Now that all EVOO entries have been submitted, the judging week for the SA Olive Awards officially started on Monday, 21 August.

The 18th annual SA Olive Awards takes place on Friday, 8th September 2023 at the beautiful L’Atium, Grande Roche in Paarl. This yearly award ceremony serves as a major event for all those within the South African olive industry as it acknowledges the commitment, effort, and excellence of the country’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) producers.

The judging week begins on Monday, 21st through to Friday, 25th August, and takes place at Klein Joostenberg, near Stellenbosch when all the EVOO entries are intensely tasted and reviewed by a panel of well-known and highly regarded international and local judges, all of whom have years of experience in tasting and identifying top-quality EVOOs.

International Judges

Himeyo Nagatomo (Panel Leader)

Dedicated to continually spreading accurate knowledge about Extra Virgin Olive Oil around the world, Himeyo Nagatomo is the panel leader for the 2023 SA Olive Awards.

Currently the President of the Japan Olive Oil Taster Association, panel leader at the TOKYO International EVOO Competition, JOOTA AWARDS and the Japan Domestic Olive Oil Competition for Japanese EVOO, Himeyo served as the first Asian judging panel member at various international olive oil contests which included Italy, New Zealand, and the United States.

Having obtained the IOC International Olive Council’s Official Panel Leader Course Diploma, she is also an official registered olive oil taster certified by the Italy Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies (MiPAAF).

An experienced olive oil journalist and olive oil taster, Himeyo frequently travels to olive oil-producing regions around the world, conducting cutting-edge research on olive cultivation and extraction techniques.

Fil Bucchino

Born in Florence, Fil Bucchino is a world-renowned Extra Virgin Olive Oil expert, accredited professional taster, and the creative force behind Abandoned Grove – an organisation committed to crafting exceptional extra virgin olive oil from rescued groves.

Having recently been named “2023 Olive Oil Personality” by AIRO, Fil has many years of experience in hosting and co-producing the critically acclaimed documentary “Obsessed with Olive Oil,” speaking at events, and judging at prestigious international olive oil competitions.

His diverse pursuits span collaborations with prestigious institutions and renowned culinary figures. For two decades, Fil has passionately championed extra virgin olive oil, emphasizing its indispensable contribution to our kitchens, personal and planetary health.

Local Judges

Benedetta Lami

Since she grew up in Tuscany, Italy, Benedetta learnt to love and appreciate good olive oil from an early age. She became a professional olive oil taster in 2007 and in 2009, she passed her Physiological Suitability Test (I.O.O.C. method, Dr Luciano Scarselli) as well as became an official member of the SA Olive tasting panel. Since then, Benedetta has been a regular taster for SA Olive’s CTC (Commitment to Compliance) quality scheme and a judge on the panel for the SA Olive Awards and  the ABSA Top 10 competitions.

From 2002 to 2016, Benedetta was the organiser and a taster in the Marco Zichella Awards, an olive oil competition held in memory of her late father. Her other accolades include being on the judging panel for the Sol D’oro Southern Hemisphere in Cape Town in 2015 and 2018, and in Melbourne in 2016. In 2018, Benedetta attended an Olive Oil Sommelier Master Class in Florence, and became an associate of the prestigious register of the EVOO Savantes after successfully completing a challenging test.

Jackie Loubser

Jackie’s career in olive oil tasting started in 2017 when she attended an EVOO appreciation course held by Linda Costa. Since then, she has attended the EVOO Savantes in 2018 and 2019, when she participated in the Savantes Olive Oil Team Tasting World Championships in Spain.

After successfully completing the Savantes tasting course examination, she became an associate. Since 2020, Jackie has been a member the tasting panel of the SA Olive Industry Association and attended numerous courses and workshops. These included an SA Olive course and tasting panel refresher course presented by Aldo Mazzini.  Throughout 2022, Jackie has presented olive oil tasting and food pairing workshops for SA Olive at culinary schools in South Africa.

Reni Hildenbrand

An EVOO and wine producer, Reni has been a member of the SA Olive Industry Association since 1992. She received her Olive Oil Taster Certificate from O.N.A.O.O. in Imperia, Italy, in 2002 and completed an international course for Panel Supervisors of Virgin Olive Oil Tasters at O.N.A.O.O. in 2005. For the past 13 years, she has been a taster and panel leader on the SA Olive organoleptic panel, assessing olive oil quality for the CTC scheme.

Other accolades under Reni’s belt include writing a book titled, ‘Olives and Oil in South Africa’, presenting olives, olive oil and tasting courses, being panel leader in 2016 for Olive NZ in Oakland, being a taster on two panels in Turkey and a taster on the Sol D’ Oro Olive competitions in Peru, Cape Town and Japan. Lately Reni has presented Olive Oil tasting courses at the Hurst Chef School in Paarl, as well as Val de Vie and Pearl Valley.

Gill Lanham

A passionate Extra Virgin Olive Oil taster, Gill’s tasting experience started in 2019. Since then, her love for EVOO grew and 2021 saw her enrol in an introductory Olive Oil Tasting Course conducted by Aldo Mazzini.

After this course, she was invited to join the prestigious SA Olive Oil tasting panel as a guest taster which further allowed her to hone her expertise. In 2022, she enrolled in the Advanced Course in Olive Oil Tasting, and at the beginning of 2023, Gill was appointed as an official taster on the SA Olive Oil Panel.

All 2023 SA Olive Award winners will be announced on Friday, 8th September 2023.