Part of our continuing special coverage of the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.
French producers earned a record-high 17 awards at the 2021 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition, doubling the previous record of eight from 2020.
Producers from across the south of France and Corsica combined to win a total of nine Gold and eight Silver Awards from 31 entries.
We endeavor to get the French olive varieties better known internationally and winning Gold for France at the NYIOOC is, therefore, a double joy.
French producers had a challenging year in 2020 with setbacks from a late spring frost damaging olive trees across the south of the country and Storm Alex hampering the harvest in October.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought further challenges to producers, by hurting the sales for some and dampening the demand for olive oil from the hospitality sector.See Also: The Best Olive Oils from France
Among the winning producers from France was Louisa Sherman, the owner of Domaine de Gerbaud, which sits in the foothills of the southern Luberon massif in Provence.
Sherman said she was elated to win a Gold Award for the second time. She added that the harvest yielded small profits due to the challenges she faced over the past year, but extra care and effort paid dividends in a different way.
“French olive tree varieties and their characteristics are not widely known by international tasters,” Sherman told Olive Oil Times. “We endeavor to get the French olive varieties better known internationally and winning Gold for France at the NYIOOC is, therefore, a double joy.”
Domaine de Gerbaud’s olive grove is located in one of the nine French Protected Designations of Origin (PDO) areas, which focuses on the relationship between the environment, climate and soil to produce olive oil sustainably.
Five varieties from a total of 1,280 Provencal olive trees yielded a unique extra virgin olive oil, which was produced by hand at every stage of the process and relates back to its original environment.
Domaine de Gerbaud produced 1,200 litres in 2020 – one-third the yield of their best harvest of 3,600 liters – with the weather playing a vital factor in production.
Sherman said rain during the flowering period last spring followed by a cold snap during fruit forming severely damaged the yield. She added that the small harvest also exacerbates the high production costs in France.
Located slightly northeast in the department of Haute Provence, Maison Bremond 1830 won two Gold Awards in their second year competing in the World Olive Oil Competition.
The company earned the Gold Awards for a pair of monovarietal Aglandaus, its Green Fruity Heritage and Ripe Fruity Heritage brands.
The family business handpicks and presses their olives at the local olive mill, Moulin du Luberon, and shares their passion for the terroir with Domaine de Gerbaud, which they believe is borne out in the final product.
“We’re enormously proud and honored that both of our olive oils won a Gold Award,” Laetitia Casanova, the company’s marketing director, told Olive Oil Times. “It is an international recognition that rewards long and complex work. It’s extremely encouraging for us and our producers.”
The olive oils produced by Maison Bremond are distinguished by the fact that the olives originate from the same grove, but are picked on two different dates.
The Green Fruity Heritage olives are picked first in the early harvest, which came in November 2020. The olives for the Ripe Fruity Heritage came from the second harvest, which took place in December 2020.
The result is two contrasting varieties of oil. Green Fruity Heritage is aromatic with flowery notes, while the Ripe Fruity Heritage has a complex and ripe fruitiness.
Along with producing their own olive oil, Maison Bremond is also a delicatessen and works with several producers. This means that it is hard to define precisely the quantity of olive oil that they produced in 2020
“Right now, it’s too early to tell,” Casanova said. “The weather was quite different this year in spring compared to last year, but we are still extremely optimistic. Not only does the climate impact olive production, but we also still have people with great knowledge, who can handle bad situations… And this knowledge is constant.”
The recognition of these awards has left the producers behind Maison Bremond confident that they are producing a quality label and can expand their international profile.
About 150 kilometers east of the Luberon massif, just outside of the coastal city of Nice, the producers behind Champsoleil returned to their winning ways at the 2021 NYIOOC, earning two Gold Awards.
Champsoleil produced between 30 and 35 tons of extra virgin olive oil in the 2020/21 crop year from its organic groves, which are located within the PDO Nice region.
The southeastern French producer earned the two awards for its L’Efemera brand, an organic delicate blend, and its Lou Divin Preludi brand, a delicate Cailletier.
“Since our first presentation at the NYIOOC, our Grand Cru, l’Efemèra, has always won Gold Awards from the team of experts,” owner Henri Derepas told Olive Oil Times. “This year was a ‘double shot’ as our Cuvée Prestige PDO Nice Lou Divin Préludi won the same distinction.”
Just like his colleagues farther west, Derepas added that he and his trees were not exempted from the inclement weather that struck the south of France throughout 2020, although he admitted to fairing better than many others in the region.
“All of us producers know that a successful year is not a long, quiet river. To realize a successful vintage sometimes seems like crossing a sea of obstacles,” he said. “Frost, hail, drought, floods and this year’s Storm Alex; in 40 years of hard but fascinating work, we have known the worst conditions, but this has never stopped us from achieving the best quality.”
Back on the western edge of Provence, in the PDO Vallée des Baux-de-Provence area, the producers behind Moulin de la Coquille celebrated their first-ever win at the NYIOOC.
“We started this year by winning two gold medals in our region, but learning about winning at the NYIOOC in our first year of registration was even greater news,” owner Marie-Josée Sirvent told Olive Oil Times. “It is the accomplishment of years of hard work for our little family company.”
Sirvent added that the Gold Award was especially gratifying after the producers experienced a challenging year while converting their trees into an organic grove.
“The 2020/21 harvest was challenging in our region because of the lack of olives,” she said. “Compared to others, we were lucky to have a pretty good harvest. Our challenge was about keeping the olives on the trees in a good state, without using any pesticide.”
While the majority of French NYIOOC winners are from Provence, a Corsican producer also celebrated its first win at the World Competition.
Domaine Petricajola earned its Gold Award for an organic medium Frantoio.
“We are happy and proud to have won at the NYIOOC on our first try,” owner Félicien Luciani told Olive Oil Times. “This award is the consecration of 15 years of work, always seeking to obtain the best possible oil without compromising on quality and paying permanent attention to detail.”
Luciani said every year brings its own challenges for organic farmers, with 2020 serving as no exception. However, he touted his ability to adapt to these changes as being both environmentally responsible and his secret to success.
“You have to constantly adapt and know how to renew your techniques, always respecting nature and the olive tree,” he said.