Claudia Pompilj and her son Simone at the monumental Olivo di Macciano (Photo by Franco Prevignano)

When I talked to Francesco Le Donne about his suc­cess at the NYIOOC, I dis­cov­ered that he started to pro­duce Villa Pontina after years of doing some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent that seemed to take him else­where. After he grad­u­ated in finance at Bocconi University, he worked and trav­eled the world for a few years, tak­ing advan­tage of nau­ti­cal knowl­edge that allowed him to cruise the Caribbean.

If at 46 you decide that what you did for twenty years, and seemed to be an estab­lished pat­tern, is not for you any­more, it’s like a rein­car­na­tion.- Fabio Giurgola, Olieria

“After months away, I came back to Sonnino to spend a period with my fam­ily until Christmas,” he recalled. “I stayed in the house that my grand­fa­ther built next to the olive grove, and since it was har­vest time I helped pick olives. This made me remem­ber when I was a child and I used to do it with my grand­mother,” he added, describ­ing how, in the past, men did the hard­est work like prun­ing, and women har­vested, often tak­ing chil­dren with them. “Then, I brought the olives to the mill with my uncle Lucio Pontecorvi, and from that moment I stayed,” said Le Donne, who from that moment started study­ing every­thing from farm­ing sys­tems to tast­ing.

Francesco Le Donne and Lucio Pontecorvi at Villa Pontina

Now Villa Pontina pro­duces an excel­lent extra vir­gin olive oil from trees of the Itrana vari­ety grown by the sea. A recent con­ver­sion to bio­dy­namic meth­ods showed great results with the last pro­duc­tion, that we had the oppor­tu­nity to taste early this sea­son.

Listening to the sto­ries of those who have joined the grow­ing ranks of high-​quality pro­duc­ers, I real­ized that achieve­ment of their objec­tives often cor­re­sponds to a self-​realization. The ‘extra vir­gin peace of mind’ is par­tic­u­larly notice­able in those who changed their lives with a per­sonal rev­e­la­tion that found its opti­mum expres­sion in the olive grove.

Something sim­i­lar hap­pened to a guy I met when he worked as an assis­tant to a mem­ber of the European Parliament in Brussels. Then, he was employed in the office of a mem­ber of the Italian gov­ern­ment, and finally got a posi­tion as an offi­cial in the Minister of Agriculture. Giovanni Andrea Panebianco was at the peak of a bril­liant career in insti­tu­tions which most peo­ple only dream about when one day he took off his suit and tie and left every­thing behind. “Two years ago, I woke up and I said to myself: ‘I’m not made for this,’” he revealed.

Self portrait by Giovanni Andrea Panebianco at La Collina

“I acquired a farm that belonged to my mother and my aunt and I moved to Tuscany. I went from a life spent in the muf­fled cor­ri­dors of power to some­thing of my own com­pletely dif­fer­ent.” So, at La Collina, in Bucine, between Arezzo and Siena, Panebianco man­ages the prop­erty and its agri­cul­tural activ­i­ties, espe­cially those in the olive grove.

“Now I work much more, but I don’t think of this as a job because it is some­thing that I love,” said Panebianco, who obtains a small pro­duc­tion of very good extra vir­gin olive oil from fifty plants of Frantoio, Moraiolo and Leccino. “My fam­ily has always made oil and I am just con­tin­u­ing their activ­ity pay­ing atten­tion to qual­ity,” he observed, men­tion­ing his ambi­tion to extend the plan­ta­tion.

“Many peo­ple think I was brave to leave the city and my pre­vi­ous activ­i­ties, but I’m feel­ing priv­i­leged rather than brave,” said the for­mer offi­cial with a pas­sion for cycling. In his spare time, he’s made adven­tur­ous jour­neys in Ireland, Mongolia and the Himalayas, where his pas­sion for nature began. “In the coun­try, you spend much time by your­self, and this scares those who can­not stand being alone,” Panebianco observed. “Being able to enjoy soli­tude when you want is a fur­ther advan­tage of this activ­ity. And in con­trast to the urban con­text, where you live very close to other peo­ple, here my neigh­bor lives one mile away. Between us, there is my olive grove.”

