Innovation Yields World-Class EVOO from Restored Groves of Former Monastery

Zero waste, healthy soil, regenerative agriculture and award-winning olive oil production are the goals of Cultura Viva.

(Photo: Cultura Viva)
By Paolo DeAndreis
Jun. 13, 2023 13:45 UTC
(Photo: Cultura Viva)

In their third year of pro­fes­sional olive oil pro­duc­tion, the hus­band and wife team behind Cultura Viva are becom­ing accus­tomed to award-win­ning fin­ishes to the sea­son.

Laurence Deprez-Zenezini and Stefano Zenezini recently earned their sec­ond-con­sec­u­tive Gold Award at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition for the Le Clarisse brand.

Sustainable, envi­ron­men­tally friendly per­ma­nent agri­cul­ture means study­ing how to work with nature and its cycles and the avail­able resources.- Laurence Deprez-Zenezini, co-owner, Cultura Viva

The cou­ple attrib­uted their suc­cess to inno­va­tion and their goal of sus­tain­able, high-qual­ity olive oil pro­duc­tion. Their approach proved even more cru­cial than their olive grow­ing expe­ri­ence.

It is true. We do not have gen­er­a­tions of fam­ily his­tory in olive oil pro­duc­tion to guide us through,” Deprez-Zenezini and Zenezini told Olive Oil Times. We tend to believe that the absence of such her­itage helped us embrace mod­ern farm­ing tech­niques and inno­v­a­tive solu­tions, both in the groves and the mill.”

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The company’s co-founders have Belgian and Italian roots and spent decades in the United States, where they live part of the year with their chil­dren. They recently com­pleted the Olive Oil Times Education Lab’s som­me­lier course in New York.


Stefano Zenezini at the Olive Oil Times Education Lab Sommelier Program

Le Clarisse is mainly sold in the United States and is an organic blend of Moraiolo, Frantoio and Leccino olives. It is named after a for­mer monastery that hosts the trees and used to belong to the epony­mous order of Catholic nuns.

The evoca­tive name inspired the bot­tles’ award-win­ning logo designed by the couple’s daugh­ter, Louise-Audrey. Ours is a truly fam­ily-run com­pany, as you can see,” Deprez-Zenezini said.

The monastery is located in Collazzone, among the Martani Hills, a well-known wine and olive pro­duc­tion area in the heart of Umbria.

Today, the for­mer monastery and the 40 olive trees that cir­cle it is the home of our com­pany Cultura Viva, together with the more than 600 olive trees spread over the hills,” Deprez-Zenezini said.


Laurence Deprez-Zenezini

The monastery was built in the 13th Century CE, but its olive grove was scarcely main­tained in recent decades. Therefore, it under­went rel­e­vant prun­ing and recov­ery oper­a­tions.

When we began work­ing on it, it had been neglected for a long time,” Deprez-Zenezini said. Unsurprisingly, many of those trees are cen­turies old.”

To those groves, we just added 124 new trees of the Don Carlo cul­ti­var, which will carry new fla­vors, such as toma­toes,” she added. So we can already start plan­ning new blends.”

The Don Carlo trees are two years old and cov­ered in white flow­ers. The cur­rent sea­son seems to be pro­ceed­ing very well,” Deprez-Zenezini said.

We are not look­ing to man­age thou­sands of olive trees,” she added. Since the begin­ning, our idea was to only take care of those we could care for by our­selves; that is very impor­tant for us.”

A key aspect of Cultura Viva’s organic farm­ing is sus­tain­abil­ity and regen­er­a­tive agri­cul­ture, through which they work to pre­serve nat­ural resources and restore soil health.

A sus­tain­able, envi­ron­men­tally-friendly per­ma­nent agri­cul­ture means study­ing how to work with nature and its cycles and the avail­able resources,” Deprez-Zenezini said.


For exam­ple, when you mow the grass, you leave it there, on the spot, to give nutri­ents back to the soil, its own resources,” she added. It means to mow the grass when the time is right, as it can affect soil mois­ture and fer­til­ity.”

According to the Zenezinis, all olive oil oper­a­tions in Cultura Viva have been imag­ined and planned fol­low­ing these prin­ci­ples.

Think of the water resource man­age­ment. In our orchard, we built swells that fol­low the hill’s gra­di­ent,” Deprez-Zenezini said. Through them, rain­wa­ter reaches areas where a lot of chipped wood and organic mate­r­ial receive the water and store it, just like a sponge.”

Such infra­struc­ture allows for pro­gres­sive water infil­tra­tion into the soil,” she added. It is an exper­i­ment that we wanted to try given the need to adapt to drought and the effects of cli­mate change.”

All our efforts in the last three years have been focused on nur­tur­ing and restor­ing the soil in the orchards,” Zenezini said. An exam­ple of this is the field beans we grow, and we have just mowed to nour­ish the soil.”

We focus on qual­ity, not quan­tity,” the cou­ple noted. But we are also aware that the health­ier the trees will be, the more prob­a­ble it is for their olive oil yield to grow as well.”

A cru­cial aspect of extra vir­gin olive oil qual­ity is deter­mined by the olive milling oper­a­tions, which a third party does. Zenezini said the cou­ple took their time and care­fully selected the best mill for their pur­poses.


Cultura Viva plans to promote olive oil culture in the U.S.

It is a local part­ner­ship, as we only work with peo­ple of the local com­mu­nity,” he said. It is an excep­tional mill, highly inno­v­a­tive.”

Among the many inter­est­ing par­tic­u­lars of the mill is its patented pro­pri­etary tech­nol­ogy for crush­ing the olives,” Zenezini added. It also has an ultra­sound appa­ra­tus between the crush­ing and malax­ing processes which short­ens the knead­ing times, keep­ing oxi­da­tion at bay, while enhanc­ing olive oil’s fla­vors and polyphe­nols.”

Cultura Viva also chose the mill because it does not use water in the milling process and has a zero-waste pol­icy. It does not pro­duce any waste, as all remains from the olive pro­cess­ing oper­a­tions go to a biodi­gester,” he said. Everything is recy­cled.”

While the com­pany focuses on sus­tain­able farm­ing, Cultura Viva’s activ­i­ties are not lim­ited to pro­duc­tion.

With this project, we aimed at nur­tur­ing a healthy liv­ing approach, made of liv­ing in nature, eat­ing qual­ity sus­tain­able organic food and giv­ing back to nature,” Deprez-Zenezini said.

Not only agri­cul­ture but also pro­duc­ing cul­ture out of our recov­ery and restora­tion activ­i­ties in such a beau­ti­ful loca­tion,” she added, hint­ing at the incom­ing launch of spe­cial cul­tural ini­tia­tives by Cultura Viva, both in Italy and the United States.

Think of events such as pub­lic olive oil tast­ings to teach the dif­fer­ences among olive oils, healthy cui­sine courses, yoga classes and more on how to stay healthy,” Deprez-Zenezini con­cluded.

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