Californians Navigate a Challenging Harvest with Unwavering Commitment to Quality

Producers across California overcame frost, drought and rising prices to yield some of the world’s best extra virgin olive oils.

Harvest at Bondolio
By Daniel Dawson
May. 17, 2023 15:30 UTC
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Harvest at Bondolio

Producers in California cel­e­brated a strong fin­ish to the 2022/23 crop year, claim­ing 71 awards at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Home to vir­tu­ally all of the United States’ olive oil pro­duc­tion, California farm­ers and millers won the most sig­nif­i­cant share of awards, claim­ing 89 per­cent of all those won by U.S. pro­duc­ers at the world’s most pres­ti­gious olive oil qual­ity con­test.

Producers from across the state, which is larger than Italy and Japan but slightly smaller than Spain, over­came drought and extreme weather events at the onset of the har­vest to pro­duce award-win­ning qual­ity.

According to the Olive Oil Commission of California, the state pro­duced 1.94 mil­lion gal­lons (7.34 mil­lion liters) of olive oil in 2022/23, 20 per­cent below the rolling five-year aver­age.

See Also:The best olive oils from the United States

Among the biggest win­ners in California was its largest pro­ducer, California Olive Ranch (COR), which won a Gold Award and two Silver Awards.

We are ecsta­tic with our multi-year wins on our prod­ucts,” Mary Mori, COR’s vice pres­i­dent, told Olive Oil Times. We have been sub­mit­ting our brands to NYIOOC since 2017, and every year are pleased with mul­ti­ple achieve­ments from this pres­ti­gious com­pe­ti­tion.”

Despite being a rel­a­tively young com­pe­ti­tion, Mori said the NYIOOC quickly became a yard­stick by which COR mea­sures its progress and qual­ity.

She added that the com­pany, which pro­duces extra vir­gin olive oil from California-grown and imported olives, care­fully mon­i­tors olive devel­op­ments and har­vests at home and abroad to ensure qual­ity.

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California Olive Ranch was awarded for three of its locally-produced brands.

Our num­ber one pri­or­ity in sourc­ing our inter­na­tional oils, as well as what we pro­duce in California, is the strict qual­ity stan­dards we hold,” Mori said. We have a rig­or­ous process in approvals for oils from our part­ners across Chile, Argentina, Portugal and Italy and approve every lot prior to any pur­chase, and con­stant test­ing upon receipt, dur­ing stor­age and bot­tling.”

COR sources olives from around the world to mit­i­gate the impacts of chal­leng­ing har­vests in any loca­tion. Still, Mori said the com­pany faced plenty of other chal­lenges dur­ing the har­vest.

As many have seen in the olive indus­try, we are see­ing unprece­dented times with qual­ity oil avail­abil­ity,” she said. From the Ukraine war affect­ing sun­flower oil, caus­ing many to look at olive oil for a lower cost option, to the frosts seen in California, Europe and Chile, there have been immense chal­lenges for olive oil pro­duc­ers to main­tain high-qual­ity pro­duc­tion.”

Situated in San Luis Obispo County, the peren­nial award win­ner Pasolivo man­aged to main­tain its high-qual­ity pro­duc­tion.

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Marisa Bloch attributed Pasolivo’s success to harvesting varieties separately and crafting blends depending on how the monovarietals turn out.

Located in south-cen­tral coastal California, San Luis Obispo County is home to many of the coun­try’s best olive oil pro­duc­ers. This year, ten pro­duc­ers from the county com­bined to earn 22 awards at the NYIOOC, more than one-quar­ter of the awards earned by U.S. pro­duc­ers and importers.

Pasolivo was among the most suc­cess­ful, earn­ing five Gold Awards for its care­fully crafted blends that com­bine the millers’ artistry with a care­ful sci­en­tific process.

While the com­pany has won 32 awards since 2016, gen­eral man­ager Marisa Bloch Gaytan told Olive Oil Times that the excite­ment and pride of win­ning do not dimin­ish.

In fact, it is almost more pres­sure to per­form as well as you have in prior years,” she said. It is always an honor to win such high acco­lades.”

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Pasolivo achieves con­sis­tently high qual­ity by main­tain­ing close rela­tion­ships with har­vest con­trac­tors to get the olives har­vested effi­ciently and take care of the fruit and trees dur­ing the process. Bloch and her team also taste each extra vir­gin olive oil sep­a­rately before care­fully craft­ing each blend to achieve the desired fla­vor pro­files.

She said the state’s per­sis­tent drought was the biggest chal­lenge Pasolivo and other San Luis Obispo County pro­duc­ers faced in the 2022 har­vest but added that con­di­tions look good for the next one.

