Despite having inclement weather and the pandemic to contend with, Spanish producers had one of their best years at the industry's most prestigious competition.
Part of our continuing special coverage of the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.
Olive oil producers from Spain won 75 Gold and 29 Silver awards out of 148 entries, giving the leading olive oil-producing nation a 70 percent success rate at the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.
While this figure is slightly down from last year’s peak of 74 percent, Spanish producers have experienced a general upward trend in olive oil quality since 2014, when 50 percent of their entries were awarded.
The quality of our oils is very important to us, and that entities such as the NYIOOC endorse it is a recognition of a job well done, especially considering that our project is very young.
Spanish producers had a lot to contend with in the past season. Award-winning producers had the Covid-19 pandemic at the forefront of their minds.
Due to several lockdowns across the nation, extra virgin olive oil sales to the restaurant, hotel, and cafes (Horeca) sector dropped drastically. While consumers bought more for their homes, this was not always enough to make up the difference.
The effects of climate change also are being felt across the Iberian Peninsula. In 2020, Spain once again experienced a hot and dry autumn followed by a record-breaking cold winter. This meant the 2020/21 harvest did not reach the anticipated 1.6 million tons and is now expected to yield between 1.4 million and 1.45 million tons.See Also: The Best Olive Oils from Spain
Still, this is a significant improvement from the previous crop year and a positive sign of an upward shift. Along with olive oil production, key metrics of olive oil quality also appear to be improving in Spain.
“Given the proliferation of competitions around the world, a couple of years ago, we decided to limit our participation in most of these competitions drastically,” Cristina Aizpún, the company’s sales director, told Olive Oil Times. “However, the NYIOOC is an essential appointment to attend every year if you want to gain visibility.”
The global pandemic meant challenges around commercialization and logistics. The producers had to put a great amount of effort into implementing strict safety measures while still maintaining quality and service levels.
However, the pandemic also represented new opportunities.
“We have reinforced our presence in the digital environment to be able to overcome distances and bring our project closer to all the public that have not had the opportunity to visit our farm physically,” Aizpún said. “Virtual visits or the development of online commerce have opened a new way of relating to consumers from all over the world.”
Another award-winning producer from Castilla-La Mancha was a family-owned estate and olive oil mill, La Pontezuela. They have participated in the NYIOOC since 2014, winning Gold for seven consecutive years and one Silver Award for their Premium 5 Elementos brand.
Martín Puga Castro, from the company’s marketing and sales department, told Olive Oil Times that the NYIOOC award is recognition of the exceptional work carried out by their team of professionals.
Their extra virgin olive oil is unique because the producers behind La Pontezuela control the entire process with exhaustive oversight at each stage.
“We also have our own oil mill, located a few meters from the olive grove, so that from the time the olive is on the tree until it is transformed into juice, only a few hours pass,” he said. “This factor is key to preserve all the organoleptic characteristics of our extra virgin olive oil, 5 Elementos.”
The pandemic has complicated business trips and meetings, attendance at fairs and sales in some distribution channels. Given the social distancing rules, it has also touched their oleotourism line of business.
“We carry out group guided visits to our olive mill and the Olivar Interpretation Center, located in Finca La Pontezuela,” Puga Castro said. “It is a unique project, with more than 600 square meters dedicated to the knowledge of the olive grove and its environment, and that incorporates the most advanced audiovisual means to make the visit an unforgettable experience: video mapping, touch walls, etc.”
Award-winning producers in Catalonia also experienced similar challenges, including the pandemic and yield.
Mil & Un Verd took home one Gold for their Arbor Sacris oil, which comes from certified millenary olive trees of the Farga variety. The company also earned a Silver Award for its Arbor Senium, a balanced blend of the Farga variety and the Morrut variety, obtained from their centenary olive trees.
“The quality of our oils is very important to us, and the NYIOOC endorsement it is a recognition of a job well done, especially considering that our project is very young,” Marta Rius Llop, a member of Mil & Un Verd’s quality department, told Olive Oil Times. “For us, it is important to appear in these awards alongside other major award-winning brands, which for us are a benchmark.”
While they had a successful outcome at the NYIOOC, Rius added, “last year was hard for everyone, and we had to face two very clear difficulties: the first, Covid-19, which forced us to improvise, adapt and improve ourselves, having to change our business objectives. The second was the decrease in expected production compared to the previous year, which had been more productive.”
Another winner from Catalonia was Torres Import, which received a Gold Award for their Purgatori extra virgin olive oil.
“We are very proud to have won the award because we treat the land with the greatest possible respect so that it gives us unbeatable fruit,” Magda Martí Vargas, the company’s area manager, told Olive Oil Times. “We cultivate native varieties of our area, Lérida, to achieve very special organoleptic characteristics that are recognizable on the nose and in the mouth.”
Like many other producers, she added that the Covid-19 pandemic had complicated the logistics behind the harvest.
“Last year was a complicated year due to the Covid-19 crisis,” Martí Vargas said. “To harvest, we had to implement safety protocols, doing preventive tests on people who worked in the fields and production. Each of the people involved in the processes to be carried out have had to follow very strict rules.”
Farther northwest of Catalonia, producers from Navarre earned multiple Gold Awards at the World Competition, taking advantage of their unique terroir to craft award-winning oils.
Bodega Nekeas was among these winning producers and took home a Gold Award for its Nekeas Arbequina. Mikel Azpilicueta, from the company’s marketing department, said the NYIOOC had a profound impact on the company.
“The first impact is the injection of morale that it gives to the whole team, in terms of marketing. Awards in this category help enormously to defend and sell the product,” he said, adding that the team felt proud and the award confirmed the advantages of their privileged geographical location.
“The main factor that differentiates us from other oils is that our olive grove is located furthest north on the peninsula and at the highest altitude,” Azpilicueta said. “This confers a series of positive attributes, such as intensity and range of aromas, an energetic and elegant palate at the same time, and a stability of the oil over time that is difficult to find in other latitudes.”