The heart of western Sicily is home to the organic olive groves of Miceli & Sensat.
Co-founders Paolo Miceli and Sergio Sensat told Olive Oil Times that the award-winning young company is more than a farming operation with a forward-looking philosophy regarding the environment and local community.
Our idea was to leave an imprint and plant olive trees that would be strong and flourishing for a very long time. We have landscaped a vast area with trees that will remain there after 500 years or more.
Miceli & Sensat earned two Gold Awards at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition for its Delicato brand, a blend of Biancolilla, Cerasuola and Arbequina olives, and a monovarietal Nocellara del Belice.
“Our company is the fruit of the love for the land that our families have transmitted to us,” Miceli said. “With one based in Monreale, Italy, and the other in Barcelona, Spain, they have been linked to the production of olive oil for generations.”See Also:Producer Profiles
“Indeed, Sergio still retains an oil tin with his family logo that dates back to 1860,” he added. “As we grew up in different countries and contexts, during our childhoods, we were both immersed in the beautiful things and sound values that revolve around olive oil.”
When the time came, they started working in communication in their respective homes. At the end of the 1990s, they met in Spain, where, shortly after, Miceli moved from Sicily. In Barcelona, he and Sensat founded a communication company that became one of the most respected in the sector.
“In 2009, the owner of the olive oil company Finca La Gramanosa, one of our clients, asked me if, besides our communication consultancy, we could also support him in the management of the business since he had to find a new chief executive,” Miceli said. “The lure of olive oil, which was still lying somewhere deep inside my heart, led me to accept.”
He was tasked with managing the company for a short period. Still, his tenure was long enough to achieve a few challenging business goals, including making an extra virgin olive oil of the highest quality and opening new markets.
To achieve this goal, Miceli assembled a team of leading international experts, mostly Italian, with whom he had worked for several years to make top-class products.
“With them, I delved deep into what it really means to produce excellence, and it indeed was like pursuing a 10-year Master’s degree in high-quality production,” he said.
“Eventually, I had been the managing director of the company until the end of 2020,” Miceli added. “That is why we can say that a long preparatory process has preceded the founding of our farm. It is a brand new project with a long story behind it.”
Sensat said that Miceli became very passionate and almost obsessed with quality.
“It was 2015 when I started thinking that, with his enthusiastic attitude and all the experience he had acquired, we could easily set up a company of our own,” he said.
“This would allow us to get back in touch with nature, but most importantly, at that point in life, we felt the desire to do something truly beneficial for society,” Sensat added. “For example, with our farm, we could provide jobs while concretely promoting sustainability.”
Miceli and Sensat were looking for land to purchase when Miceli’s mother and her sisters offered them their properties in Monreale, near Palermo on Sicily.
“It is such a beautiful and unspoiled place, with thriving woods covering rolling hills surrounding Lake Garcia,” Miceli said. “We bought the shares of my aunts, and in the end, we recreated the estate that belonged to my maternal grandfather.”
The pair started preparing the land to plant olive trees and make improvements, which took a long time to complete since they continued to work in Barcelona in the meantime.
“Every Thursday, we got on a plane, and on Monday, we hopped on another plane,” Miceli said. “They have been tough, intense years.”
The original plan was to set up a 50-hectare estate, but eventually, they purchased more land – now the farm stretches over 260 hectares, of which 115 hectares are devoted to olive growing.
“We started planting in 2016, and the first experimental production was carried out in 2020,” Miceli said. “The first extra virgin olive oil put on the market was made in the 2021/22 crop year when we first participated in the NYIOOC.”
Today, in a hilly area between 200 and 400 meters above sea level, the two manage 48,000 trees of five varieties – Nocellara del Belice, Biancolilla, Cerasuola, Arbequina and Picual – planted traditionally.
“It was huge, tremendous work, especially since we made a particular agronomic choice,” Miceli said. “We grafted the two Spanish varieties, Arbequina and Picual, on wild Sicilian olive trees.”
“To assemble those 15,000 trees, since this process must be done very quickly, we rented a private plane that carried the scions from Spain to a nursery in Sicily where they have been grafted on the wild plants,” he added.
“We aimed at obtaining long-lived trees,” Miceli continued. “Our idea was to leave an imprint and plant olive trees that would be strong and flourishing for a very long time. We have landscaped a vast area with trees that will remain there after 500 years or more. Now, these olive trees are like children to us.”
He underlined that samples of the monovarietals obtained from the trees had been submitted for the judgment of professional sensory panels, which expressed highly positive opinions about their organoleptic profiles.
“For us, this project goes beyond the production of premium extra virgin olive oil,” Sensat said. “We have recovered the entire area, and now we manage it according to the organic guidelines in a sustainable way.”
“We are regenerating and protecting biodiversity,” he added. “Indeed, we think that the wellbeing of the environment and the wellbeing of the people who live in this environment are strictly connected.”
Sensat said they were able to employ several local young people. Moreover, they contacted elderly farmers in the area, with whom they shared information and best practices.
“We are humbled by the reception from the local community,” Sensat said. “I remember that at the beginning, they discretely approached to see what we were doing.”
“Now, they share views and updates with us,” he added. “This area is mainly cultivated with wheat, but some of them followed us and started planting olive trees, and now they are satisfied with the results, especially in terms of income. Also, it makes us happy that we could employ many young people who now have a rewarding job.”
“Sometimes I wish Sicilians could see Sicily through my eyes because I adore this region,” Sensat continued. “And these human relations are so precious to me.”
Such fondness has resulted in a significant commitment and care toward the area’s natural resources.
Among various improvements, the pair built two artificial basins next to the main natural lake, saving an additional 500,000 cubic meters of water for emergency irrigation.
“We made this choice in light of the extreme temperatures reached in recent years,” Miceli said.
“With an Israeli company, we have devised a complex irrigation project that allows a significant energy saving,” he added. “It also includes in-ground driplines that prevent water from evaporating, which greatly optimizes this invaluable resource.”
The next planned significant investment is the installation of floating solar panels on the surface of the artificial lakes to achieve better cooling and improved performance besides saving ground space.
There is also a plan to introduce bees to enhance the estate’s biodiversity – the company will soon launch a line of honey.
“In this healthy ecosystem, the soil is no exception,” Miceli said. “We analyzed it, and it proved to have excellent features for the good development of the olive trees, which enjoy an optimal exposition.”
All these elements contribute to the quality of the extra virgin olive oils, whose production process is completed by the latest generation mill.
“At our age, we entered a new chapter of life,” Miceli said.
“It took a little madness to do this,” Sensat added. “We can call it a project of our maturity since, in our thirties, it would have been completely different.”
“We started it in our late fifties, with a wealth of experience and all the baggage of our life,” he added. “That is why it is a very mature choice, with all that it implies, starting from the vision behind it.”
The farmers remarked that all this took a considerable investment in terms of economic and human effort, but it paid off.
“We have put a lot of work into this project, but it was worth it because we created something beautiful, long-lasting and valuable not only for us but also for others,” Miceli concluded. “And we have done it staying true to the values that guide our lives.”