Award-Winning French Producer Looks to The Past to Meet Challenges of The Future

Maintaining organic farming methods and experimenting with ancient olive varieties are how Château d’Estoublon keeps its 500-year olive oil production history alive.

Château d'Estoublon
Dec. 1, 2021
By Paolo DeAndreis
Château d'Estoublon

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Vines and olive groves dot the Vallée des Baux-de-Provence, the renowned olive-pro­duc­ing region in south­ern France delim­ited by white lime­stone moun­tains and col­ored by the dis­tant red reflec­tions of the baux­ite ore.

Situated in the heart of the Alpilles Regional Nature Park are the large estates that keep the mil­len­nium-old tra­di­tion of olive oil excel­lence alive.

The château has also recov­ered a num­ber of for­got­ten olive cul­ti­vars that were once grown in the region… that could help us in the future to keep up with the pro­duc­tion and with­stand the effects of cli­mate change.- Anaïs Maillet, tech­ni­cal direc­tor, Château d’Estoublon

Château d’Estoublon wel­comes vis­i­tors to the 200-hectare estate that first began grow­ing olives in 1489. It became the cra­dle of some of the region’s most pres­ti­gious wines and olive oils through cen­turies and gen­er­a­tions.

See Also:Producer Profiles

The high-qual­ity table olive and extra vir­gin olive oils of the val­ley have received sev­eral Protected Designation of Origin cer­ti­fi­ca­tions. Since 1997, three PDOs have been applied to black olives, the bro­ken green olives (known as olives cassées) and extra vir­gin olive oil obtained from two local vari­eties.

In terms of vol­ume, the local extra vir­gin olive oil rep­re­sents the most rel­e­vant of the eight olive oil PDOs reg­is­tered in France.

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Our prod­ucts are very well known for their qual­ity, espe­cially our wine and olive oil, a tra­di­tion to which the estate has added veg­etable gar­dens,” Anaïs Maillet, tech­ni­cal direc­tor of the estate, told Olive Oil Times. These pro­tect bio­di­ver­sity and increase the num­ber of prod­ucts served at the château restau­rant.”

Spanning more than 120 hectares, the château’s olive groves are com­posed of local olive cul­ti­vars, includ­ing Bouteillan, Grossane and Salonenque along with Beruguette and Picholine.

The char­ac­ter­is­tics of more than 20,000 olive trees allow the yearly pro­duc­tion of some highly-rated mono­va­ri­etal extra vir­gin olive oils, which have repeat­edly won awards at inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions, most notably the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

We enjoy grow­ing these vari­eties and work­ing on the mono­va­ri­etal olive oils because they are a true oppor­tu­nity to show our iden­tity,” Maillet said.

The estate also pro­duces PDO extra vir­gin olive oils made from a blend of olive vari­eties. The blend is bal­anced and char­ac­ter­ized by its green color, and arti­choke, tomato, apple, straw­berry, prune and choco­late fla­vors.

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Records at the château show that this olive oil blend has been pro­duced since 1786 when the Abbé Claude Couture decided to pro­duce olive oil after tak­ing an inven­tory of all the olive trees on his land. These trees con­tinue to pro­duce the olives used in the blend.

The olives are har­vested between November and December and trans­formed within 24 hours at the château’s mill, which boasts equip­ment that allows the team to process each olive vari­ety sep­a­rately.

The goal is to enhance and pro­tect all of the estate’s olive vari­eties, regard­less of whether they are des­tined for mono­va­ri­etal or blends.

For the past two decades, Château d’Estoublon has fol­lowed a strict reg­i­men of organic prac­tices, apply­ing them to all of its groves, vines and gar­dens.

All our work in agri­cul­ture, the very essence of what we do, is organic and sus­tain­able, a choice we made more than 20 years ago,” Maillet said. Those are now prac­tices we have explored fully and are still work­ing to inno­vate them. It is in our DNA.”

Many years ago, we also began using bio­dy­namic tech­niques, apply­ing them first to viti­cul­ture and then expand­ing them to our olive orchards and our veg­etable gar­dens,” she added.

The deci­sion to con­vert to organic and sus­tain­able farm­ing meth­ods affects how the olive trees are cared for, from the fer­til­iza­tion to the re-use of veg­etable waste.

See Also:Record Year for French Producers at World Olive Oil Competition

We went back to the basics of farm­ing and focused on inno­vat­ing through a strat­egy of reuse,” Maillet said. This means, just to make an exam­ple, that the dru­pes’ stones are gath­ered after trans­for­ma­tion and added to the com­post, which will sub­se­quently be used as fer­til­izer for the olive trees them­selves.”

After unsea­son­able spring­time frosts blan­keted the south of France in April, Maillet con­firmed that vol­umes had been reduced – as they have been else­where in Baux-de-Provence – but the qual­ity was unaf­fected.

She explained that the château’s efforts to main­tain sus­tain­able agri­cul­tural prac­tices are hin­dered by cli­mate change, which requires Maillet to adjust farm­ing prac­tices and adopt mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies.

Right now, we have to face frost events, such as those we had in the spring, which were once very rare,” she said. In these times, we are work­ing to face and over­come the dimin­ished avail­abil­ity of water for irri­ga­tion, which rep­re­sents a grow­ing chal­lenge here and else­where.”

She added that solu­tions to these new and per­va­sive cli­mate issues would only come from all the region’s olive grow­ers shar­ing their expe­ri­ences and ideas.

To mit­i­gate the effects of cli­mate change, Château d’Estoublon is cur­rently exper­i­ment­ing with new irri­ga­tion tech­niques and work­ing to opti­mize the use of water while also doing some exper­i­ments.

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Among these is the fer­men­ta­tion of leaves and wood remains, using their bac­te­ria and fungi to main­tain mois­ture and increase the effi­ciency of irri­ga­tion.

That is some­thing we are research­ing and that we are see­ing how well it seems to work in help­ing our trees,” Maillet said. We hope we will soon be able to share such a tech­nique.”

Not only that, but the château has also recov­ered a num­ber of for­got­ten olive cul­ti­vars that were once grown in the region,” she added. These vari­eties, through many gen­er­a­tions, ended up being mar­gin­al­ized because of their char­ac­ter­is­tics.”

But it is those specifics, such as resilience to low rain­fall and irri­ga­tion, that could help us in the future to keep up with the pro­duc­tion and with­stand the effects of cli­mate change,” Maillet con­tin­ued.

To that end, the château has started an exper­i­men­tal grove. It will be closely mon­i­tored and stud­ied to ver­ify how the trees react to the new cli­mate the region has begun to expe­ri­ence.

Among this panel of vari­eties, which over time had been dis­carded because of insuf­fi­cient pro­duc­tion capac­i­ties, we believe we could find at least some answers to the pro­duc­tion prob­lems olive pro­duc­ers could be fac­ing in the future,” added Maillet.

However, these efforts remain a work in progress, she said, adding that in the world of olive oil, there is much we still have to explore, so much we still have to learn.”


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