Thriving within the Cederberg nature conservancy in the Cape Floral Kingdom of South Africa, Mount Ceder olive grove is home to leopards, baboons, reeboks, klipspringers and rare birds. But it wasn’t always this way. Three million years ago the region was underwater, making the soil remarkably rich in minerals. Today the farm is biologically regenerative and olives bask in a symbiotic relationship with their surroundings. Pruned branches get mulched for cover crop. Drip irrigation is powered by solar. The arid atmosphere receives only six inches of annual rainfall. Its hot days and cool nights create the perfect microclimate for olives to thrive.
Mount Ceder began in 2003 with ten hectares of table grapes. Since wild olive trees grew on the farm, they figured they’d give them a try too, first planting Frantoio and Kalamata, and have since added Leccino, FS-17, Coratina and Nocellara. The olives are hand-harvested onto nets while the fruit is young and green and milled in an Oliomio machine. The oil is racked and then filtered to remove undesirable micro and macroscopic olive sediment and is stored in stainless steel tanks without oxygen. To boot, Mount Ceder produces table olives cured with 90% natural spring water and 10% salt – a phenomenal technique regionally pioneered by SA oil maven Linda Costa.
This 50/50 blend of early harvest Frantoio and Coratina allows each cultivar to express itself authentically. It pops with herbaceous undertones of mint, green leaves, bitter arugula and ends with a delayed elongated peppery finish. Try it poured over pasta, fish, grilled meats, seasonal vegetables, or just simple bread with herbs and tomatoes.
Many of South Africa’s vineyards are on the southern coast around Cape Town, where coastal breezes soften the blow of the intense summer heat. The most widely planted grape is the white variety, Chenin Blanc, accounting for one fifth of all vineyards. Known locally as Steen, the wines are plump and fruity with lower levels of acidity, akin to the whites of the Loire Valley – where it is believed the best Chenin Blanc wines in the world are produced. The South African expressions of the grape are pleasant and are getting much better year after year. Look for wines from Sadie Family Wines and Alheit Vineyards for top-tier Steen for all your seafood pairing needs. As the years roll on, South Africa continues to be one of the countries with a wide selection of reliable, food-friendly, and affordable wines. In the words of wine writer Oz Clarke, “justifiable self-confidence is taking the place of complacency.”