Native Varieties and Centenarian Trees: The Winning Formula for Olivian Groves

After a harvest full of twists and turns, the Peloponnese producer achieved award-winning quality by relying on traditional and modern practices.

Native varieties paired with modern techniques help Olivian Groves achieve award-winning results. (Photo: Olivian Groves)
By Costas Vasilopoulos
May. 13, 2024 13:21 UTC
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Native varieties paired with modern techniques help Olivian Groves achieve award-winning results. (Photo: Olivian Groves)

Combining tra­di­tional olive cul­ti­va­tion with a mod­ern social and envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity out­look has yielded award-win­ning results for the pro­duc­ers behind Olivian Groves.

Founded in 2019, the com­pany planted two tra­di­tional Greek vari­eties, Manaki and Koroneiki, in the fer­tile Peloponnese penin­sula in south­ern Greece.

We decided to invest in selected tra­di­tional orchards, where with proper inter­ven­tions, we have made our busi­ness eco­nom­i­cally, envi­ron­men­tally and socially sus­tain­able.- Mary Savvas, gen­eral man­ager, Olivian Groves

From the out­set, pro­duc­ers have embraced the region’s long his­tory of olive cul­ti­va­tion and the unique ter­roir pro­vided by the moun­tain­ous land­scape.

While the rugged ter­rain increases labor costs tremen­dously, the com­pany believes this is com­pen­sated by the unique organolep­tic char­ac­ter­is­tics pro­vided to its extra vir­gin olive oils by the cen­te­nar­ian trees, land­scape and cli­mate.

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Olive tree cul­ti­va­tion in Greece dates back thou­sands of years and has been passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, fol­low­ing the same pro­ce­dures,” said Mary Savvas, Olivian Groves’ gen­eral man­ager.

Manual work was pre­dom­i­nantly due to the moun­tain­ous nature of the groves,” she added. But qual­ity-wise, this is the big advan­tage of the Greek olive groves. Most are tra­di­tional, with mature trees, some­times hun­dreds of years old. They rep­re­sent the vast major­ity – more than 80 per­cent – of the trees that pro­duce extra vir­gin olive oil.”

Olivian Groves cul­ti­vates around 40,000 olive trees on two farms in Argolida and Messenia, hav­ing intro­duced mod­ern cul­ti­vat­ing meth­ods and tech­niques fine-tuned to pro­mote qual­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity.

Looking to the future, we decided to invest in selected tra­di­tional orchards, where with proper inter­ven­tions, we have made our busi­ness eco­nom­i­cally, envi­ron­men­tally and socially sus­tain­able,” Savvas said. In this way, we can pro­vide the best qual­ity olive oil and derive other ben­e­fits from our activ­i­ties.”

Olivian Groves pro­duces its Hermione brand in Argolida, near Hermione, one of the old­est set­tle­ments in Greece, with a his­tory dat­ing back to the fourth or fifth cen­tury BCE.

Hermione was a woman of unique beauty, the daugh­ter of Menelaus, King of Sparta, and his wife, Helen of Troy,” Savvas said. In this myth­i­cal land, we cul­ti­vate the rel­a­tively rare but with spe­cial char­ac­ter­is­tics Manaki vari­ety.”

The medium-inten­sity Manaki mono­va­ri­etal earned a Silver Award at the 2024 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

We are very proud to receive the award,” Savvas said. It is the sec­ond time we par­tic­i­pated, but it is the first time we pre­sented our pre­mium Hermione sin­gle estate extra vir­gin olive oil, the crown of our brand port­fo­lio.”

The award gives us the strength to con­tinue on our road to qual­ity and excel­lence, set­ting the bar even higher for the future,” she added.

The company’s sec­ond olive farm is also steeped in Ancient Greek his­tory. It is located on the west­ern tip of the Peloponnese penin­sula close to Messene, a vast and ancient city whose remains are as exten­sive as those of Ancient Olympia.

Here, Olivian Groves’ Koroneiki trees yield its Hrysos Protected Designation of Origin-cer­ti­fied extra vir­gin olive oil.

Hrysos is a gourmet olive oil with a mild to medium spicy after­taste along with antiox­i­dant and anti-inflam­ma­tory prop­er­ties,” Savvas said.

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Savvas views climate change as the most significant challenge facing Greece’s centenarian olive groves. (Photo: Olivian Groves)

In keep­ing with its vision of pro­duc­ing award-win­ning olive oil sus­tain­ably, Olivian Groves has metic­u­lously inte­grated its oper­a­tions into the sur­round­ing envi­ron­ment, ensur­ing they ben­e­fit the land and its peo­ple.

