varietals: Frantoio and Mission, plus a blended Multi-varietal and a Premium oil blended exclusively from their own olives, all of them Cold Pressed Extra Virgin. Regularly each season Anne-Marie gets her well-oiled palette into action around these to get the blends just right. “We all do it,” she says, including Gert and marketing manager and sales Suzanne van Dyk in the process. (Her additional skill is in nurturing teamwork.)
Home Sweet Home
Actually, her skill is nurturing, full stop. The Ferreira home is filled with art, light and love. It’s also a tribute to the care taken by the artists who had a hand in creating it. “We had a big party when it was finished and invited them all as a thank you,” says Anne-Marie. ‘They’ included Conrad Hicks, a blacksmith; the Mosaic Art men from Joburg, who translated artist Hillary Graham’s painting of the farm into a floor mural; Roger Young, the woodcarver; artist William Kentridge, who painted a colossal angel on a wall in the sitting room; and Marilyn McDowell, who got it all together… the list is long and the house is very lovely.
At the end of an avenue of flowering blue gums, it was designed by architect Gardiol Bergenthuin and built on the footprint of the original building. Gardiol went out of her way to open it up to the fabulously leafy surroundings with giant windows and sliding doors leading onto a planted courtyard.
Happy as she is to talk olives and olive oil, it turns out that Anne-Marie has another passion that’s even more deeply rooted. Gardening. The inherited garden was certainly what persuaded them to buy the property. The previous owner, Shirley Clark, had planted it with families of trees. Anne-Marie – with another team – pulled out all the scrub and bramble and planted it generously, truly and deeply with indigenous species.
We walk up through the tiered picking beds bobbing with roses and sunflowers to the abundant organic vegetable patch where skyhigh mealies, strawberry beds, asparagus, artichoke, butternuts and onions grow.
We walk into the cool sheds to find walls of hanging onions, racks of ripening tomatoes and a stoep full of colossal pumpkins. There’s always a surplus, so they’re able to supply friends and family, the local school at Kylemore and even some restaurants and delis.
Back in Anne-Marie’s kitchen we come across more tomatoes, kilos and kilos of them lying in wait. “Oh yes,” she says, “I’m going to make up a big batch of sauce and freeze it. First I’ll sauté onions, carrots and celery, then add in the tomatoes and simmer.”
All in olive oil?
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Words Nancy Richards