At Hacienda Guzman, Promoting Olive Culture by Celebrating its Diversity

Juan Ramón Guillén began bringing back saplings of different varieties of olive trees from his travels. Now, his 'Olivotheque' is among the largest collections of olive cultivars in the world.

Ana Sanchez
Sep. 28, 2017
By Pablo Esparza
Ana Sanchez

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Walking along the lines of olive trees of the Olivotheque at the Hacienda Guzmán, one can travel around the olive oil world with­out mov­ing from this estate in Seville.

This sort of botan­i­cal gar­den with 150 vari­eties of olive trees from 13 coun­tries is a world map of the diver­sity of the Olea Europea.

Some 30 years ago, Juan Ramón Guillén, a long-time olive oil pro­ducer and busi­ness­man, began bring­ing back saplings of dif­fer­ent vari­eties of olive trees from his trav­els.

Now, his col­lec­tion is among the largest col­lec­tions of cul­ti­vars of olive trees in the world.

It is one of the main projects of the Juan Ramón Foundation, an orga­ni­za­tion intended to pro­mote olive oil cul­ture: what started out of pas­sion and plea­sure took then a new sci­en­tific and edu­ca­tional turn.

We meet Ana Sánchez, gen­eral coor­di­na­tor of the foun­da­tion, at the entrance of Haciencia Guzmán.

This is a liv­ing olive trees museum. Our aim is to study and ana­lyze the prop­er­ties of each cul­ti­var. Every har­vest, every year, we ana­lyze the per­for­mance and the prop­er­ties of every vari­ety: their level of polyphe­nols, their level of antiox­i­dants…” she told Olive Oil Times.

This six­teenth-cen­tury estate just 15 km away from Seville was once was man­aged by Hernando Colombus, the son of Christopher Colombus, and played a rel­e­vant role in the first exports of olive oil to the Americas.


It still is a place devoted to olive oil: from the recently restored mill to the mod­ern facil­i­ties where Hacienda Guzmán extra vir­gin olive oil (a com­mer­cial project that runs in par­al­lel to the foun­da­tion) is pro­duced.

The Olivotheque — an orchard-like olive tree arbore­tum — lies in front of the white and red Andalusian style man­sion.

A vis­i­tor can observe the dif­fer­ent shapes and col­ors of the leaves and com­pare the bunches of tiny Arbequinas from Catalonia with the egg-sized Italian Uovo di Pichone olives, the Portuguese Cobrancosa, the Syrian Chami or the Turkish Kan Celebi.

Some of these cul­ti­vars — such as the Greek Koroneikis or the Nabali from Israel — are exalted for their oil in their coun­tries of ori­gin.

Others, like the big Gordal olives are mainly table olives with very lit­tle oil inter­est. Some are sim­ply orna­men­tal, as the Zarza, a vari­ety whose brain-shaped fruits seem to suf­fer some kind of mal­for­ma­tion.

This is what inter­ests us: to see how each cul­ti­var reacts to this soil, to this region, and to this cli­mate. Because we may be sur­prised and there may be a vari­ety from a dif­fer­ent coun­try which works very well here,” Sánchez pointed out.

Olives at the Olivotheque are hand­picked and brought to the mill with the rest of the pro­duc­tion of the estate.

A small amount of oil is pro­duced from them for research pur­poses, but it is not for sale. These trees — being pieces of a museum” — are also treated dif­fer­ently from those in the rest of the estate.

They are not trimmed. The objec­tive is that this is a botan­i­cal gar­den and to see how they react,” Sánchez explained.

The World Catalogue of Olive vari­eties, pub­lished by the International Olive Council — an inter­gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion of most olive oil pro­duc­ing coun­tries — fea­tures 139 olive cul­ti­vars. Beyond those basic” ones, how­ever, there are hun­dreds more.

Gathering them all in one sin­gle place seems is an ambi­tious mis­sion.

In Spain alone, there are more than 250 cul­ti­vars, even though just 20 of them are widely spread and over 60 per­cent of the country’s olive oil pro­duc­tion comes from just a few: Picual, Arbequina, Cornicabra, Hojiblanca, Empeltre, Picudo.

Our research began in 2011 and 2012, so we are start­ing to see the results now,” Sánchez said.

We’ve obtained good results espe­cially with the Lechín vari­ety, which is a cul­ti­var that we don’t grow at the estate, but we see has very pos­i­tive prop­er­ties. Also the Arbosana, which is a vari­ety that has a very nice fla­vor and gives a very scented oil. And the Frantoio as well. It’s an Italian cul­ti­var which is respond­ing very well to this land,” she added.

Educating the pub­lic and spread­ing the rich­ness of the olive oil cul­ture is also one of the objec­tives of the foun­da­tion and the Olivotheque.

Schoolchildren come here to learn about this diver­sity and how olive oil is pro­duced, as well as about its ben­e­fits for their health.

They start with a small tast­ing where they com­pare for instance Arbequina oil with Picual oil, which are very dif­fer­ent. Then they choose which one they like the most and they have a healthy break­fast. Here in Spain we have the habit of con­sum­ing olive oil, but very often we are not aware of its ben­e­fits,” Sánchez remarked.

Beyond the Olivotheque and its edu­ca­tional projects, the Juan Ramón Guillén Foundation is pro­mot­ing the Andalusian bid to reg­is­ter its olive land­scape as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This is a long-term project that started in 2012 and, if suc­cess­ful, may reach to an end in the sum­mer of 2020.

This is some­thing intan­gi­ble. It encom­passes five provinces in Southern Spain: Córdoba, Granada, Jaén, Málaga and Sevilla,” Sánchez explains.

We are talk­ing about the olive groves here, but also about the pro­fes­sions that are linked to them, tra­di­tions, con­struc­tion, archi­tec­ture, gas­tron­omy… every­thing that sur­rounds the sec­tor. So, in the end, it would end up being a way to ensure that these tra­di­tions are not lost. That this value is not lost.”

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