We sup­port the local com­mu­nity, pro­vide jobs for the locals, pre­vent tra­di­tional orchards from being aban­doned and for­est fires from spread­ing, and we sup­port the envi­ron­ment by hav­ing a neg­a­tive car­bon foot­print,” Savvas said.

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The com­pany takes care of the trees year-round, know­ing that a well-main­tained grove mit­i­gates the impacts of wild­fires.

Olive trees that are prop­erly pruned cre­ate a nat­ural bar­rier to fire because they are leafy plants that retain humid­ity,” she said. Fire trucks can directly pump water from the water tanks we have con­structed in our groves for irri­ga­tion pur­poses.”

Precision agri­cul­ture tech­niques have also been deployed, allow­ing the com­pany to sig­nif­i­cantly reduce the water required to irri­gate its trees.

Meteorological data col­lec­tion sys­tems installed in our groves pro­vide us with data regard­ing evap­o­tran­spi­ra­tion and the amount of rain­fall,” Savvas said. This enables us to use the least amount of water pos­si­ble to irri­gate the trees. As a result, last year, the amount of water pumped was reduced by approx­i­mately 80 mil­lion liters.”

Olivian Groves also par­tic­i­pates in pilot pro­grams to track olive pests, such as the olive fruit fly, by col­lect­ing and ana­lyz­ing data from mon­i­tor­ing traps to imple­ment appro­pri­ate pest con­trol mea­sures.

The Peloponnesian pro­ducer has also gone the extra mile to accom­mo­date the work­ers who har­vest the olives each year, build­ing an apart­ment com­plex in the company’s groves.

We sup­port the needs of our employ­ees and their well-being,” Savvas said. A recent exam­ple of this is the con­struc­tion of new mod­ern hous­ing for our agri­cul­tural work­ers, pro­vid­ing them with liv­ing con­di­tions that make us proud.”

During the 2023/24 crop year, Olivian Groves nav­i­gated the same chal­lenges that have beset the global olive oil indus­try, from adverse weather to ris­ing pro­duc­tion costs and the scarcity of labor­ers.

2023 was a dif­fi­cult year,” Savvas con­firmed. Our pro­duc­tion vol­ume was reduced, but for­tu­nately, with­out harm­ing qual­ity.”

She added that the lack of work­ers was one of the biggest prob­lems with Greece’s mech­a­nism for sourc­ing labor­ers from third coun­tries, such as Egypt, which pro­vided a par­tial solu­tion.

However, bureau­cratic iner­tia in the gov­ern­ment agen­cies com­pli­cates the process and endan­gers olive cul­ti­va­tion,” Savvas said.

While the ele­vated pro­duc­tion costs also posed a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge to the com­pany, Savvas noted that Olivian Groves’ most cru­cial con­cern is cli­mate change, which has impacted almost every har­vest in recent years.

Potentially, the most impor­tant issue is the huge impact of cli­mate change,” she said. The last few years have seen warm win­ters, drought and severe weather phe­nom­ena such as floods and hail.”

Consequently, we see the out­break of dis­eases that cre­ate seri­ous prob­lems for the olive trees,” Savvas added. Unfortunately, there are few and costly reme­dies that the pro­ducer can uti­lize to pro­tect the crop.”

Unless the lead­ers of all [olive oil-pro­duc­ing] coun­tries imple­ment mean­ing­ful mea­sures, the future of our olive groves seems very bleak,” she con­tin­ued.

As an export-ori­ented olive oil pro­ducer, Olivian Groves relies on qual­ity to coun­ter­bal­ance any fluc­tu­a­tions in demand caused by unprece­dent­edly high global olive oil prices.

Savvas said that the rise in prices and the uncer­tainty asso­ci­ated with them have made it much harder to pen­e­trate new mar­kets and make new deals.

Our weapons to over­come these obsta­cles are our high-qual­ity stan­dards,” she added. Once con­sumers get to know our prod­ucts, they will appre­ci­ate that we fol­low a bal­anced pric­ing pol­icy that matches the high value of our brands by absorb­ing the sharp fluc­tu­a­tions in mar­ket prices.”

But, most impor­tantly, they will dis­cover a dif­fer­ent taste expe­ri­ence with our pre­mium olive oil,” Savvas con­cluded.


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