U.S. Producers Weathered a Difficult Season and Emerged with Good Results

Although the yield is expected to be 50 percent lower than last year, there are reasons for a positive outlook.

(Photo: Séka Hills)
By Daniel Dawson
Apr. 24, 2023 14:15 UTC
(Photo: Séka Hills)

Part of our con­tin­u­ing spe­cial cov­er­age of the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

From frost in California to hur­ri­canes in Georgia, pro­duc­ers across the United States over­came a year marked by extreme weather events and cel­e­brated their suc­cess at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

With awards con­tin­u­ing to be announced this week, pro­duc­ers from California, Georgia, Oregon and Texas have already com­bined to earn 65 awards at the world’s largest olive oil qual­ity com­pe­ti­tion.

In California, which is respon­si­ble for nearly all com­mer­cial U.S. olive oil pro­duc­tion, pro­duc­ers expe­ri­enced a below-aver­age har­vest.

According to the Olive Oil Commission of California, the Golden State pro­duced 1.94 mil­lion gal­lons (7.34 mil­lion liters) of olive oil in the 2022/23 crop year, 20 per­cent below the rolling five-year aver­age.

See Also:The Best U.S. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The 2022 California olive har­vest was down… from recent har­vests, and this included our har­vest,” Jim Etters, the direc­tor of land man­age­ment at Séka Hills, told Olive Oil Times. This is due to the com­bi­na­tion of an alter­nate bear­ing year and the erratic weather pat­terns expe­ri­enced last year.”

The north­ern California pro­ducer over­came a warm win­ter fol­lowed by spring frosts, which dam­aged many trees across the state, to win a Silver Award for its medium-inten­sity Arbequina.

We work extremely hard to pro­duce the high­est qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oils that are rec­og­nized among the best,” Etters said. It means a tremen­dous amount when lead­ing experts agree. We have received Gold for pre­vi­ous har­vests, so Silver is won­der­ful, but Gold is always what we strive for.”

Located in north­ern California’s Capay Valley, not far from Sacramento, Séka Hills is pro­duced by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, a Native American tribe.

Séka Hills cer­ti­fied extra vir­gin olive oils reflect the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation’s deep, mil­len­nia-long con­nec­tion with the fer­tile land of the Capay Valley,” Etters said. Séka Hills is focused on pro­duc­ing only the finest qual­ity prod­ucts that thrive in the unique Capay Valley envi­ron­ment.”

Olive grow­ers and pro­duc­ers in Capay Valley and the region (Western Yolo County and Solano County) are fre­quent, con­sis­tent award win­ners,” he added. Olives and many other crops thrive here. The Tribe has increased its olive acreage from 82 to 500 acres (33 to 200 hectares) and has seven orchards. We say Capay Valley is to olives as Napa Valley is to wine.”

About 400 kilo­me­ters south of Capay Valley, California’s San Luis Obispo County pro­duc­ers may dis­pute Etter’s claim about the Capay Valley. California’s Central Coast region usu­ally is respon­si­ble for a sig­nif­i­cant share of the coun­try’s NYIOOC awards.

Among the award-win­ning pro­duc­ers hail­ing from the county is The Partridge Family Olive Company, which earned a Gold Award for its medium blend.


The Partridge Family Olive Company attributed their NYIOOC success to San Luis Obsipo County’s climate and their expert miller.

San Luis Obispo County is known for its Mediterranean regional micro-cli­mates, mak­ing it one of California’s famous wine regions,” co-own­ers Angela, Mike and Shelby Partridge told Olive Oil Times. Our sum­mers are hot and dry with cool­ing after­noon breezes due to the coastal influ­ence — just per­fect grow­ing con­di­tions for grapes and olives.”

The region’s cli­mate drew Angela Partridge’s father to Paso Robles after he emi­grated from Naples, Italy, in 1980.

The Partridge fam­ily said they were elated when their Gold Award was announced. Every year, we enter know­ing the NYIOOC is the most pres­ti­gious com­pe­ti­tion, yet the most dif­fi­cult to medal at. So to be awarded another Gold is such an honor for us,” they said.


For the fam­ily, the award is even more grat­i­fy­ing after the chal­lenges posed by California’s drought, which resulted in severe water short­ages in the county.

Last year, California was still in drought con­di­tions, so water­ing was one of our biggest chal­lenges,” the fam­ily said. Our ton­nage was okay, but the oil yield was low because there was just not as much flesh around the olive pit. Our unend­ing chal­lenge is con­sis­tency since we are a micro pro­ducer.”

The fam­ily attrib­uted their NYIOOC suc­cess to the help of their friends and millers, Yves and Clotilde Julien. We feel grow­ing is half the bat­tle,” the fam­ily said. The other half is the magic they do, and with­out the exper­tise and rec­om­men­da­tions they pro­vide us to make their job eas­ier, pro­duc­ing extra vir­gin olive oil would be very dif­fi­cult.”

Roughly 100 kilo­me­ters east of Paso Robles, in Kerns County, the pro­duc­ers behind Rio Bravo Ranch cel­e­brated win­ning their first three Gold Awards at the World Competition.


The producers at Rio Bravo Ranch believe olive trees can continue to thrive in Kern County, California.

We were pretty excited, to say the least,” exec­u­tive assis­tant Stefanie Wickensheimer told Olive Oil Times. This is the first Gold we’ve won at the NYIOOC, and three of our oils won the pres­ti­gious award.”

She par­tially attrib­uted the com­pa­ny’s suc­cess to the work of mas­ter millers Yves and Clotilde Julien. Still, she added that the work to pro­duce award-win­ning olive oil begins well before the olives arrive at the mill.

