Undeterred by Drought, Producers Across Spain Achieve Award-Winning Quality

Olive oil production in Spain dropped sharply in the 2022/23 crop year. Still, producers managed to obtain outstanding results.

Night harvesting helped Fuenquesada beat the heat and acheive award-winning results.
By Daniel Dawson
Apr. 21, 2023 17:43 UTC
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Night harvesting helped Fuenquesada beat the heat and acheive award-winning results.

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


Farmers and pro­duc­ers from the world’s largest olive oil-pro­duc­ing coun­try cel­e­brated their suc­cess at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

While results con­tinue to be announced through April, 88 Spanish extra vir­gin olive oils have already been awarded from 135 entries.

For Oli de Santanyi, an NYIOOC award is a sign of class and impor­tant mar­ket­ing. It helps estab­lish new busi­ness con­tacts and opens doors.- Dirk Müller-Busch, man­ag­ing direc­tor, Oli de Santanyi

Despite Spain suf­fer­ing from its low­est har­vest since the 2012/13 crop year – pro­duc­ing slightly less than 700,000 tons of olive oil – entries to the world’s largest olive oil qual­ity com­pe­ti­tion did not decrease sig­nif­i­cantly.

Instead, pro­duc­ers across the coun­try worked hard to over­come the Iberian penin­su­la’s his­toric drought. Many inter­preted their NYIOOC awards as proof that invest­ment, research and on-the-spot prob­lem-solv­ing paid off.

See Also:The Best Spanish EVOO

The lack of rain has been the main chal­lenge we have faced in the last cam­paign,” Félix González Quesada, the pres­i­dent of Fuenquesada, told Olive Oil Times.

We have had to carry out a very effi­cient noc­tur­nal pro­gram­ming of inte­grated irri­ga­tion to opti­mize the use of the very scarce water resources,” he added.

In Jaén, the most pro­lific olive oil-pro­duc­ing province in Andalusia, Fuenquesada earned a Gold Award for a mono­va­ri­etal Picual.

Despite the chal­leng­ing sea­son, González Quesada said his 2022/23 har­vest was bet­ter than the pre­vi­ous one when he did not har­vest at all.

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(Photo: Fuenquesada)

Last year (2021/22), we had to make a dif­fi­cult deci­sion, not bot­tling, due to the lack of the ade­quate qual­ity that we require to share our oil with our fam­ily of cus­tomers,” he said. This vin­tage (2022/23) has been excel­lent.”

The Gold Award gives us the con­vic­tion that our meth­ods and efforts, together with our qual­ity assur­ance sys­tem, are ade­quate to pro­duce extra vir­gin olive oil of excep­tional qual­ity on a con­tin­u­ous basis,” González Quesada added.

The pro­ducer attrib­uted some of his suc­cess to an early har­vest, which began in mid-October, good agro­nomic prac­tices in his tra­di­tional and mod­ern groves and the speed – less than four hours – with which olives are har­vested, trans­formed and fil­tered.

Fellow Andalusian pro­ducer Oleocampo also over­came drought and cel­e­brated suc­cess at the World Competition, earn­ing a Gold Award for its medium-inten­sity Picual.

For Oleocampo as a coop­er­a­tive, its farmer mem­bers are proud to win this award year after year as a result of con­stant work to achieve the high­est qual­ity of our prod­ucts,” mar­ket­ing man­ager Javier Martos García told Olive Oil Times.

He said the coop­er­a­tive’s suc­cess – nine con­sec­u­tive NYIOOC acco­lades – stems from the exhaust­ing efforts to select the best olives and trans­form them fol­low­ing stan­dard best prac­tices to achieve con­sis­tent qual­ity.

The recog­ni­tion pro­vided by the NYIOOC award is always a sign of qual­ity for cus­tomers when pur­chas­ing and tast­ing our pre­mium extra vir­gin olive oil,” he said.

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The members of the Oleocamo cooperative celebrate a ninth-straight award at the World Competition.

Andalusia is the world’s largest olive oil-pro­duc­ing region by a wide mar­gin. While yields slumped to around 500,000 tons this year, the autonomous com­mu­nity pro­duces more than one mil­lion tons of olive oil annu­ally. Still, plenty of award-win­ning pro­duc­ers come from the rest of the coun­try.

On the exact oppo­site side of Spain is Navarre. Navarre is a north­ern area with var­i­ous cli­mates,” Aceite Artajo qual­ity and mar­ket­ing man­ager Andrea Urzaiz Huguet told Olive Oil Times.

