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.