An Olive Oil as Unique as Its Producers

Over the past decade, Saša Petković and Vedrana Rakovac have transitioned from hobby growers to professional producers. But some things have not changed.

Saša Petković
By Nedjeljko Jusup
Aug. 2, 2023 15:13 UTC
Saša Petković

For olive grow­ers on Croatia’s Istrian penin­sula, the next har­vest is being antic­i­pated with cau­tious opti­mism.

We hope for a pos­i­tive result, but with­out tri­umphant tones,” 48-year-old Saša Petković, an increas­ingly suc­cess­ful Istrian olive grower, told Olive Oil Times.

I would say that the unique­ness of our oil is a reflec­tion of our unique­ness as peo­ple.- Saša Petković and Vedrana Rakovac, co-own­ers, OPG Rakovac

He lives with his wife, Vedrana Rakovac, and daugh­ter, Ivana, who has just fin­ished high school in Pula, Istria’s largest city. Their olive groves are in the vil­lage of Rakovci, 50 kilo­me­ters away, halfway between Poreč and Pazin.

The cli­mate here is more con­ti­nen­tal than the Mediterranean,” Petković said. In sum­mer, tem­per­a­tures are extremely high dur­ing the day and low at night. The posi­tion on the bor­der between coastal Istria and its inte­rior has a good effect on the health and resis­tance of plants as well as on the qual­ity of the fruits.”

See Also:Producer Profiles

There, they grow 600 olive trees in five loca­tions. Out of a total of 14 vari­eties, the most rep­re­sented are domes­tic vari­eties (Istrian bjel­ica, Buža, Buga and Buža pun­toža) and domes­ti­cated for­eign, pre­dom­i­nantly Italian, vari­eties such as Leccino, Pendolino, Maurina, Frantoia and Itrana.


Vedrana Rakovac

Given the cli­mate and alti­tude, there is almost no need to treat olives against dis­eases and pests. However, since this year was extremely rainy, there were prob­lems with the pea­cock’s eye.

There have been no pests so far, but Petković and Rakovac are prepar­ing traps for the olive fruit fly, the most sig­nif­i­cant pest that can destroy all the efforts of olive grow­ers.

We use the method that Vedrana’s grand­fa­ther, Nina, taught us: we pierce empty plas­tic bot­tles and fill them halfway with a mix­ture of water, vine­gar and sugar,” Petković and Rakovac said. Attracted by the smells, the flies enter, but do not man­age to get out, so they die in the bot­tles. This method proved to be very suc­cess­ful for us.”

Rakovac inher­ited the olive groves from her grand­fa­ther. Although they had good jobs in Pula, the spouses decided 15 years ago to restore the farm and plant new olive trees.

Rakovac is a civil engi­neer­ing grad­u­ate, and Petković is an econ­o­mist, an expert in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing and a drum­mer in a local rock band.

In addi­tion to work­ing in the olive grove, he now runs his own mar­ket­ing com­pany and has not aban­doned his gig either. On var­i­ous occa­sions, he sits down on the drums and plays con­certs with the guys from the band.

The fee comes in handy for repair­ing the house­hold bud­get,” he said with a char­ac­ter­is­tic smile.


Saša Petković

Seven years ago, Rakovac devoted her­self entirely to run­ning the fam­ily busi­ness, OPG Rakovac. In the mean­time, she com­pleted a course at the Open University in Pula and man­ages the sale of the company’s olive oil.

We sell the oil through our web­site, as well as in our small tast­ing room in Pula, in an approx­i­mate ratio of half and half,” the cou­ple said. Since 2015, when we became seri­ously engaged in the pro­duc­tion and sale of olive oil, it has not hap­pened that we have oil from the pre­vi­ous har­vest left over after the fol­low­ing har­vest. We man­age to sell the entire quan­tity we pro­duce.”

In addi­tion to olive groves and an olive oil shop, OPG Rakovac rents two apart­ments in Pula dur­ing the tourist sea­son.

Petković skill­fully man­ages mar­ket­ing and pro­mo­tion, so the Bilini brand is already widely known. The brand name Bilini comes from the fam­ily nick­name of Vedrana’s grand­mother, Đina.


As there were many fam­i­lies with the sur­name Rakovac in the vil­lage of Rakovci, some had nick­names that dis­tin­guished them from oth­ers.

