Business

La Rioja Preserves Its Olive Heritage to Improve Production

The Government of La Rioja is engaged in a multi-year effort that pursues the recuperation and preservation of indigenous olive varieties in an effort to develop unique olive oils.

Road to Santiago from Los Arcos to Logroño
Oct. 31, 2018
By Rosa Gonzalez-Lamas
Road to Santiago from Los Arcos to Logroño

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The recu­per­a­tion and preser­va­tion of indige­nous olive vari­eties with a view to expand­ing La Rioja’s insti­tu­tional bank of vari­eties is the goal of a multi-year ini­tia­tive under­taken by the gov­ern­ment of this Spanish Community with the col­lab­o­ra­tion of local olive grow­ers.

To meet this end, the Government, through its Agriculture Farming and Environment Ministry, has been col­lect­ing veg­e­tal mate­r­ial from olive trees with sin­gu­lar traits related to pro­duc­tiv­ity, olive tree age, type of olive vari­ety, and resis­tance to dis­eases. The spec­i­mens are gath­ered with the help of olive grow­ers from La Rioja.

Once ren­dered to the Ministry, the sam­ples are ana­lyzed, com­plet­ing genet­i­cal iden­ti­fi­ca­tions that might help deter­mine whether the trees have inter­est­ing traits for the bank. When such is the case, ter­mi­nal sprout plants are obtained to be mul­ti­plied and pre­served for their later exam­i­na­tion and selec­tion at Finca La Grajera.

Finca La Grajera is the insti­tu­tional farm close to Logroño where the Government of La Rioja keeps exper­i­men­tal crops that are impor­tant for the Community, such as vines and olive trees. Olive trees spread through eight hectares at La Grajera.

La Grajera’s com­plex also hosts La Rioja’s insti­tu­tional winery and an exper­i­men­tal olive oil mill cre­ated in 2006 for the exclu­sive man­age­ment of R&D projects about olive oils from La Rioja. The clas­si­fi­ca­tion of the indige­nous olive vari­eties and the analy­sis of their per­for­mance in super inten­sive crops are part of these research efforts.

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Since this ini­tia­tive to recu­per­ate indige­nous olive vari­eties began in 2015, one hun­dred suit­able olive trees have been iden­ti­fied, 74 of which had some mate­r­ial extracted. This helped iden­tify five olive vari­eties not pre­vi­ously cat­a­loged: Picudillo, Negral, Picudo, Aceitunero, and Picalaceña-Cirujal. While the pres­ence of some of these seems to be restricted to one loca­tion, Negral appears to have been located at a larger number of munic­i­pal­i­ties. Other indige­nous olive vari­eties from Rioja includ­ing Rendondilla, Royuela, Machona or Empeltre have also been rec­og­nized. Since 2007, La Grajera’s germplasm bank has been able to gather and plant 141 dif­fer­ent olive vari­eties.

Indigenous vari­eties are a vehi­cle to depict a unique­ness that sets apart par­tic­u­lar agri-food prod­ucts in a global con­text where the homoge­nous pre­dom­i­nates. In this regard, the work of La Grajera has been instru­men­tal in the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, selec­tion and mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of agri-foods from La Rioja, of which a good exam­ple was Tempranillo Blanco, a highly dis­tinct grape vari­ety that because of La Grajera’s thor­ough work in the past decade began to be bloom among many wine pro­duc­ers in the com­mu­nity.

The effort to recu­per­ate olive vari­eties seeks to follow a sim­i­lar path. Single vari­ety olive oils will be elab­o­rated to test their qual­ity and ana­lyze their per­for­mance in larger volume crops. La Grajera has vast olive oil pro­duc­ing expe­ri­ence and in fact is respon­si­ble for making the Government of La Rioja’s insti­tu­tional olive oils.

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The preser­va­tion of these indige­nous olive vari­eties is essen­tial to obtain better plants that can help La Rioja’s olive sector obtain olive crops that are more prof­itable and of higher qual­ity, and dis­tinct. La Rioja has a Protected Designation of Origin, Aceite de La Rioja, con­sti­tuted in 2004 to pro­tect the olive oils pro­duced in this com­mu­nity, where olivi­cul­ture is cen­te­nary.

This year’s cam­paign to recu­per­ate indige­nous vari­eties focuses on unknown or minor­ity vari­eties show­ing spe­cial traits that can con­tribute to the higher qual­ity and busi­ness prof­itabil­ity, and on very old olive trees of Redondilla-Redondal and Royuela-Arróniz vari­eties from dif­fer­ent areas within La Rioja, to com­plete their genet­i­cal selec­tion. The cam­paign will last through December 2018.

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