Europe

Making 'Magic' at Domaine de La Vallongue

Sep. 5, 2019
By Pablo Esparza

Recent News

Not far away from the tourist-packed streets of the vil­lages of Saint Rémy-de-Provence and Baux, the olive groves of the Domaine de La Vallongue seem to grow in a whole dif­fer­ent world.

The estate is placed at the bottom of a long and narrow valley -– Vallongue means “long valley” — at the heart of Les Alpilles, a small moun­tain range cov­ered with pines and kernel oaks.

Here, olive trees, grapevines and almond trees have had to adapt to strong winds, the mis­tral winds, and lime­stone soil.

See more: The Best Olive Oils from France

This Regional Natural Park and the vil­lages it com­prises is one of the most vis­ited places in France.

“This dale was part of the Via Augusta, the Roman road link­ing Spain with the cap­i­tal of the Empire that ran all the way along the Mediterranean coast,” Laetitia Barthélemy, olive oil miller and pro­duc­tion man­ager of the com­pany tells Olive Oil Times.

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As we stroll through the lines of olive trees, Barthélemy and Juliette Allain, com­mer­cial and mar­ket­ing direc­tor, recall how the owner of the 300 hectares estate, Christian Latouch, fell in love with “the magic” of this place back in 2008 and decided to start pro­duc­ing wines and olive oils here.

“There were six hectares of olive groves then. Now we have 79, which means around 18,000 olive trees. In 2015, this adven­ture con­tin­ued in 2015 when we opened our own new olive oil mill,” Barthélemy says.

“The secret to having a better qual­ity olive oil is the capa­bil­ity to take the olives to the mill as fast as pos­si­ble and, as they are our groves and it is our mill, it allows us to keep con­trol of the logis­tics, the vari­eties that we want and the degree of mat­u­ra­tion that we want,” she adds.

La Vallongue earned a Gold Award at the 2019 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

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From the estate’s offices and mill, a typ­i­cal Provençal farm sur­rounded by pines and cypresses, we drive to the dif­fer­ent plots of land belong­ing to La Vallongue, placed within the munic­i­pal­i­ties of Saint Rémy and Eygalières. The major­ity of them are newly planted olive groves.

Olives and olive trees at La Vallongue

Others sur­vived the great frost of 1956, which dec­i­mated many of the olive trees in the South of France and North of Spain. Those share a char­ac­ter­is­tic shape, with an old dead trunk in the middle sur­rounded by four new branches giving the tree a second life.

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Most of the estate grows non-organic olive oil, although a small share of organic oil is also pro­duced.

“Producing organic oil is com­plex today, but we are devel­op­ing it,” Barthélemy sug­gests.

When asked what makes French olive oil pro­duc­tion par­tic­u­lar, Barthélemy points to the Protected Designation of Origin system (AOPs), which also exists in other European coun­tries, but, she says, is deeply rooted in France.

“AOPs are meant to link pro­duc­ers and their land, espe­cially a par­tic­u­lar kind of soil (ter­roir, in French), cli­mate, and above all the know-how. Also, AOPs serve con­sumers’ demands, who are increas­ingly inter­ested in locally pro­duced and fully trace­able foods,” she explains.

Domaine de la Vallongue

“This system already proved to work very well in the wine sector, so we started apply­ing it to other prod­ucts such as oils of cheese,” Allain adds.

La Vallongue belongs to the AOP of La Vallée des Baux de Provence. Despite being one of the small­est of the eight olive oil AOPs in France, it com­prises six­teen vil­lages and pro­duces some 15 per­cent of the total French olive oil pro­duc­tion.

Preserving and pro­mot­ing the pro­duc­tion of local cul­ti­vars is key to the AOPs system.

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“Here at La Vallongue we basi­cally grow five vari­eties which are typ­i­cal from the Vallée des Baux. We have the Salonenque, which takes its name from the neigh­bor­ing city of Salon de Provence,” Barthélemy says.

“We also have the Berruguete and the Verdale of the Bouches du Rhône, which is typ­i­cal from this depart­ment and has grassy and green apple aromas and the Grossane, which is endemic of the Vallée des Baux. According to the legend, the lords of the Baux brought that vari­ety from the Crusades. And finally, we have the Picholine, which is small and pointy.”

“These dif­fer­ent cul­ti­vars and having our own mil allows us to offer a big diver­sity of oils with dif­fer­ent fla­vors,” the miller adds.