Therefore, in honor of our elders, who planted our olive groves and influ­enced our path and olive-grow­ing des­tiny, we named our oil Bilini,” Petković and Rakovac said.

They also explained why they mainly pro­duce mul­ti­va­ri­etal extra vir­gin olive oil. There are two rea­sons for this: first, it should be noted that our olive trees are not planted sequen­tially’ by vari­eties, which means that we often have five to six dif­fer­ent vari­eties in one row, tree after tree,” the cou­ple said.


OPG Rakovac

This would make mono­va­ri­etal’ har­vest­ing extremely dif­fi­cult,” Petković added. Second: we believe that blends or oils of mixed vari­eties sat­isfy the tastes of the widest num­ber of peo­ple. They retain the best char­ac­ter­is­tics of all the vari­eties from which the oil is made.”

The cou­ple point to the num­ber of inter­na­tional awards won by Bilini – a medium-inten­sity blend of Frantoio, Leccino, Buza, Bjelica and Pendolino olives – as evi­dence of this, includ­ing a Gold Award at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Awards are impor­tant to us pri­mar­ily because they boost our morale,” Petković said. When you work in an olive grove all year round, you go through all the stages of suf­fer­ing: from freez­ing dur­ing win­ter plow­ing to boil­ing while fill­ing the olive fly traps in mid-July, from mow­ing and prun­ing to fer­til­iz­ing and har­vest­ing.”

It’s hard. As old peo­ple say: the earth is low,’” he added. You leave your spine in the olive grove. But when recog­ni­tion comes from the pro­fes­sion, all the effort invested takes on a higher mean­ing, and we move on with charged bat­ter­ies.”


Of course, awards are also an excel­lent mar­ket­ing tool because more and more peo­ple want to buy award-win­ning oil, the qual­ity of which has been con­firmed by inde­pen­dent experts,” Petković con­tin­ued.

Except for 2020, when their bot­tles did not arrive on time to sub­mit a sam­ple to the com­pe­ti­tion, Bilini has been awarded at the NYIOOC every year since 2018. Even so, Petković believes the qual­ity that year was just as good as any other.


Despite the ris­ing pro­file of their extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­tion, Petković and Rakovac said olive grow­ing remains a hobby, pas­sion project, and career for them.

Over the years, their mar­ket­ing trans­formed the project from a hobby into a busi­ness, but that does not change the fact that they are still absolute enthu­si­asts for all kinds of work in olive groves.

We are a small OPG, and – as a curios­ity – we note that absolutely every bot­tle of Bilini oil we have placed on the mar­ket so far has been filled and sealed by hand,” the cou­ple said.

In each of the past 10 years, they have filled about 1,500 bot­tles rang­ing from 100 mil­li­liters to 1 liter in size. For some­thing like that, you have to have a pas­sion for this job,” they said.

I would say that the unique­ness of our oil is a reflec­tion of our unique­ness as peo­ple,” they added. Our jobs, lifestyles, enthu­si­asm, atten­tion to detail, per­sis­tence, sac­ri­fice and uncom­pro­mis­ing qual­ity ulti­mately make Bilini oil.”


Petković and Rakovac are proud of Istria and the region’s abil­ity to inte­grate oleo­tourism and olive oil pro­duc­tion seam­lessly. They are glad that other parts of Europe have taken notice.

Our region is full of cre­ative and curi­ous peo­ple who do not stop at already tried and tested cul­ti­va­tion meth­ods but con­stantly move for­ward and self­lessly share knowl­edge,” said Petković, who shares his olive grow­ing expe­ri­ence on his company’s blog.

In addi­tion to the olive trees on the OPG Rakovac estate, in the future, they want to plant other crops, pri­mar­ily figs, and ded­i­cate them­selves to this new endeavor with the same atten­tion and pas­sion as they have been doing with olives and olive oil for 10 years.

However, the approach of the 2023 har­vest remains top of mind for the pro­duc­ers. Last year, they pro­duced about 1,300 liters of extra vir­gin olive oil.

According to the first inspec­tion of the fruit, this year, we expect a slightly smaller crop, and we will do our best to keep the qual­ity at the cur­rent level,” the cou­ple con­cluded.

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