ANUARIO AOVE OLIVAR ESPAÑOL 2022 Interview with Brenda Wilkinson


Brenda Wilkinson
Co-Owner of RIO LARGO Olive Estate

“Consumption increases in South Africa and also our market grows premium export oil.”

– Brenda Wilkinson

South Africa is managing to develop EVOOs of great quality in the last years with a clear vocation exporter. Nick and Brenda Wilkinson’s project is a good example of it. RIO LARGO is located in the Scherpenheuwel Valley near Worcester, on the south bank of the Breede River. It encompasses olive groves, vineyards, a nursery specific for olive trees, and an olive processing and bottling plant with a plantation of 18,000 olive trees of Frantoio,  Coratina, Leccino, and FS-17, which they hope to expand in the future. Nick and Brenda spent twenty years in Central Africa, where Nick earned his reputation for “fixing” agricultural enterprises on a large scale that had failed in name of international investors. The oils are tested individually before blending to obtain a fruity and tasty oil, smooth and not too spicy.

What stage is the project in? What is the extension of the olive groves, varieties of olives, and the production of RIO LARGO ESTATE?

We have 18,000 trees in full production under drip irrigation with systems automated for fertigation. The varieties are Frantoio, Coratino, Leccino and FS17. All the olives are harvested by hand and processed within a period of 6 to 8 hours after collection. We produce an average of 70,000 liters of oil per year. We have two lines of production, a 1.5-ton press per hour and another of 0.75 tons per time with a computerized management system of Mori-Tem in Italy. Our climate has dry and hot summers and cold winters with only 250 mm of rain per year, predominantly during the winter, with a great variation in daytime temperatures: summers have hot days and cold nights. The climate is extremely healthy and we have a very low incidence of pests and few or no fungal disease problems. Irrigation is automated and is scheduled on demand when trees need moisture for optimal growth.

Is your EVOO known outside of South Africa?

Our extra virgin olive oil is of top quality and, for 12 years, we constantly receive the maximum awards in international competitions in Japan, Italy, New York, and in our local contests in South Africa. We have a rating of 97 in Flos Olei (top 60), the Italian publication that collects the 500 olive oil producers’ highest quality olives in the world.

What are the challenges facing olive production in South Africa? It’s a growing and expanding crop?

We are currently experiencing a huge escalation of production costs due to the large increases in the prices of fuel, electricity, fertilizers, and labour, and to the great resistance to price increases in the market. Consumption is increasing in South Africa and our export market of premium oil is growing, and we are planning to increase our plantations with another 10,000 trees over time.

Are your extra virgin olive oils commercialized in the South African market or are they also exported?

Our oil is sold locally and in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Japan, and other African countries.

Is olive oil consumption increasing in the country?

Yes, consumption is increasing as that increases the standard of living and the population knows the benefits of using olive oil in the diet.

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