Dalmatian Couple Share an Award-Winning Oblica with The World

Martina Radovčić and Marko Murtić founded their olive grove eight years ago. Starting with an emphasis on local cultivars, the couple hopes to show the world a taste of Dalmatia.
Marko Murtić
Nov. 1, 2021
Nedjeljko Jusup

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The enter­pris­ing Croatian cou­ple Martina Radovčić and Marko Murtić were the first in Dalmatia to pick and process their olives this year.

Owner Mate Ivas opened the doors of his mill in Pakoštane on the after­noon of October 1.

I do not see the pur­pose of offer­ing tourists vari­eties that are not local.- Martina Radovčić and Marko Murtić, co-own­ers, NU

The olives were still green, but all healthy with­out any punc­tures or dam­age,” said Ivas, who also pro­vides trans­porta­tion ser­vices to the olive grow­ers.

Every evening dur­ing the six-day har­vest, he came to Radovčić’s and Murtić’s olive grove with his truck, picked up the boxes with the har­vested olives and processed them imme­di­ately.

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We har­vest by hand in nets, with­out any machine har­vesters, so the fruits in the mill look per­fect,” Radovčić said. They don’t have the dam­age that the fruits get if they are har­vested with machine har­vesters, falling to the ground from great heights and being dam­aged and oxi­dized.”

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The har­vest takes place in a cheer­ful atmos­phere as rel­a­tives and friends par­tic­i­pate along with the own­ers of the grove. They talk to each other, joke and even sing, but every­one indi­vid­u­ally wants to achieve the best pos­si­ble result – har­vest­ing as many olives as pos­si­ble.

In six days, we har­vested about 3.5 tons of fruit and got 420 liters of oil,” Murtić said. Solid for this year’s tur­bu­lent olive sea­son.

Climatological dis­as­ters dec­i­mated the olive crop along the entire Adriatic coast from Savudrija in Istria to Prevlaka in the extreme south of Dalmatia.

It was as if the cli­mate clock had been dis­turbed; warm weather came in the win­ter and freez­ing tem­per­a­tures in spring. During the cold front in early April, night­time tem­per­a­tures dropped to – 9 ºC, dam­ag­ing the buds in the val­leys and olive groves at lower alti­tudes.

The entire sum­mer also passed with­out rain. The dry heat des­ic­cated the soil and the olive tree canopies. Unfortunately, the heat arrived sud­denly, dur­ing the most del­i­cate phase of the veg­e­ta­tion – flow­er­ing and fer­til­iza­tion.

From the few fruits that made it through both the extreme cold and hot, many were keeled” and fell off. A local olive pest, known as a borer, also appeared in the groves.

As a result, the Croatian olive har­vest is esti­mated to be two-thirds lower than expected. There will be no har­vest at all in some olive groves.

Unlike many of their col­leagues, Radovčić and Murtić were spared from the worst of the cli­matic hard­ship.

Their olive grove is located between Vodice and Pirovac, along the Adriatic coast­line and about 80 meters above sea level on ter­raced ter­rain.

There was no sig­nif­i­cant dam­age from the cold front. The two farm­ers promptly imple­mented all nec­es­sary agrotech­ni­cal mea­sures, ulti­mately man­ag­ing to pro­tect the olives from drought, dis­ease, and pests.

The drought was strong, so we foliar-fed [pro­vid­ing water and nutri­ents to the tree through its leaves] the olives every 15 days or so,” Radovčić and Murtić said. We did not irri­gate… and over time they shed more and more ger­mi­nated fruits.”

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Murtić adds: We pro­tected the olive seedling by foliar spray­ing Oleafill with the addi­tion of Boron, and then with Bio-algen based on sea­weed.”

As usual, the two farm­ers car­ried out min­i­mal inter­ven­tions to pro­tect the trees from dis­eases and pests.

We only spray once against the olive moth,” he said. This year, there was no need to spray against the olive fly, the biggest pest, because it does not like high sum­mer tem­per­a­tures, and there were no rainy days in September when it attacks the fruits.”

When heavy rains fol­lowed in October, there were no more fruits in Radovčić’s and Murtić’s olive grove. They were har­vested and processed on time, and the oil is stored in stain­less steel con­tain­ers at an ideal tem­per­a­ture.

Olive grow­ing is another job for Murtić and me, but also a great pas­sion,” Radovčić said. He is an archi­tect in Zagreb, and I live and work in Split as a logis­tics project man­ager involved in ship­build­ing projects.”

She says that her love for Dalmatia played a part in decid­ing to start olive grow­ing.

We always knew that we would cre­ate some­thing together in Dalmatia,” Radovčić said. Eight years ago, the cou­ple bought 3.5 hectares of land planted with olive trees.

We have 160 trees aged 30 to 70 years old, all of which are in full bloom,” she said. The vast major­ity of the trees are Oblica, a native vari­ety mixed with a few pol­li­na­tors.

The buy­ers of our oil are mostly for­eign tourists,” Radovčić added. I do not see the pur­pose of offer­ing tourists vari­eties that are not local. Tourists have come here and will pay as much as they need, for a local prod­uct, for a local spe­cialty.”

Just as in Istria or Italy, I do not expect to be offered Dalmatian wine and Dalmatian oil, so we believe that in Dalmatia guests should be offered only orig­i­nal, indige­nous prod­ucts from this area,” Radovčić added.

