`New Zealand’s Central Otago

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New Zealand’s Central Otago

Feb. 6, 2012
By Angela Christensen

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While the hot, dry sum­mers and lit­tle rain­fall of New Zealand’s Cen­tral Otago province are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a Mediter­ranean cli­mate capa­ble of pro­duc­ing some of the best olive oils in the world, the long, bru­tally cold win­ters make olive grow­ing a bit more chal­leng­ing. Tucked amongst the jagged moun­tains and frigid river canyons once carved by ancient glac­i­ers, a num­ber of olive groves pro­duce sur­pris­ingly superb oil. Cen­tral Otago has long been syn­ony­mous with fine wines but olives are a new under­tak­ing and have only been estab­lished in the region for fif­teen years.

The early onset of win­ter, and the frosty con­di­tions it brings, leaves young trees vul­ner­a­ble and can dam­age the olives if they are not har­vested in time. There­fore, the olives are picked early when they are still green and unripe. Depend­ing on Mother Nature, har­vest­ing usu­ally occurs any­where between May and late July before win­ter has a chance to take hold. When the weather does not coop­er­ate, a lot of fruit can be lost. In spring, the sun’s rays are slow to warm the soil delay­ing the growth and flow­er­ing of the trees. The early arrival of sum­mer is much antic­i­pated so that flow­er­ing can com­mence and the fruit can set. Because the weather is so uncer­tain from year to year, grow­ers plant mul­ti­ple vari­eties to help ensure a good har­vest.

One bonus to the cold win­ters is the inabil­ity for New Zealand’s most seri­ous olive pest, pea­cock spot, to take hold. The fun­gus, present in many of New Zealand’s other olive grow­ing regions, com­pletely defo­li­ates the trees. Because pests and dis­eases can­not over­win­ter in the cold cli­mate, the need for pes­ti­cides or fungi­cides is absent.

Olive oils from Cen­tral Otago have a green­ish tinge to them, which is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the more unripe state of the olives when they are picked. The olive oils of Cen­tral Otago have strong flavours and dis­tinct pep­pery fin­ishes. The cli­mate and free drain­ing soil of the region pro­duce superb oils and grow­ers such as Pigeon Rock, Cairn­muir Olives and Poverty Gully have wowed the judges year after year at the New Zealand Extra Vir­gin Olive Oil Awards.

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