High-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil starts on the tree,” Wickensheimer said. We are farm­ers first, so we focus on pro­duc­ing the best qual­ity olive crop pos­si­ble.”

Irrigation, weather and tree health are just a few of the con­di­tions that can have a neg­a­tive effect on the crop, so we have to be on top of what we can con­trol,” she added. Our focus each year is to farm and har­vest for qual­ity rather than quan­tity.”

Unlike many of their col­leagues, Wickensheimer said Rio Bravo Ranch enjoyed a smooth har­vest year and is already look­ing for­ward to the com­ing har­vest.

Kern County is a top agri­cul­tural pro­ducer in the U.S. but does­n’t have many olive acres,” she said. We have a micro-cli­mate with well-drained rocky soils that allow the olive trees to thrive. We are also for­tu­nate that our olives mature early enough in the sea­son to where we don’t have to worry about hav­ing any frost dam­age.”

Wickensheimer said Rio Bravo Ranch is a small fam­ily farm, and win­ning at the NYIOOC helps make the brand more rec­og­niz­able.

Our goal each year is to become more of a house­hold brand and con­tinue to edu­cate con­sumers on the dif­fer­ence a good qual­ity olive oil can have on their health and lifestyle,” she said.

In terms of quan­tity, vir­tu­ally all U.S. olive oil pro­duc­tion occurs in California. Still, other pock­ets of olive grow­ing exist across the coun­try.

Texas is the sec­ond-largest olive oil-pro­duc­ing state in the U.S. and home to Texas Hill Country Olive Company, which earned a Gold and two Silver Awards at the com­pe­ti­tion.

We were elated to win again this year,” co-owner Cara Gambini told Olive Oil Times. It’s always a happy sur­prise, let­ting us know we are on the right track.”

Winning awards at NYIOOC is an excel­lent bench­mark for us,” she added. It’s hum­bling to go up against some of the greats around the world and win.”

Gambini said this year’s har­vest came exclu­sively from California as the groves in Texas con­tinue to recover from the his­toric freeze of a few years ago.

This year’s har­vest came from orchards in California,” she said. Texas is still com­ing back from a 100-year freeze event that occurred in 2021.”

We have been fac­ing extreme weather con­di­tions, mak­ing it chal­leng­ing to pro­duce the qual­ity and or quan­tity of olives needed for the year,” Gambini added.

Meanwhile, in Oregon, California’s north­ern neigh­bor, olive oil pro­duc­tion is in its infancy, but one trail­blaz­ing pro­ducer con­tin­ues to put the state on the olive oil world map.

Durant Olive Mill earned three more Gold Awards at the World Competition, with owner Paul Durant cel­e­brat­ing eight con­sec­u­tive years of win­ning in New York.

This is our eighth con­sec­u­tive year of win­ning at the NYIOOC,” he said. We con­tinue to receive third-party val­i­da­tion of our extra vir­gin olive oil that is so impor­tant for con­sumers.”

We were faced with cold weather con­di­tions in early November that forced pick­ing soon than we would have liked,” Durant added.

On the oppo­site side of the coun­try, the pro­duc­ers behind Fresh Press Farms over­came some unique chal­lenges to win a Silver Award and solid­ify Georgia’s place in the olive oil world map.


Fresh Press Farms said it is the largest producer east of the Mississippi.

Georgia is one of the more unique places to grow olives in the world,” agri­cul­tural and inno­va­tion direc­tor Ciriaco Chavez told Olive Oil Times. Our sum­mers are filled with warm, sunny days, which the trees seem to love and plenty of nat­ural rain­fall to sup­port their growth.”

Additionally, because of our rel­a­tive prox­im­ity to the equa­tor, our har­vest is reg­u­larly one to two months ear­lier than other north­ern hemi­sphere pro­duc­ers, which means we begin pack­ag­ing and deliv­er­ing fresh new sea­son oil before oth­ers have even begun har­vest­ing,” he added.

According to its own­ers, Fresh Press Farms is the largest olive grove in the east­ern United States, with more than 2.4 mil­lion trees across Southern Georgia.

As new pro­duc­ers help­ing to pio­neer olive grow­ing in Georgia, we wanted to show that our unique Georgian extra vir­gin olive oils meet or exceed the qual­ity of oil pro­duc­ers in California or other parts of the world,” Chavez said.

He cited the com­pa­ny’s ver­ti­cal inte­gra­tion as one of its keys to suc­cess in pro­duc­ing award-win­ning olive oil.

As one of the only truly fully ver­ti­cally inte­grated American pro­duc­ers, we are able to con­trol every facet of pro­duc­tion and do the right thing at every set,” Chavez said. There are no third-party sup­pli­ers or mid­dle­men between our con­sumers and us.”

However, grow­ing olives in Georgia comes with chal­lenges that pro­duc­ers on the West Coast do not have to face.

Hurricane Ian was mak­ing land­fall just as we were prepar­ing to begin har­vest,” Chavez said. We are less than 70 miles (110 kilo­me­ters) from the Gulf of Mexico, so there was the threat that the hur­ri­cane’s path could impact our har­vest.”

Gratefully, we were able to push through and work relent­lessly to com­plete the har­vest with­out any impacts from the hur­ri­cane,” he added.

Chavez hopes win­ning awards at the NYIOOC will help pro­mote Fresh Press Farms’ brand and Georgian extra vir­gin olive oil in the U.S.

The NYIOOC is an inter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized and respected com­pe­ti­tion,” he said. Any time you have a group with its level of cred­i­bil­ity say­ing you’re olive oil is wor­thy of awards and recog­ni­tion; it means some­thing.”

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