Oblica is still the most rep­re­sented vari­ety in Dalmatian olive groves, with more than 2,000 years of cul­ti­va­tion in the region. However, local olive grow­ers have recently aban­doned or re-grafted it with Leccino, Pendolino, Coratina and other Italian or even Spanish vari­eties.

Oblica olives tol­er­ate cold, gusts of wind and drought well. The vari­ety is also less impacted by the nat­ural, alter­nate-bear­ing har­vest of many other olive vari­eties and is less sus­cep­ti­ble to pea­cock eye dis­ease.

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Oblica olives also thrive well on poorer and more shal­low soils such as in Radovčić’s and Murtić’s olive grove and sim­i­lar in the areas on the Dalmatian islands and coast.

Apart from Croatia, the Oblica olives are also grown in neigh­bor­ing Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia. The vari­ety also thrives in California, where it arrived with Croatian immi­grants. By 1908, Oblica olives had even made it to Japan, cross­ing the Pacific Ocean from California.

Radovčić and Murtić bought their olive grove in Vrstovica eight years ago. The land was the per­fect spot for them to rest and med­i­tate, but they were also enthu­si­as­tic about the olive trees.

They decided to work on a new ven­ture har­vest­ing Oblica olives. Using mod­ern tech­niques, they started to pro­duce bou­tique extra vir­gin olive oil.

They cre­ated a brand of olive oil sim­ply called NU, for which the cou­ple earned a Silver Award at the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Radovčić and Murtić said that they chose the name NU because it is short, mem­o­rable and ambigu­ous.

With the har­vest com­pleted and the oil safely stored away, the cou­ple plan to sub­mit their Oblica once again to the upcom­ing edi­tion of the NYIOOC.

We are expect­ing Gold,” Radovčić and Murtić said. To be among the best at the most pres­ti­gious world com­pe­ti­tion is our goal and great desire.”

Murtić added: Judging by the appear­ance of the fruit and the taste of the first oil, I think it will be real­ized.”

This pair stores their NU oil in stain­less steel bar­rels in con­trolled con­di­tions until they receive an order from their part­ners. Only then are is the oil bot­tled and sent for sale.

This way is more expen­sive and chal­leng­ing, but the cou­ple insists that is nec­es­sary.

The lifes­pan of our prod­uct on the shelf is short because we have trans­par­ent glass pack­ag­ing,” Radovčić said.

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Martina Radovčić

Unlike most oth­ers who keep the oil in dark bot­tles, their bot­tles clearly show its con­tents. The trans­par­ent glass bot­tles are also rel­a­tively small, sim­i­lar to those from old phar­ma­cies, which keep the taste and fresh smell intact for as long as pos­si­ble after open­ing.

The cou­ple likes the homage to the old phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal bot­tles because they believe that olive oil is a nat­ural rem­edy to many ill­nesses.

To help pro­tect their olive oil from the dam­age caused by heat and light, they do not allow their part­ners and dis­trib­u­tors to keep the oil in their ware­houses in uncon­trolled con­di­tions.

They also send their clients small quan­ti­ties that are sold within a month. This way, the olive oil retains its qual­ity for as long as pos­si­ble in the stain­less steel bar­rels​and reaches the cus­tomer in the short­est pos­si­ble time.

Radovčić and Murtić describe their prod­uct as bou­tique because it is avail­able in lim­ited quan­ti­ties. They pro­duce as many bot­tles as they can fill and do not expand sales accord­ing to demand.

Tourists are among their tar­get con­sumer base, so the oil is packed in smaller bot­tles – 250 mil­li­liters – allow­ing for­eign vis­i­tors to bring the oils back on flights.

Currently, the cou­ple sells three dif­fer­ent olive oil prod­ucts: an unfil­tered extra vir­gin olive oil, a fil­tered one and an extra vir­gin olive oil infused with chili.

We plan to expand the range of prod­ucts to two or three more types of oil,” Radovčić and Murtić said.

In the com­ing years, they intend to build a small pro­cess­ing cen­ter, a facil­ity within the olive grove where they will develop a series of fla­vored oils using the var­i­ous aro­matic plants that grow nat­u­rally along­side the olive trees.

Of course, we would like to build a pic­nic area and a tast­ing room next to the facil­ity so that we can receive guests to taste the oil in our beau­ti­ful olive grove, which is a real oasis for relax­ation and enjoy­ment of nature,” Radovčić and Murtić said.

In addi­tion, we plan to plant more olive trees because two-thirds of our land is still uncul­ti­vated,” they added. Apart from Oblica, we are also inter­ested in other Dalmatian vari­eties such as Levantinka or Drobnica.”

Eventually, Radovčić and Murtić would like to expand and begin export­ing their olive oils. First, how­ever, they believe the sec­tor needs gov­ern­ment sup­port to do so.

One could make a liv­ing from olive oil if the state would help place it out­side Croatia,” the cou­ple said. Due to the slightly higher price of the prod­uct, our mar­ket is in the rest of the world, not in Croatia.”

For now, we sell very well to tourists who come to Croatia, but every­one asks why this oil can­not be obtained in their home coun­tries,” they added. When you ask state insti­tu­tions for help, nei­ther embassies nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor the Croatian Chamber of Commerce have the right strat­egy and plan on how to best place Croatian del­i­catessen prod­ucts in the world.”

It’s sad,” the two con­cluded. Neighboring Italy has been doing this very well for decades for all its food indus­try pro­duc­ers.”


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