Sicilian and Sardinian Producers Attribute Award-Winning Quality to Innovation, Sustainability

Producers on Sicily and Sardinia overcame drought and macroeconomic challenges to craft some of this year's best extra virgin olive oils.

Harvest at Mandranova.
By Ylenia Granitto
Jun. 8, 2023 13:17 UTC
Harvest at Mandranova.

After a sea­son marked by drought and macro­eco­nomic dif­fi­cul­ties, pro­duc­ers from Italy’s two largest islands, Sardinia and Sicily, cel­e­brated their inter­na­tional suc­cess at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

The drought that affected all of Italy did not spare the two regions, which, due to the effects of an off-year’ (the phase of lower pro­duc­tion in the olive trees’ nat­ural alter­nate bear­ing cycle) suf­fered a slight decrease in pro­duc­tion vol­umes.

Especially at the end of these very com­pli­cated years marked by the dif­fi­cul­ties due to the pan­demic, the war and weather adver­si­ties, (win­ning at the NYIOOC) is an even greater sat­is­fac­tion.- Pietro Nicotra, owner, Agrestis

Yet the insu­lar farm­ers main­tained high-qual­ity stan­dards, rec­og­nized by the panel of judges at the world’s largest olive oil qual­ity com­pe­ti­tion.

A con­tin­u­ously evolv­ing approach involv­ing every detail of the pro­duc­tion process, from tech­no­log­i­cal fea­tures at the farm level to wide-reach­ing envi­ron­men­tal aspects, has helped these pro­duc­ers to make their way to the global stage and con­tribute to the over­all suc­cess of their coun­try – Italy obtained 174 awards from 224 entries, which is one of the high­est suc­cess rates at the 2023 NYIOOC.

See Also:The best extra vir­gin olive oils from Italy

Credit for the five awards deliv­ered to Sardinia goes to Pasquale Manca and his San Giuliano extra vir­gin olive oil brands, Fruttato and L’Originale, which obtained two Gold Awards, and Monocultivar Bosana, Organic and Primér, which each received a Silver Award.

We are glad to receive these recog­ni­tions, also because they pay off the invest­ments we recently made in the mill,” he told Olive Oil Times. In par­tic­u­lar, at the end of the last har­vest, in November, we installed an ultra­sound sys­tem on two of our four pro­duc­tion lines.”

Despite the delay, due to the global prob­lems related to the sup­ply­ing of raw mate­ri­als, we set it up in time to test it on a small part of the fruits. We had some inter­est­ing feed­back, which makes us think that the con­tri­bu­tion of this tech­nol­ogy to next year’s yield can be sig­nif­i­cant,” he added.


Pasquale Manca

Investments are also being made in new lands, par­tic­u­larly those once used for pas­ture, which are now dis­carded and uncul­ti­vated.

Since sheep grazed on these plots for cen­turies, they are rich in nitro­gen,” Manca said. We are acquir­ing new prop­er­ties of this kind, where we will plant new olive trees in the com­ing years.”

Now, Domenico Manca man­ages about 150,000 trees and plans to dou­ble this total in three or four years and dou­ble it again in 10 years, with the goal to reach 1,000 hectares.

We are con­stantly expand­ing and evolv­ing, and to do so, we spend time exper­i­ment­ing, both in the mill and in the groves, also col­lab­o­rat­ing with researchers,” Manca said.

Located in north­west­ern Sardinia, in the vast plain of Nurra, his groves are arranged accord­ing to dif­fer­ent plant­ing pat­terns, from tra­di­tional to super-high-den­sity, includ­ing the mainly native Sardinian vari­eties of Bosana, Nera di Oliena and Semidana.

We also have Coratina from Puglia as well as the Catalan vari­eties, Arbosana and Arbequina, which we value not only from a busi­ness point of view but also because there is a par­tic­u­lar con­nec­tion between their birth­place and ours, Alghero, since we are a lin­guis­tic minor­ity that speaks ancient Catalan,” Manca said.

Meanwhile, pro­duc­ers across Italy’s other major Mediterranean island cel­e­brated another year of suc­cess at the World Competition.

The pro­duc­ers behind Mandranova, in the province of Agrigento, cel­e­brated a Gold Award for a Nocellara del Belice mono­va­ri­etal awarded yearly at the NYIOOC.


Harvesting olives traditionally at Mandranova’s olive groves

Receiving recog­ni­tion at the NYIOOC every year is very impor­tant to us because it allows us to guar­an­tee the con­sumer our con­stant com­mit­ment to high qual­ity,” said Silvia Di Vincenzo, who man­ages the com­pany with her hus­band, Giuseppe and son Gabriele.

We have been par­tic­i­pat­ing since the begin­ning, and this also gave us the oppor­tu­nity to com­pare our­selves with the other pro­duc­ers over time,” she added.


Close to the south­west­ern coast, in Palma di Montechiaro, about 10,000 Nocellara, Cerasuola, Biancolilla and Giarraffa trees lie at the heart of the estate, includ­ing a hos­pi­tal­ity resort.

We have been olive grow­ers for five gen­er­a­tions,” Di Vincenzo said. Once, the prop­erty included a vine­yard, but we decided to focus exclu­sively on olive pro­duc­tion, which is organ­i­cally man­aged, fol­low­ing high stan­dards of sus­tain­abil­ity.”

According to the same prin­ci­ples of qual­ity and envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, they ded­i­cate them­selves to the cul­ti­va­tion of almonds – the estate con­tains a grove of 15,000 trees.

