Sustainability, Biodiversity Good for Business, This Campania Farmer Believes

Case d'Alto produces organic extra virgin olive oils in Irpinia from autochthonous varieties. Owner Claudio De Luca says focusing on sustainability improves quality.

The harvest at Case d'Alto starts early to avoid olive fruit fly infestations. (Photo: Case d'Alto)
By Ylenia Granitto
May. 13, 2024 13:11 UTC
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The harvest at Case d'Alto starts early to avoid olive fruit fly infestations. (Photo: Case d'Alto)

Often referred to as the green heart of Campania for its nat­ural beauty, the his­tor­i­cal region of Irpinia – approx­i­mately cor­re­spond­ing to the province of Avellino – boasts a his­tory of fine wine and award-win­ning extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­tion.

Our groves have given us so much, and the qual­ity of our pro­duc­tion allowed us to make our­selves known quickly also in the inter­na­tional mar­ket,” said Claudio De Luca, the owner of Case d’Alto.

Consumers aware of olive oil qual­ity are still a niche group, and a lot of com­mu­ni­ca­tion needs to be done. But those who try a great extra vir­gin olive oil do not return to a poorer one.- Claudio De Luca, owner, Case d’Alto

Initially, De Luca appeared des­tined to pur­sue a career in finance. Still, through a twist of fate, he founded the win­ery and olive grove in the lime­stone-rich vol­canic clay soils around his home­town in the south­ern Italian region.

I thought I would be work­ing with banks after grad­u­at­ing in the eco­nom­ics of finan­cial inter­me­di­aries at the University of Pisa in Tuscany,” De Luca said.

See Also:Producer Profiles

One day, I went back to my home­town, where I had some­thing to take care of,” he added. I thought it was tem­po­rary, but instead, I decided to stay and ded­i­cate myself to agri­cul­ture.”

In 2011, De Luca estab­lished Case d’Alto as an organic farm named after the area renowned for pro­duc­ing Taurasi, a red wine made from Aglianico grapes. Along with this grape vari­ety, De Luca started pro­duc­ing another autochtho­nous vine, Fiano, from ancient vine­yards.

My fam­ily has always made wine and olive oil for home con­sump­tion,” he said. At that time, I used to travel often, and I came to appre­ci­ate the idea of stay­ing and work­ing in my land of ori­gin.”

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-europe-sustainability-biodiversity-good-for-business-this-campania-farmer-believes-olive-oil-times

Claudio De Luca and his son Leonardo inspect the olive groves. (Photo: Case d’Alto)

My orig­i­nal project involved installing a large pho­to­voltaic sys­tem on a fal­low plot of sev­eral hectares beside the vine­yards,” De Luca added. However, due to bureau­cratic issues, it blew up, and in 2012, I decided to plant 700 olive trees on that empty land.”

Intending to con­tinue the fam­ily tra­di­tion and focus on qual­ity, he expanded the olive grove and exper­i­ment until he car­ried out the first sig­nif­i­cant har­vest in 2016.

Today, the farm includes 1,000 trees, and another 700 will soon be planted. A cen­turies-old grove in Grottaminarda, which con­tains a mix of vari­eties, sits at the prop­er­ty’s core. It was used to ensure a con­stant yield from year to year, with the preva­lence of Frantoio and Ogliarola Irpina.

After con­duct­ing agro­nomic sur­veys in Flumeri, which is par­tic­u­larly suit­able for olive oil pro­duc­tion, De Luca set up a seven-hectare orchard mainly com­posed of autochtho­nous Ravece. He pro­duces a blend from Leccio del Corno, Leccino, Frantoio and other native vari­eties, includ­ing Marinese.

Having started to col­lab­o­rate with an importer in the U.S., we began to par­tic­i­pate in the NYIOOC with our Ravece mono­va­ri­etal, which has racked up three awards, giv­ing us great sat­is­fac­tion,” De Luca said. In the 2022/23 crop year, we had a sharp decline in wine pro­duc­tion, but it was com­pen­sated by a great olive har­vest, even beyond expec­ta­tions, cul­mi­nat­ing in a Gold Award.”

