Photos by Pablo Esparza for Olive Oil Times

Franc Morgan’s farm is steps away from his family’s house in Grintovec, a small vil­lage with a pop­u­la­tion of around 80 in Slovenian Istria.

I thought that with lit­tle work we could plant olive trees. Then we real­ized that it was not a lit­tle work but a lot of work.- Franc Morgan

His dog Collie — a black and white bor­der col­lier — fol­lows him while he walks down the unpaved path lead­ing to the olive grove, planted in ter­races that make the slope of the hill like a huge stair­way.

“I started from noth­ing, from zero. Just from scratch. Thirty years ago we planted the first 200 olive trees. Then 200 more… And now I believe we have around 1,000 trees”, Morgan tells Olive Oil Times.


 

Morgan’s fam­ily had always pro­duced oil for self-con­sump­tion, like many oth­ers on the coast of Slovenia, the only region of the European coun­try where the cli­mate allows olive trees farm­ing. However, after his father died, Franc started think­ing about what to do with his land in order to keep it pro­duc­tive.

“I thought that with lit­tle work we could plant olive trees. Then we real­ized that it was not a lit­tle work but a lot of work,” he laughs.

Going organic was part of Morgan’s plans from the begin­ning and he became one of the first organic olive oil pro­duc­ers of the coun­try.

“Nowadays it’s easy grow­ing organic, but 15 or 20 years ago there was not a sin­gle reg­is­tered prod­uct in Slovenia, let’s say, to treat the olive fly,” he says.

When asked how it is like pro­duc­ing organic olive oil in Slovenia, Morgan’s answer is straight­for­ward. “It’s as if grow­ing organic was the nat­ural path. We just con­tinue doing things like it’s always been done”, Morgan says.

“We have very good land to pro­duce organic oil. Because as you can see, around us there are only forests. There is no traf­fic, there are no fac­to­ries harm­ing our olive trees,” he adds.

Slovenia has an annual olive oil pro­duc­tion of around 400 tons, accord­ing to the International Olive Council, far from neigh­bor­ing Croatia, with 4,000 tons, Italy, with more than 185,000 and Spain with 1.6 mil­lion.

The view from the mid­dle of the grove offers a panorama of a quin­tes­sen­tial Slovenian Istrian land­scape: a deep val­ley sur­rounded by hills where forests, vines and olive groves coex­ist.

It’s as if every hill had to be crowned by its own vil­lage. Smarje, on the left side, Grintovec, on the right, and Padna, with its sub­tle sky­line and Venetian-like bell tower, on the other side of the dale.

With a pro­duc­tion of around 1,500 liters per year, the qual­ity of Morgan’s organic oil is widely acknowl­edged. In 2018, the Morgans won a Gold Award for their organic medium blend at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

He sells 80 per­cent of the oil locally, export­ing the rest, mainly to Germany, Austria and Italy.

Franc Morgan

“We’ve had cus­tomers for 20 years and I’m happy it stays this way. I really value the trust of our clients,” he says.

“Buyers from places like Hong Kong have shown inter­est in our oil and have asked me to send them a ship­ping con­tainer. But all our annual pro­duc­tion fits in a sin­gle con­tainer,” he jokes.

On some ter­races there are three rows of trees, oth­ers are just 4 meters wide and have room enough for just one line of trees. Some of them are recently planted. Others are around 30 years old.

Seventy per­cent of Morgan’s olive trees are Istrian Belica, or Istrian White, the most com­mon cul­ti­var in this part of the Adriatic coast. The rest of the farm con­sists of a mix of Leccino, Maurino and Buga vari­eties.

Being in the extreme north strip of the Adriatic, frost is a con­stant threat for olive trees in this region, Morgan says, as he points to some trees affected by last year’s low tem­per­a­tures, which reached ‑8°C below zero (17.6°F).

“We have 1,000 trees, but I think that’s enough for the moment,” he tells OOT.

His is a fam­ily busi­ness run by him­self, his wife and their two daugh­ters. But, as often hap­pens among Slovenian olive oil pro­duc­ers, all have other jobs apart from the oil pro­duc­tion.
“Every day, when we chat at home we talk about oil, olives… That’s how we live. This is our life and I am happy that it is this way,” Morgan says.

“When you’ve spent 25 or 30 years with the olive trees you are like an olive tree inside. I know all my trees by heart. Where there is one and the other… They absorb you but with a pos­i­tive energy. When I come here to the olive grove, I don’t feel bad any­more.”



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