Situated among the Chilean plains between the Andes and the sea lies an expanse of olive oil groves and estate so modern, sustainable and efficient that it appears to have been plucked right out of the Mediterranean.
And this was exactly the plan when an epiphany occurred to EVOO company Olisur’s owner and Chairman Alfonso Swett while he was travelling in Spain just a few years ago.
He realized that the land there, which was rich and abundant in olive plantations, was very similar to that of Chile, with its mild winters and long summers. And so after putting together a team of soil, nursery, irrigation and climate experts from all over the world, and finding the right land and olive varieties, the project rolled out in 2005.
Since then, Olisur has planted more than 1,000 hectares, had multiple international successes, and expects to produce 1.7 million liters in its next harvest. But the company has not gone without its share of challenges.
Executive Director José Pablo Lafuente said the first challenge was finding out whether all the research, work and effort was actually going to materialize into a high quality oil. “Fortunately it was, our oil has won several prizes, including a gold medal in a major contest in the world,” Mr. Lafuente said.
The second challenge, which companies throughout the New World are facing, has been to convince people that olive oil is not a product exclusive to Italy or the Mediterranean. As part of a relatively small Chilean olive oil industry, Olisur has dedicated much of its focus to promoting and growing the regional agricultural sector.
The company has a major role in the community around the Colchagua Valley in which it is situated, working with locals to help them improve their capabilities and support their families. “We are very passionate and committed to what we do and in this sense I am very proud of our team, because I see how they give their best effort every day. Without people you cannot succeed in any business. We are all part of the Olisur family.”
It is this attitude, along with smart business choices and a favorable climate that has helped Olisur deliver what Mr. Lafuente terms the “highest quality olive oil in the world”, with a low acidity, free of defects, and a production process that is “100 percent sustainable and traceable.”
“Actually, there is no doubt that we can produce a better oil than most of the oil bottled in Italy and sent to the US,” Mr. Lafuente said. “Our goal is to give consumers quality olive oil that in the past was only available from small boutique farms at very expensive prices.” Olisur is able to do that using a mechanical harvesting process which is gentle on the fruit, helps maintain a highly productive farm, and allows them to control the pressing speed.
Olisur has also worked hard toward an environmentally friendly and sustainable business. Byproducts such as pulp and pits have rich components that are recycled as organic fertilizer, to provide the plantation with energy and “give back what the earth has so generously given us”, at the same time creating more jobs.
And so it seems the sky is the limit for this young company. “Our dream is to become a top ten player in the US olive oil market and we will do so,” Mr. Lafuente said.
“Consumers do not yet realize that the olive oils that they consume today are not high quality oils.” Olisur olives are “100% estate grown and take two hours from harvesting to producing the oil.This is a huge difference and we know that consumers will value that.”
Each year, Olive Oil Times commends the achievements of olive oil producers who make an outstanding contribution to the industry. These individuals or companies set the standards of excellence for the rest of the industry to follow and influence the quality, variety, value, and educational information available to olive oil consumers.
Often these leaders have overcome formidable and enduring challenges, or through innovation found new ways to advance olive oil quality in a product range, in their community or throughout the world.
With an eye to the past we recognize the olive oil maker who has managed to preserve or promulgate olive oil’s cultural legacy. Looking to the future, we’re honoring the producer who works to ensure the place of olive oil in our lives and those of generations to come.
The Olive Oil Times Producer of the Year award may be bestowed upon an entire organization or a particular olive oil maker. This recognizes the fact that producing olive oil can be both a collaborative endeavor involving many hands and an individual expression of personal creativity.
Read about the other winners of the 2010 Olive Oil Times Producer of the Year award.