` Berkeley Olive Grove: Old Ways in the New World

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Berkeley Olive Grove: Old Ways in the New World

Sep. 6, 2010
By Sophia Markoulakis

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By Sophia Mark­oulakis
Olive Oil Times Con­trib­u­tor | Report­ing from San Fran­cisco

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.

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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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