` At Dievole, Extra Virgin Without Boundaries - Olive Oil Times

At Dievole, Extra Virgin Without Boundaries

Aug. 24, 2015
Luciana Squadrilli

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The coun­try­side between Siena and Florence, in the heart of Tuscany, is one of the most enchant­ing areas of Italy: a breath-tak­ing, seam­less suc­ces­sion of vine­yards, ver­dant woods and huge olive groves inter­rupted by charm­ing cas­tles and pic­turesque ham­lets.

It’s no sur­prise it seduced blue bloods, artists and writ­ers over the cen­turies, lur­ing them to set­tle down among the gen­tle slopes and the ancient vil­lages and choose them as the scenery of their works of art.

These days the attrac­tion con­tin­ues, espe­cially for wealthy tourists and wine lovers. This is the so-called Chianti Classico, a name that defines one of Italy’s most renowned wine DOCGs (Denomination of Origin Controlled and Guaranteed), that owes its ori­gin to an edict issued by the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo III in 1716 to delimit the area.

Moreover, extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duced by the roughly 400,000 olive trees and 240 grow­ers here can proudly hold the Chianti Classico PDO label. It is how­ever con­sid­ered some­how a lesser son of this won­der­ful land and many olive groves lay aban­doned or have been replaced by more vines.

At the end of 2012, Alejandro Bulgheroni — a South American entre­pre­neur of Italian ori­gin involved in the oil and gas field in Argentina but also an owner of wine estates in Uruguay, Patagonia, Napa Valley and Bordeaux — bought the his­toric estate of Dievole.

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Bulgheroni decided not only to turn back to nat­ural farm­ing and local grape vari­eties, but to invest in extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­tion and olive groves recov­ery. To do so, he called two peo­ple he could rely on: the Tuscan wine­maker Alberto Antonini and the Sardinian olive oil pro­ducer Marco Scanu. Both had already worked at Bulgheroni’s estate in Uruguay, Bodega Garzón.

Alejandro Bulgheroni

We met Scanu in the lovely Dievole resort, made of lux­ury cot­tages, swim­ming pools and gar­dens sur­round­ing the old villa at the heart of the estate dat­ing back to 1090. He seemed to have well set­tled in Chianti Classico as he over­looks an ambi­tious project which could rede­fine the tra­di­tional Italian oil pro­duc­tion: an inno­v­a­tive mill, an olive oil acad­emy,” a sci­en­tific research pool and a lot more to come.

Starting their job at Dievole with the 2014 har­vest after one year of plan­ning was not an easy task for Scanu and his staff, which also includes the young pro­duc­tion man­ager Matteo Giusti: Tuscany was par­tic­u­larly affected by the unfor­tu­nate year and the project to pro­duce the Chianti Classico PDO and the Toscano PGI extra vir­gin olive oils could not be achieved.

Scanu found a bril­liant solu­tion though, trav­el­ing to Southern Italy, where olives were abun­dant, to buy the best ones before prices rose too much.

The great­est part of the olives processed at Dievole last year came from a huge olive grove in Basilicata, which they per­son­ally super­vise, and from Apulia: mostly Coratina olives — round and gen­tler the Basilicata ones, harder and with a stronger fla­vor the Apulian ones. They were processed together to cre­ate a won­der­ful and well-bal­anced Coratina sin­gle vari­ety extra vir­gin.

Dievole’s Coratina drew a lot of atten­tion and won a Gold Award at the 2015 New York International Olive Oil Competition. They also brought to Dievole Ogliarola, Leccino and Peranzana olives that, along with Coratina, were used to pro­duce the pleas­ant blend 100% Italiano,” a gen­tly pun­gent extra vir­gin with fresh notes of tomato, green and flo­ral fla­vors and a bal­samic bit­ter after­taste.

Olives had to travel for about 600 km, all the way up to Dievole, but this did not worry Scanu.

Marco Scanu

We were there often to check har­vest­ing and ship­ment pro­ce­dures,” he recalls. There was a con­stant con­tact between who was in the field and who stayed in Tuscany and the olives trav­eled and were stored at a steady tem­per­a­ture of 4°C to pre­vent fer­men­ta­tion. This year, we also mon­i­tored the olive groves and we are already start­ing to orga­nize the har­vest­ing.”

The long trans­porta­tion weighed on costs, but Dievole insisted on the project to pro­pose qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil made in Italy at an acces­si­ble price: the 500ml bot­tles cost around €1 to €15 in Italy, but in tins the price goes down to about €9/liter. Offering a good qual­ity, 100% Italian extra vir­gin at an afford­able price and in great quan­tity could be a real thorn in the side of the oil indus­try sell­ing bad oil, and help more peo­ple to get to know what is good olive oil,” Scanu said.

Having been in the olive oil mak­ing for 30 years, and hav­ing worked for a long time in the huge olive groves in Argentina and Uruguay, Scanu has no pre­con­cep­tion against inten­sive farm­ing or using olives from other regions, or even coun­tries, as long as qual­ity can be achieved. To do so, he points to inno­va­tion, research and a strong team­work.

We are lucky enough to man­age two har­vest­ing and milling processes in one year, between Italy and Uruguay,” he said. This means local staff can travel and attend each loca­tion, and we have the chance to exper­i­ment and learn twice in one year.”

To Scanu, research and inno­va­tion are key points, and this is why he con­vinced Bulgheroni to invest in hir­ing young tal­ents such as Giusti, who were about to fin­ish their job at a local devel­op­ment agency. They exper­i­mented on imme­di­ate fil­tra­tion and argon-con­di­tioned bot­tling, which is stead­ier than nitro­gen and does not affect the oil’s aroma. They adopted a pre-crush­ing” for the Coratina olives to smooth their strong char­ac­ter and processed the olives at an aver­age tem­per­a­ture of 18°C.

For the 2015 har­vest, the olive mill estab­lished in Pianella, not far from Dievole, will be joined by a new, exper­i­men­tal mill designed by Giorgio Mori at TEM, a Tuscan com­pany spe­cial­ized in inno­v­a­tive machines. And there are fur­ther plans of expand­ing, buy­ing or rent­ing olive groves in Tuscany and in other areas, and set­ting up an exper­i­men­tal inten­sive olive grove in Rapolano, near Siena, to plant new vari­eties and use fer­tir­ri­ga­tion (unit­ing a water sup­ply and min­eral nutri­tion to pro­vide a nutri­ent solu­tion to soil when water­ing) for mea­ger lands and steep grades.

We have to make up for lost time, but inno­va­tion should not have an end in itself,” Scanu said. We need to retrieve and uphold Italian com­pe­ten­cies, improve qual­ity and let it be acces­si­ble to a wider pub­lic.”

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