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-europe-sustainability-biodiversity-good-for-business-this-campania-farmer-believes-olive-oil-times

Case d’Alto has 1,000 trees, most of which are native varieties, with plans to plant 700 more soon. (Photo: Case d’Alto)

The main char­ac­ter­is­tic of Ravece is a note of green tomato leaves or tomato, depend­ing on the fruit’s ripeness. This may be accom­pa­nied by hints of herbs, arti­chokes and apples, with bright, per­sis­tent bit­ter­ness and spici­ness.

De Luca says Case d’Alto extra vir­gin olive oils are obtained from fruits pressed within six hours at Frantoio Barbieri, a state-of-the-art mill in Paternopoli, ten kilo­me­ters from the farm. Depending on the weather, the har­vest usu­ally starts by the end of September and ends in mid-October.

Although Ravece is a late-ripen­ing vari­ety, we antic­i­pate the oper­a­tions for two main rea­sons,” De Luca said. First, it is sus­cep­ti­ble to the olive fruit fly, and since the organic man­age­ment of the estate requires us to imple­ment a pre­ven­tion model to avert this pest, we can only col­lect the fruits before its arrival.”

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Second, the soil in Flumeri is mainly clayey, and when the rains start, this may cause prob­lems with vehi­cle use,” he added. Therefore, we need to work with favor­able weather con­di­tions. Still, an early har­vest guar­an­tees prod­ucts with high polyphe­nol con­tent.”

The com­pany also relies on an Agriculture 4.0 sys­tem to pre­vent olive fruit fly infes­ta­tions. This sys­tem con­sists of mon­i­tor­ing units installed in the olive grove that cap­ture images and pro­vide weather infor­ma­tion.

Agriculture 4.0

Agriculture 4.0, also known as smart agri­cul­ture or pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture, refers to inte­grat­ing advanced tech­nolo­gies and data ana­lyt­ics into tra­di­tional farm­ing prac­tices to enhance effi­ciency, pro­duc­tiv­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity. This next-gen­er­a­tion approach to agri­cul­ture lever­ages cut­ting-edge tech­nolo­gies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI), robot­ics, drones, satel­lite imagery, sen­sors and big data ana­lyt­ics to opti­mize var­i­ous aspects of farm­ing oper­a­tions.

Such advance­ments lead to higher pro­duc­tion costs, to which extra efforts must be added, and there­fore, expenses are needed to work on these steep slopes,” De Luca said.

However, all this is off­set by the high lev­els of qual­ity that we can guar­an­tee our con­sumers,” he added. Smart tools also allow us to opti­mize resources and be more sus­tain­able.”

The groves are planted on well-exposed hills between 400 and 600 meters of alti­tude and require no irri­ga­tion, allow­ing the com­pany to use less water and achieve greater envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity.

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-europe-sustainability-biodiversity-good-for-business-this-campania-farmer-believes-olive-oil-times

Many of the company’s 1,000 olive trees are the endemic Ravece, which Case d’Alto uses for its flagship monovarietal. (Photo: Case d’Alto)

I believe that being sus­tain­able for a com­pany nowa­days is nec­es­sary not only to cope with cli­mate change,” De Luca said. Preserving bio­di­ver­sity and main­tain­ing the land­scape are strictly related to the pro­duc­tion qual­ity. Good prod­ucts come from healthy envi­ron­ments.”

He added that pre­serv­ing nat­ural land­scapes also helps pro­mote oleo­tourism. When peo­ple visit the farm, and I bring them to the orchards to admire these trees while tast­ing a slice of bread with the oil obtained from their fruits, they take home a stun­ning sen­so­r­ial expe­ri­ence,” De Luca said.

He believes there is a unique syn­ergy between wine and olive oil pro­duc­ers, who can use one prod­uct as a gate­way for con­sumers to try the other.

I show them the dif­fer­ence between a poor oil and our pre­mium prod­ucts, and the reac­tions are always pos­i­tive, as they are amazed by their col­ors, fla­vors and aro­mas,” De Luca said.

Consumers aware of olive oil qual­ity are still a niche group, and a lot of com­mu­ni­ca­tion needs to be done,” he con­cluded. But those who try a great extra vir­gin olive oil do not return to a poorer one, and indeed, they start always to require the high­est qual­ity.”


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