Business

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

Recent News

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.”

Advertisement
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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.”