The com­pany is in con­tin­u­ous evo­lu­tion as we try to improve every stage of the pro­duc­tion process,” she said. For exam­ple, in the begin­ning, we pruned the trees accord­ing to the free vase form; now, we do it accord­ing to the poly­conic vase method. Before, we col­lected the fruits only with facil­i­ta­tors; now we per­form three dif­fer­ent types of har­vests to speed up the oper­a­tions and pick still green olives.”

The fruits are crushed in the state-of-the-art com­pany mill that uses a two-phase water-sav­ing sys­tem. It boasts a new tech­nol­ogy that reduces the pro­cess­ing time increas­ing phe­nols extrac­tion and a chiller that refrig­er­ates the equip­ment.

We try to make our prod­ucts in the best pos­si­ble way, not so much for busi­ness, but rather because we are deeply in love with extra vir­gin olive oil, and this indeed is what inspires us to keep the qual­ity high,” Di Vincenzo said.

Situated just to the west of Mandranova’s groves is the vil­lage of Villafranca Sicula, home to the Loco Galbasa organic farm, which won a Silver Award with its first NYIOOC entry for a mono­va­ri­etal of Biancolilla.


Loco Galbasa co-owners Marco Gagliano and Sandro Domenico Musso

This recog­ni­tion shows us that our com­pany had a great start and is mov­ing in the right direc­tion,” said co-owner Marco Gagliano. In fact, the farm was estab­lished in 1963 and was man­aged by our uncle.”

When my cousin and I took over last year, we con­ceived the brand design and focused on high qual­ity,” he added. Being the first time that we par­tic­i­pate and after such a short time since the start of our project, this award gives us even greater sat­is­fac­tion.”

The 20-hectare farm is located in a val­ley where 4,800 olive trees thrive over­look­ing the sea – cen­turies-old Biancolilla trees, which rep­re­sent the vast major­ity of the orchard, are flanked by the other local vari­eties, Cerasuola and Nocellara del Belice.

On clear days, we can spot the island of Pantelleria,” said co-owner Sandro Domenico Musso. Here, the olive groves have devel­oped very well, thanks to the dry cli­mate that pre­vents sev­eral dis­eases.”

The estate includes a farm­house dat­ing back to 1860, when many olive trees were planted. Among these are small per­cent­ages of neglected vari­eties such as Passulunara, Giarraffa and Bottone di Gallo.

They have a high his­tor­i­cal and botan­i­cal value, rep­re­sent­ing a true her­itage that we safe­guard care­fully. Each plant is like a child to us, as we know each of them,” Musso said. We worked hard to improve the com­pany, always with the care of the envi­ron­ment and its bio­di­ver­sity at heart.”

To main­tain the humid­ity and improve soil fer­til­ity, they adopt sus­tain­able prac­tices, includ­ing mulching and green manure. Furthermore, they recently intro­duced some api­aries in the grove to pro­duce organic honey and espe­cially for their impor­tant role in the ecosys­tem.

Again, for rea­sons of sus­tain­abil­ity, we rely on the lat­est gen­er­a­tion mill that is within walk­ing dis­tance from the farm,” Musso said. Since it is a two-phase machin­ery, it does not require water, and we can save much of this pre­cious resource also thanks to our ancient olive trees that do not need to be irri­gated.”

In the south-east­ern cor­ner of the island, in the vil­lage of Buccheri, Siracura, the pro­duc­ers behind Agrestis cel­e­brated yet another Gold Award for their mono­va­ri­etal Fiore D’Oro, which is a Monti Iblei Protected Designation of Origin-cer­ti­fied oil.


Lorenzo Nicotra

Every time, it is a joy to receive an award in such a pres­ti­gious com­pe­ti­tion, which helps us olive grow­ers to be val­ued,” said Pietro Nicotra. Especially at the end of these very com­pli­cated years marked by the dif­fi­cul­ties due to the pan­demic, the war and weather adver­si­ties, it is an even greater sat­is­fac­tion to be able to achieve this result.”

Along with his father, Lorenzo Nicotra, and asso­ciate, Salvatore Paparone, he man­ages a 50-hectare orchard with 10,000 olive trees. Ancient Tonda Iblea trees, with some rows of Biancolilla and Nocellara, flour­ish on the slopes of Mount Lauro, an extinct vol­cano. They are partly scat­tered on steep ter­races at about 600 to 700 meters above sea level.

Altitude and soil struc­ture are not easy to man­age and require much more work,” Nicotra said. However, there are also pos­i­tive aspects, like a strong tem­per­a­ture vari­a­tion between day and night and an effec­tive drainage of rain­wa­ter, which have ben­e­fi­cial effects for the plants and fruits and help us to improve our product’s organolep­tic pro­files.”

The trees are not irri­gated, and this allows us to pre­serve this very impor­tant resource, as sus­tain­abil­ity is at the core of our entre­pre­neur­ial vision,” he added.

Arranged accord­ing to an exten­sive plant­ing pat­tern and located up to 10 meters away from each other, some of the trees are almost 1,000 years old.

For a cou­ple of years now, the com­pany has been car­ry­ing out a project for their adop­tion, through which the par­tic­i­pants estab­lish a spe­cial con­nec­tion with the adopted trees, vis­it­ing the farm and receiv­ing some of the oil they pro­duce every year.

This project helps us to recover aban­doned groves,” Nicotra said. The phi­los­o­phy of the com­pany since its foun­da­tion 20 years ago is, rather than cre­at­ing new plan­ta­tions, to safe­guard the ancient ones.”

We indeed started by recov­er­ing aban­doned groves, also with a view to save them from the risk of ever more fre­quent wild­fires, there­fore with the aim of pre­serv­ing the impor­tant her­itage rep­re­sented by these majes­tic, ancient olive trees,” he con­cluded.

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