The lack of rain­fall was the biggest chal­lenge lead­ing into the 2022 har­vest,” she said. Even though we water fre­quently, it is always best to get the nat­ural rain­fall on the trees.”

Things are look­ing really good [ahead of the 2023/24 crop year],” she added. We got record amounts of rain­fall in late 2022 and into 2023. It is look­ing like it will be a big crop, but also a later har­vest due to all of the rain.”

Karen and Malcolm Bond cel­e­brated another suc­cess­ful year, adding to their streak of wins dat­ing back to 2017. Their com­pany, Bondolio, based in Yolo County, near Sacramento, earned its fourth Gold Award for an organic medium-inten­sity blend.

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Karen and Malcom Bond celebrated their fourth Gold Award at the World Competition.

As a grower and a pro­ducer, we think we make great extra vir­gin olive oil, but you must val­i­date your­self against oth­ers, and the NYIOOC allows us to val­i­date our­selves glob­ally,” Karen Bond told Olive Oil Times.

Along with the hard work of farm­ing, she said a pas­sion for excel­lence and con­tin­u­ous efforts to improve agro­nomic and milling prac­tices helped them main­tain their qual­ity year after year.

Despite the suc­cess, Bond said California’s hot autumn resulted in higher labor costs and pre­sented the most sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges in the pre­vi­ous har­vest.

The weather was so hot that we had to watch irri­ga­tion more closely,” she said. The cost of labor has really gone up in California in the last cou­ple of years. Since it was so hot, we wanted to hire more labor so the olives could get to the mill faster to main­tain qual­ity. This made our labor cost dou­ble.”

Still, Bond said Yolo County’s cli­mate helps the region stand out in California. Three Yolo County-based pro­duc­ers com­bined to earn seven awards at the com­pe­ti­tion.

Our cli­mate is very sim­i­lar to Sicily, so it is an ideal place to grow olives,” Bond said. Yolo County also has some of the best soil in the world, so we are able to grow organ­i­cally and only use a cover crop. Also, we have lots of water in Yolo County, unlike other areas.”

Producers from across the state fre­quently attribute California’s Mediterranean cli­mate to their abil­ity to pro­duce high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil. This is espe­cially true of five pro­duc­ers in Sonoma County, who won eight awards at the com­pe­ti­tion.

Sonoma County’s wine coun­try has a unique Mediterranean cli­mate, so grapevines, olive trees and stone fruit are all com­mon agri­cul­tural crops,” Brent Young, the direc­tor of agri­cul­tural oper­a­tions at Jordan Vineyard & Winery, told Olive Oil Times.

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Jordan Vineyard and Winery harvested ten tons of olives, down from sixteen last year.

Most Sonoma olive oil pro­duc­ers and Sonoma winer­ies that make extra vir­gin olive oil grow olive vari­eties that orig­i­nated in Italy, Spain, or France,” he added.

Jordan Vineyard & Winery earned a Silver Award for its medium-inten­sity blend. Young, who said the com­pany felt incred­i­bly proud and hon­ored to win the award, added that high-qual­ity blend­ing is the key to their suc­cess.

Though each olive vari­ety is har­vested and milled sep­a­rately, all com­po­nents are blended before bot­tling with the goal of cre­at­ing an extra vir­gin olive oil that is vibrant, ele­gant, and smooth – just like our wines,” he said.

Focus is placed on har­vest­ing olives at their peak ripeness and press­ing within just a few hours – to ensure the high­est qual­ity,” he added. Jordan’s olive trees are planted 15 by 15 feet (4.5 by 4.5 meters) apart, which has allowed each tree to develop a beau­ti­ful open cen­ter’ canopy and not shade out the lower branches.”

Bi- and tri­en­nial prun­ing, along with effi­cient water­ing, are two of the other keys to the company’s suc­cess, Young added.

Despite this suc­cess, Young said the dry weather faced by pro­duc­ers in Sonoma County resulted in a sig­nif­i­cantly lower har­vest, with the amount of olives picked falling from the usual 18 tons to just 10 tons.

Despite these chal­lenges, the entire team at Jordan Vineyard & Winery was pleased to win the Silver Award

It was a great recog­ni­tion of the hard work, ded­i­ca­tion, and pas­sion our team puts into cre­at­ing qual­ity and deli­cious olive oil that hon­ors Italy and Spain’s extra vir­gin olive oil-mak­ing tra­di­tions,” he said.

Receiving this award will only help build our rep­u­ta­tion and fur­ther estab­lish Jordan’s cred­i­bil­ity as not only a pro­ducer of time­less, European-style wines but also as a notable extra vir­gin olive oil pro­ducer,” Young con­cluded.


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