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Where the farm is located, La Ribera del Ebro, is one of the areas with the most hours of sun­shine per year in the Iberian Peninsula, a very pos­i­tive fac­tor for olive pro­duc­tion,” she added.

Aceite Artajo earned a Gold Award for its coupage, a medium blend made from early-har­vested olives. The award-win­ning oil, Artajo 10 Coupage, comes from pro­duc­ing more than 12 dif­fer­ent olive vari­eties on the farm,” Urzaiz con­firmed.

Once pre­pared, the team car­ries out an inter­nal tast­ing to achieve the best com­bi­na­tion, look­ing for a com­plex and bal­anced extra vir­gin olive oil,” she added.

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Heat and drought affected production in the northern region of Navarre too.

Like her com­pa­tri­ots in Andalusia, Urzaiz said she had to over­come high tem­per­a­tures in May, which dam­aged some of the blos­soms on the olive trees and pre­vented them from pro­duc­ing olives and the ongo­ing drought.

The chal­lenges for the future have to do with the avail­abil­ity of water and the max­i­mum opti­miza­tion of that water since we are now going through a severe drought that sug­gests a harsh sum­mer,” Urzaiz said.

Also, as it is an extreme cli­mate, hot and cold, we face the chal­lenge of frost in November that could affect qual­ity,” she added.

As a result, she said win­ning awards in New York is very grat­i­fy­ing since the pres­tige of the NYIOOC can drive our next goal in exports, which is devel­op­ing our brand in the United States,” Urzaiz added.

Farther south in Castilla-La Mancha, Spain’s sec­ond-largest olive oil-pro­duc­ing region, the 788 fam­i­lies who make up the Sociedad Cooperativa Olivarera de Valdepeñas (Colival) also wor­ried about cli­mate extremes as they har­vested the olives des­tined for their award-win­ning oil.

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(Consoli Molero)

Our har­vest is car­ried out in October,” pro­duc­tion man­ager Consoli Molero told Olive Oil Times. Now, in October, we face very high tem­per­a­tures dur­ing the har­vest. We try to har­vest at dawn with low tem­per­a­tures and do the grind­ing process before noon, and keep the tem­per­a­ture of the oil low in the sieve the same as in the cen­trifuge and rapid fil­ter­ing.”

The coop­er­a­tive won a Gold Award for its medium-inten­sity Valdenvero Arbosana brand. Molero said the cli­mate extremes both helped and cre­ated chal­lenges dur­ing the har­vest in the cen­tral Spanish region.

In Castilla-La Mancha, there is a lot of drought and very dry tem­per­a­tures in sum­mer, which causes water stress to be present in the fruit,” Molero said. This cre­ates the itch­ing and bit­ter­ness in the oil, which we must work in a cen­trifuge to make a bal­anced oil.”

She attrib­uted the cooperative’s suc­cess in the com­pe­ti­tion to the farm­ing fam­i­lies’ abil­ity to work together in pur­suit of qual­ity instead of quan­tity.

Our suc­cess is work­ing as a team with the farmer,” Molero said. Since it is the main­stay where the prod­uct is obtained, we advise the farmer the opti­mal moment of har­vest­ing, and we sac­ri­fice per­for­mance in exchange for qual­ity.”

Thus, we obtain a dif­fer­ent olive juice with organolep­tic qual­i­ties dif­fer­ent from other oils,” she added. In the mill, we pam­per the olives, work­ing with­out tem­per­a­ture, a fast process and achiev­ing a prod­uct full of polyphe­nols.”

Molero said the farm­ers behind the coop­er­a­tive always appre­ci­ate when their efforts are rec­og­nized and hope the awards will help famil­iar­ize the brand with con­sumers in North America.

Along with drought, Spain’s olive oil pro­duc­ers faced chal­lenges cre­ated by the global macro­eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion. Chief among these was the effects of infla­tion, the Russian inva­sion of Ukraine and sup­ply chain dis­rup­tions on pro­duc­tion costs.

Still, this did not stop Molí Coloma. Located in Catalonia, Spain’s fourth-largest olive oil-pro­duc­ing region, Molí Coloma earned three Silver Awards in New York, accord­ing to spokes­woman Cristina Gómez.

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Climate change remains the mosty significant challenge facing producers in Catalonia.

