As Harvest Begins, Croatian Producers Anticipate High Quality, If Not Quantity

While production figures are expected to decrease for the fourth consecutive year, quality is anticipated to be as high as ever.

Olive trees in Istria
Oct. 17, 2019
By Matthew Cortina
Olive trees in Istria

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For the fourth con­sec­u­tive year, olive oil pro­duc­tion in Croa­tia is expected to decrease. How­ever, early reports from the pro­duc­ers who are already har­vest­ing their olives indi­cate the qual­ity of their oils will be quite good.

High tem­per­a­tures in the olive-grow­ing regions of the coun­try ear­lier this year lim­ited total olive yields and many in the sec­tor are expect­ing an out­put of fewer than 3,000 tons.

The grow­ing sea­son in Istria this year was chal­leng­ing mainly because of very high tem­per­a­tures dur­ing the bloom­ing period… we are expect­ing for sure 30 per­cent fewer olives than last year.- Tedi Chi­avalon, head of OPG Chi­avalon

Tedi Chi­avalon runs the 7,500-tree OPG Chi­avalon facil­ity with his fam­ily in Istria and says despite another year of low yields, pro­duc­ers in the region are excited about the qual­ity of their crop.

The grow­ing sea­son in Istria this year was chal­leng­ing, mainly because of very high tem­per­a­tures dur­ing the bloom­ing period,” Chi­avalon said. Some cul­ti­vars… suf­fered a lot, so in our region, we are expect­ing at least 30 per­cent fewer olives than last year.”

The har­vest­ing period just started last week,” he added. The olives look great. The weather is per­fect.”

See more: 2019 Olive Har­vest News

Chi­avalon said there were no issues with the olive fruit fly like in past years, so pro­duc­ers in Istria are expect­ing great results from this year’s har­vest.”

In spite of stag­nant pro­duc­tion fig­ures – pro­duc­tion has been steadily declin­ing since 2016 – many pro­duc­ers remain opti­mistic about the coun­try’s olive oil sec­tor.

Qual­ity is widely seen to be on the rise. In May, 51 Croa­t­ian olive oils (out of 61 entries) took home an award at the 2019 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Com­pe­ti­tion.

Two months before, Chi­avalon and other Istrian pro­duc­ers received more good news when the Euro­pean Union announced extra vir­gin olive oil from Istria would receive Pro­tected Des­ig­na­tion of Ori­gins (PDO) sta­tus.

The new des­ig­na­tion rec­og­nizes the qual­ity of oils from the Istrian penin­sula as well as ensures their authen­tic­ity. The entire Istrian penin­sula, which includes parts of Croa­tia and Slove­nia, is included in the PDO.

After the hot bloom­ing sea­son (in which tem­per­a­tures exceeded 86 degrees Fahren­heit), Chi­avalon said there was plenty of rain and the weather proved ben­e­fi­cial to the blooms that sur­vived the heat.

We have really great nat­ural and geo­graph­i­cal pre­dis­po­si­tions for olive pro­duc­tion,” Chi­avalon said. Istria is one of the north­ern­most areas of cul­ti­va­tion of olives in the world and our vari­ety of olives in these con­di­tions are giv­ing incred­i­ble results.”

There are sev­eral vari­ables that sep­a­rate Istrian olive oil from other pro­duc­ers in the region. Due to its north­ern loca­tion, oil con­cen­trates in olives later in the sea­son – some­times later than the other grow­ing region in Croa­tia, Dal­ma­tia – which results in robust, intense olive oils. Also, most Croa­t­ian olive oil groves are small, and so pick­ing and pro­cess­ing olives by hand is com­mon. That also means it is eas­ier to get olives pressed within hours of being picked.

The native olives in the region, which have been planted for cen­turies, include Buža, Istrian Bjel­ica, Moražola and Rožin­jola, whose oil varies in color when pressed but share a fresh, grassy and some­times intense aroma.

Chi­avalon said Croa­t­ian pro­duc­ers are con­stantly bat­tling the ele­ments – as evi­denced by the four-year decline in yield – but pro­duc­ers are com­mit­ted to push­ing the indus­try for­ward.

Every 30 to 40 years in the past, we had huge cold [spells] in win­ter so our region lost great parts of its pro­duc­tion capac­i­ties over the cen­turies,” Chi­avalon said. From gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, pro­duc­ers are replant­ing their orchards, and in the last 20 years many new areas are planted too, so in this way we keep the tra­di­tion of olive cul­ti­va­tion alive.”

Cli­mate change is also affect­ing our orchards as in all other parts of the world, so we’ll see what chal­lenges we’ll have in the near future,” he added.

How­ever, it is the focus on pro­duc­ing bet­ter, not more, olive oil that Chi­avalon believes will help Croa­t­ian pro­duc­ers thrive in the com­ing years.

We can­not allow our­selves to pro­duce medi­oc­rity,” Chi­avalon said. For this rea­son in all our phases of grow­ing olives, pro­duc­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil, stor­ing, blend­ing, bot­tling and label­ing, the word qual­ity’ is some­thing that stays at first place always.”

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