Just three years ago, a few months before the intro­duc­tion of Oro of Giano, which means Gold of Janus, Claudia Pompilj was an expert in mar­ket­ing who said he worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. “I have to say that my per­sonal story with extra vir­gin olive oil began thanks to my father Martino, who was a lawyer but also man­aged the farm which I run today,” she said, point­ing out that the spark of change which drove her back to her roots, after years work­ing in another sec­tor, hap­pened a cou­ple of years ago dur­ing an inspir­ing din­ner at La Trattoria di Oscar, in Bevagna.

Claudia Pompilj and his son Simone during their first harvest (Photo by Franco Prevignano)

“I had just com­pleted my very first har­vest, when the chef, Filippo Artioli, made me taste the oil of a superb pro­ducer from Umbria, Decimi. I was enthralled with the pos­si­bil­ity of cre­at­ing excel­lence, and I thought to myself: ‘Maybe one day I’ll also make a great extra vir­gin olive oil.”

The fol­low­ing sea­son she jumped in and, rely­ing on her pro­fes­sional back­ground, she devel­oped the com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­egy for her new prod­uct from the 160-​hectar (395-​acre) farm in Giano dell’Umbria. Arable land and for­est flank 10 hectares (25 acres) of native olive vari­eties, includ­ing Frantoio, Leccino, Moraiolo and Sanfelice, used to pro­duce the PDO Umbria Colli Martani, and oth­ers such as a rare Tendellone.

“Since we pre­vi­ously sold the olive grove prod­ucts whole­sale, I wanted to make a qual­i­ta­tive leap start­ing from EVOO,” Pompilj explained. “I began from what I knew best, that is the image cre­ation, and I took the next steps humbly and eager to learn.” In the com­pany name, the “gold” comes from the coun­try prod­ucts used in the past like a cur­rency, while Giano is not only the place but also the Italian trans­la­tion of Janus, the two-​faced Greek god of begin­nings and tran­si­tions, door­ways between the past and the future. Through this con­cept, she rec­og­nized her­self and her father, whose pro­files now com­pose the brand. “My almost 9‑year-​old son Simone already col­lab­o­rates with me, explain­ing to cus­tomers the fea­tures of our oils and how to taste them,” she noted.

“I usu­ally don’t like to expose myself, but I’ve put my all into this new life plan. In my pre­vi­ous job I worked a lot, and that’s what I do now, but in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent way,” she con­cluded while we were tast­ing the exquis­ite Basilio, named after her uncle who was a Cardinal, evoked by a vivid red label.

A story of a life changed through EVOO also hap­pened in Bologna. Olieria is an olive oil store recently opened by Fabio Giurgola, a for­mer sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive at a large phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal firm. “It was a steady and well-​paid job with many ben­e­fits, but it was not exactly what I woke up happy for in the morn­ing,” he con­sid­ered, adding that, dur­ing a par­tic­u­lar moment for the com­pany, he took his chance and left it. “I was reborn an olive oil shop owner and taster,” he con­tin­ued, smil­ing. “This is the best way to describe my path because if at 46 you decide that what you did for twenty years, and seemed to be an estab­lished pat­tern, is not for you any­more, it’s like a rein­car­na­tion.”

This change also involved his wife and two daugh­ters. “Paradoxically, I had a lot of free time before, but the dif­fer­ence is that, while now I work much more, I am much hap­pier.” Giurgola told me. “In the morn­ing it is a plea­sure to wake up and go to take care of my extra vir­gin olive oils and cus­tomers.”

Fabio Giurgola at Olieria

Maybe it hap­pened because he was born in Salento and olive oil is a genetic ques­tion, he, amused, describ­ing how in Puglia EVOO aro­mas and tastes are an inte­gral part of life. “Moreover, my wife is an agron­o­mist and when I decided to open a shop, focus­ing on some­thing noble, pre­cious and pure, it was nat­ural to think about extra vir­gin olive oil,” he said.

“I have great feed­back and grat­i­fi­ca­tion from those who had the oppor­tu­nity to know and taste the extra vir­gin olive oils I offer,” said Giurgola. “People are increas­ingly curi­ous and want to try new expe­ri­ences with the myr­iad of sen­sory char­ac­ter­is­tics of extra vir­gin olive oils, which are open­ing new gas­tro­nomic hori­zons.”



Comments

More articles on: ,