After Wildfires, California Producers Find Inspiration in Harvest

California olive growers discuss this year's expected yields, as well as the challenges and rewards of their work.

McEvoy Ranch
By Mary West
Nov. 30, 2017 11:09 UTC
McEvoy Ranch

With the 2017 olive har­vest in full swing California, Olive Oil Times asked Samantha Dorsey of McEvoy Ranch, Brady Whitlow of Corto Olive Co., Pablo Voitzuk of Pacific Sun Farms and Jon Sciabica of Nick Sciabica & Sons how it was going so far. The four com­pa­nies are expect­ing good yields.

Those moments, for us who deeply love what we do, are almost as heal­ing and pow­er­ful as olive oil itself.- Pablo Voitzuk, Pacific Sun Farms

Harvest is such an intense time, as the year’s entire efforts hinge on six to eight weeks of exhaust­ing work. Yet it’s richly reward­ing as well, the farm­ers told us. The love of the grow­ers’ for their work was evi­dent in their responses to this reporter.

While the after­math of the wild­fires that swept through Napa and Sonoma coun­ties last month is all around, and nearly every­one knows some­one who lost a home, these farm­ers fared alright.

Thankfully, our olive har­vest is unaf­fected by the fires. Our employ­ees, too, are all safe and sound and grate­ful to the emer­gency respon­ders who worked so incred­i­bly hard dur­ing the fires. We have run a few tri­als with the UC Davis Olive Center, and for­tu­nately, we have not tasted any off fla­vors in our olive oil this year due to the North Bay fires,” Dorsey said.

Samantha Dorsey of McEvoy Ranch

Pacific Sun Farms milled some third-party olives that were grown close to the fires, but Voitzuk expressed relief to dis­cover that olives appeared more resis­tant to the effects of smoke expo­sure than grapes. In this regard, as we know from expe­ri­ences of some col­leagues in Italy and now from our own, olives are not as vul­ner­a­ble to this type of stress as grapes are.”

Overall, the grow­ers pre­dict rel­a­tively good to bet­ter than aver­age yields this year. It should be a strong crop for California in terms of total quan­tity and qual­ity,” said Sciabica. It’s much needed to meet the over­whelm­ing demand. Americans seem to have an insa­tiable thirst for California olive oil.”

McEvoy Ranch antic­i­pates 100 tons of fruit, while Pacific Sun Farms fore­sees 20,000 gal­lons of oil. Corto Olive esti­mates col­lect­ing 20,000 tons of fruit and pro­duc­ing 800,000 gal­lons of oil. Nick Sciabica & Sons hopes for 100,000 gal­lons of oil.

A major dif­fi­culty asso­ci­ated with har­vest involves con­dens­ing the work into the brief times­pan. The chal­lenge is always to make the best of the win­dow of time that weather presents between the warm days of October and the cool days of mid-December, when we have a high risk of frost,” said Voitzuk. Our milling takes place dur­ing those six to eight weeks. The pace is very intense since we want to mill each cul­ti­var at its opti­mal moment and the time is so lim­ited.”

Another weather-related har­vest chal­lenge is rain. We do not har­vest in the rain to avoid prob­lems with our trees. Consequently, too many rain delays will slow us down. If we slow down too much, we run the risk of hav­ing a freeze event at the end of the har­vest,” added Whitlow.

When asked about the non-mon­e­tary rewards of har­vest, all four grow­ers waxed elo­quent. It was obvi­ous they found deep pride in their work and con­sider it richly ful­fill­ing. Whitlow com­pared the end of har­vest to the sat­is­fac­tion that comes after run­ning a long race. Like at the end of a marathon, we are happy with our accom­plish­ment. We always con­vene to review the sea­son with cama­raderie and sto­ries of chal­lenges over­come. We sleep well know­ing that we are good at what we do and are proud to be able to offer our olive oil to oth­ers.”

Dorsey expressed the excite­ment of see­ing and tast­ing the end prod­uct of her team’s hard work. Harvest is absolutely the most excit­ing and exhil­a­rat­ing time of year. To smell and taste the oil com­ing directly out of the ver­ti­cal sep­a­ra­tor is always mov­ing. All those lit­tle pieces of fruit that we have been tend­ing all sea­son now release their golden green oil in such a dra­matic array of aro­mas and fla­vors.”

Voitzuk spoke of how the joy of mak­ing olive oil eclipsed all the hard­ships encoun­tered dur­ing har­vest. After har­vest, a great olive oil is made, which enables us to for­get the neg­a­tives and fully reminds us of why we do this. A good thing has hap­pened, and we’re part of it. Those moments, for us who deeply love what we do, are almost as heal­ing and pow­er­ful as olive oil itself.”

Sciabica’s found inspi­ra­tion in the long his­tory of the fourth-gen­er­a­tion fam­ily busi­ness: People who buy our oil still tell sto­ries of the first time they met my grand­fa­ther at a farm­ers mar­ket or in a restau­rant kitchen. Ironically, it’s not about the olive oil at all, it’s about feel­ing proud to come into work every day.”


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