We are very happy to receive recog­ni­tion for the work done through­out the year,” she told Olive Oil Times. We believe that it is the best way to reaf­firm our work and our pas­sion for the pro­duc­tion of qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil.”

The accu­mu­lated drought, together with the increase in costs, have been the clear­est chal­lenges of this past har­vest,” Gómez added.

Molí Coloma is located in Subirats, just west of Barcelona, and pro­duces olive oil on the estate of a 15th-cen­tury paper mill sur­rounded by olive trees and vines.

She attrib­uted the com­pa­ny’s suc­cess in the com­pe­ti­tion to care­fully mon­i­tor­ing the entire process, from olive devel­op­ment to har­vest­ing and pro­duc­tion. Gómez said the com­pany works hard to fol­low best prac­tices and incor­po­rate cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy.

She added that inter­na­tional awards helped Molí Coloma tell poten­tial cus­tomers and busi­ness pat­terns about their com­mit­ment to sus­tain­abil­ity and human health.

We want to trans­mit the impor­tance of pro­duc­ing and con­sum­ing qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil,” she said. On the one hand, the cul­ti­va­tion of the olive tree is a fun­da­men­tal pil­lar for the con­ser­va­tion of our Mediterranean ecosys­tem, and at the same time, it pro­duces a highly ben­e­fi­cial prod­uct for health.”

Just 250 kilo­me­ters south of Subrits, across the Balearic Sea, the pro­duc­ers behind Oli di Santanyi cel­e­brated win­ning a Gold Award for an organic blend, its tenth award at the com­pe­ti­tion.

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Selecting the best olives to transform into extra virgin olive oil is one of Oli Santanyi’s secrets to success.

We are proud to be win­ners of the most pres­ti­gious olive oil qual­ity con­test in the world,” man­ag­ing direc­tor Dirk Müller-Busch told Olive Oil Times. It moti­vates us to con­tinue pro­duc­ing one of the best extra vir­gin olive oils in the world and to try to improve every year.”

Müller-Busch attrib­utes his suc­cess at the com­pe­ti­tion to the exten­sive inves­ti­ga­tion” he and his col­leagues did in olive groves from South America to Italy to find the best way to pro­duce organic extra vir­gin olive oil.

Committing to an early har­vest and the loca­tion of his groves between Mondrago Natural Park and the Mediterranean Sea on the island of Mallorca also con­tribute to the qual­ity.

We already started with the har­vest at the end of September, begin­ning of October,” Müller-Busch said. The still-green olives are har­vested by hand, which is very labor inten­sive because the olives are still firmly attached to the tree.”

Each vari­ety is har­vested and processed sep­a­rately to main­tain indi­vid­ual char­ac­ter,” he added. It is not until after press­ing and tast­ing that it is decided in what ratio the three vari­eties will be com­bined (coupage) to obtain the exclu­sive fla­vor of Oli de Santanyi.”

Müller-Busch fur­ther attrib­uted his sus­tained suc­cess at the com­pe­ti­tion to his spe­cially-con­structed mill. It allows us to har­vest the olives extremely early to obtain an enor­mous amount of valu­able sub­stances,” he said.

Since polyphe­nols oxi­dize very quickly, we process the olive mass in her­met­i­cally sealed blenders and under pres­sure,” he added. The tem­per­a­ture is con­tin­u­ously con­trolled in all work steps to extract the oil at tem­per­a­tures as low as 20 to 22°C.”

To ensure the qual­ity of the fresh oil, it is fil­tered directly after it is obtained from the decanter,” Müller-Busch con­tin­ued. The remain­ing cell water and the dis­solved sub­stances are removed to ensure the dura­bil­ity of the con­tained valu­able sub­stances and aro­mas.”

The pro­ducer cited drought and cli­mate change as the most sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges he faces in pro­duc­ing award-win­ning olive oil. This year, we have had to cool the olives imme­di­ately after pick­ing them by hand and before pro­cess­ing them in our mill,” he said.

Müller-Busch hopes the award can pro­mote his brand in the lucra­tive United States mar­ket and pro­mote the nat­ural beauty of Mallorca and the Balearic Islands more gen­er­ally.

For Oli de Santanyi, an NYIOOC award is a sign of class and impor­tant mar­ket­ing,” he con­cluded. It helps estab­lish new busi­ness con­tacts and opens doors, espe­cially since many celebri­ties from the United States have dis­cov­ered the beauty of Mallorca, such as Michael Douglas, Nicole Kidman or George Freeman.”


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