Women in the olive industry: Reni Hildenbrand – knowledge gained through passion.

We start our series of ‘Women in the olive industry’ with someone who has made her mark in the South African olive industry with her passion for knowledge and sharing it, as well as her strong sense of Ubuntu.

We visited Reni Hildenbrand’s olive and wine farm in the Wellington district of the Western Cape and came back with smiles and a story.

SA Olive: Can you give us a few sentences about your history – before becoming an olive and wine farmer?

Reni: Growing up in Germany, I preferred the countryside to big cities. I wanted to rescue animals and make wine. My mother did not like this idea, so I applied my creativity by studying architecture. I worked in that field until I bought the farm in Wellington.

SA Olive: What brought you to where you are today – a woman in agriculture?

Reni: My husband was transferred from Germany to Johannesburg by his company in 1984. Following his passing in a car accident in 1988, I decided to follow my dream of making wine. I bought my farm in Wellington in 1991 and after learning that the first commercially planted olive tree was planted there in 1893, I decided to continue the tradition of olive farming.

SA Olive: Are there unique challenges as a woman in the olive growing and olive oil making business?

Reni: There are many. Agriculture is still a very male dominated sector and as a woman you cannot be a ‘sissy’ – you have to be strong to make your mark. Being a ‘Mister’ still opens doors with less effort.

SA Olive: What are the hard skills you need to make it work?

Reni: Well, firstly you need money and you have to hold onto it. Secondly, you must be willing to work hard and long hours. You also need to be able to plan and organise. Most important is NOT TO GIVE up in the face of many hurdles.

SA Olive: What are the soft skills you need to make it work?

Reni: Be feminine, love what you do, share with your friends, and be confident in what you’re doing.

SA Olive: What has been a highlight in this career so far?

Reni: There have been so many highlights! To mention just a few:

  1. Having produced a good, well-balanced Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
  2. Studying in Italy to be a qualified olive oil taster, as well as a panel leader at tasting panels.
  3. Being an international olive oil taster.

SA Olive: Why do you love what you do?

Reni: Being a taster on international EVOO tasting panels means I travel a lot, meet wonderful people and learn something new all the time. I just visited Peru as a panel member for the Southern Hemisphere Sol d’Oro competition and once again I was blown away by how much knowledge there is out there if we actively participate in events like this and are willing to keep on learning about our craft.

SA Olive: What does the future hold for you and your business in the South African context?

Reni: I like to think of myself as being a realist – not a pessimist – but we are facing various challenges. Things like load shedding have a huge effect on farming and the production of olive oil and wine.

SA Olive: Do you have a funny story about your time in the olive business?

Reni: When I started in 1991 the farmers around me gave me a maximum of three months before I ran for the hills. I was a foreigner with no farming background who loved dressing up. Today they all love me and call me Schatzie.