`Berkeley Olive Grove: Old Ways in the New World - Olive Oil Times

Berkeley Olive Grove: Old Ways in the New World

Sep. 6, 2010
Sophia Markoulakis

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Don’t be con­fused by the name. Berkeley Olive Grove 1913 extra vir­gin olive oil orig­i­nates hun­dreds of miles from the East Bay’s iconic gourmet ghetto streets. That’s not to say that there isn’t a con­nec­tion — an aca­d­e­mic link that turned edu­ca­tors into busi­ness­men at the turn of the cen­tury. The area around Oroville, California, attracted the atten­tion of sev­eral mem­bers of the University of California when reports were pub­lished between 1900 and 1904 regard­ing the region’s exem­plary olive-grow­ing cli­mate. In 1913, as many as 15 pro­fes­sors indi­vid­u­ally invested in some land and, within the course of their life­time, man­aged the largest plant­ing of Mission olive trees in the world.

Today you can still find this pris­tine piece of land pro­duc­ing Mission olives, its stately trees pro­vid­ing a pro­tec­tive habi­tat for a thriv­ing ecosys­tem. Being good stew­ards to this aban­doned piece of land was Darro and Olivia Grieco’s pri­mary intent when they heard it was bank-owned and avail­able. Initially, I wasn’t think­ing about olive oil, but con­serv­ing and bring­ing the land back to its glory,” says Darro Grieco. Within two years Grieco was pro­duc­ing award-win­ning extra vir­gin olive oil from this hun­dred-year-old grove under the name Berkeley Olive Grove 1913.

With an aver­age lifes­pan of 600 years, the olive trees that occupy the Grieco’s grove are just hit­ting their stride. These Mission olive trees, set out over 400 acres, are the only olive vari­ety indige­nous to the Americas. Brought to the United States by Franciscan monks and planted at each of California’s 21 mis­sions, the Mission olive and its oil served many pur­poses from culi­nary, med­i­c­i­nal, cer­e­mo­nial, to indus­trial. The Mission olive is also one of the few vari­eties that can cross over from table to oil. Leave it to Grieco and his insa­tiable inter­est in this variety’s oil capa­bil­i­ties to mas­ter the sub­tleties of extra vir­gin olive oil mak­ing in such a short period of time.

As a dry-farmed, cer­ti­fied organic, sus­tain­able grove, Grieco is at the mercy of the weather and the chal­lenges of organic farm­ing. He’s learned to adapt to the fick­le­ness of nature while imple­ment­ing changes that don’t dis­rupt the cycle. ” I have the added respon­si­bil­ity of stew­ard­ing the land while fur­ther devel­op­ing the pro­duc­tiv­ity of the orchard,” says Grieco. One such change has been to prune limbs to open the trees’ canopy, which has increased pro­duc­tion and extended the har­vest.

The farm sharply con­trasts with the trend toward high-den­sity groves and mechan­i­cal har­vest­ing cham­pi­oned by pro­duc­ers in this area and other New World pro­duc­ing regions like Australia and Chile. And while pro­duc­ers are increas­ingly engaged in learn­ing mod­ern tech­niques to increase effi­cien­cies and prof­itabil­ity, the Griecos like their low-den­sity, low-tech farm just fine.

From his first bot­tling in the spring of 2008, Grieco’s extra vir­gin olive oil has been receiv­ing awards from national and inter­na­tional judges. Most recently his California Mission Gold’ won Best in Show at the Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition. Grieco’s aim was to cre­ate a per­fect bal­ance of the val­ues judges look for.

Each of the three award-win­ning Mission extra vir­gin blends that Grieco bot­tles, California Mission Gold’, California Mission Classic’, and California Mission Reserve’ are high in polyphe­nols. Grieco believes there’s a direct cor­re­la­tion between high polyphe­nols and dry farm­ing. The same prin­ci­ples in wine can be applied to olives in regards to dry farm­ing. An inten­sity devel­ops due to the stress that is put on the olive, result­ing in higher lev­els of polyphe­nols”, says Grieco. Extra vir­gin olive oils tested in a recent UC Davis study had an aver­age polyphe­nol level of 199 parts per mil­lion, Grieco points out. The polyphe­nol lev­els in his oils range from 317 to 425 ppm. These high lev­els, along with an excel­lent sen­sory pro­file, make Grieco’s extra vir­gin firmly on par with oils clas­si­fied as super-pre­mium extra vir­gin olive oil.

Berkeley Olive Grove 1913 EVOO has acid­ity and polyphe­nol lev­els dis­played right on the bot­tle. As far as he knows, Grieco is the only pro­ducer to pro­vide this infor­ma­tion on pack­ag­ing. This helps peo­ple under­stand and ask about the val­ues of extra vir­gin olive oil”, says Grieco. Though this lab work is an added expense, he feels it’s worth it to edu­cate the con­sumer and dif­fer­en­ti­ate his extra vir­gin olive oil from oth­ers.

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Naturally, Mission olives have higher lev­els of polyphe­nols, but the lev­els decrease as the fruit ripens. Late har­vest Mission olive oil is known for mel­low but­tery notes, but at this stage of ripen­ing, polyphe­nol lev­els have con­sid­er­ably decreased. Grieco har­vests sev­eral times through­out the sea­son and blends his har­vests to max­i­mize both fla­vor and polyphe­nol lev­els. How he mills each har­vest also has an effect on the final result.

Based on tast­ing notes from his web­site, California Mission Gold is bright with a medium green grass nose and light mint and herba­ceous notes on a medium soft but­tery base. California Mission Classic is bright with a pine nose and inter­est­ing accents of rose, almond, and green grass over a medium but­tery base. California Mission Reserve has a more del­i­cate taste that is easy to like with notes of ripe apple and a hint of mint on a warm nutty base.

The Griecos plan to allow peo­ple to visit this his­toric and impor­tant part of California his­tory. The site will soon host a vis­i­tor cen­ter and venues for pri­vate events and sem­i­nars where vis­i­tors can observe how a tra­di­tional olive grove is man­aged. With hand prun­ing, hand har­vest­ing, and tra­di­tional milling tech­niques, Berkeley Olive Grove 1913 is demon­strat­ing that the future of this ultra-pre­mium extra vir­gin olive oil depends on the tra­di­tions of olive farm­ing and oil mak­ing estab­lished cen­turies ago.

Visit Berkeley Olive Grove 1913 online to pur­chase extra vir­gin olive oils and learn more.

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