Celebrating good results after a tough year and acknowledging the steps needed to continue producing high-quality oil in a changing climate were among the themes discussed by winning producers.
The record-high 69 awards achieved by Greek producers and exporters at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition has led to widespread celebration and joy in the world’s third-largest olive oil producing nation.
Hellenic Agricultural Enterprises, from the island of Lesvos, excelled among participants from Greece this year, picking up three Gold Awards for their Acaia, Acaia Organic and Aeolian extra virgin olive oils, all of which are made from the Kolovi variety, indigenous to Lesvos.
Winning a Gold Award in the NYIOOC, we were overcome with pride and joy; the whole oil-producing Apostolakis family is filled with optimism.
“We are highly gratified that our olive oils have been awarded by the NYIOOC for the sixth year in a row,” managing director Ellie Tragakes said. “We feel this testifies to our hard work, commitment and love for what we do.”
“Once again, we hope this will help us bring worldwide recognition to Lesvos, our home island in the Aegean Sea, which is also home to our olive trees,” she added.See more: The Best Olive Oils from Greece
Meanwhile, Florida-based producer, Ellora Farms, had a 100-percent success rate at this year’s NYIOOC. The Cretan producer won two Gold Awards for their PDO Kolymvari and PDO Messara, both of which are delicate Koroneiki extra virgin olive oils.
“We were pleasantly surprised and quite elated that we had won Gold awards for both of the entries we submitted,” Praful Mehta, the founder of Ellora Farms, said.
“We were optimistic in winning an award this year since we produced two excellent-quality products,” he added. “We never thought we would win two Gold Awards and achieve a 100-percent success rate.”
Another double winner of the competition was Alpha Pi from Olympia, which secured a Gold Award for its Premium brand and another one for its Original brand, both of which are medium Koroneiki oils.
“The awards were really important for Alpha Pi this year, which was a difficult year regarding the weather conditions and the obstacles in production,” Dimitris Katsanos told Olive Oil Times.
“All our associates and staff were extremely cautious in monitoring the conditions in the field and determining when the olives were ready for harvest, with the result being two precious Gold Awards,” he added.
The accumulated experience makes them better each year, Katsanos added, enabling them to enter new markets and compete with established players of the global olive oil industry, even though the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on their development.
“The closure of relevant businesses had a serious impact on us,” he said. “Still, we are optimistic and we stand by our customers to cover their needs. During the lockdown, we had the chance to redesign our strategy and prepare for the future.”
A similar tally of two Gold Awards was earned by Elaikos, from Nea Peramos in northern Greece.
“We were excited to receive two Gold Awards in the competition. Such a distinction in competitions like the NYIOOC is very important for small producers like us,” Christodoulos Roumeliotis, the owner of Elaikos, said.See more: Special Coverage: 2020 NYIOOC
“We also feel more responsible because we have raised the bar and expectations have risen accordingly. Of course, we will work harder to keep our quality at high levels,” he added.
Roumeliotis added that the way to improve the harvest in Greece is by beginning earlier and adapting to the changing climate.
“I tried to find an open olive oil mill in early October, but I couldn’t find one,” he said. “We must understand that the season starts earlier than usual now, especially in places like Crete and the Peloponnese, where the weather is mild and the olive drupes ripen more quickly than elsewhere.”
Along with seasoned veterans of the competition, some Greek producers sent their extra virgin olive oil samples to New York for the first time, and were pleasantly surprised by the results.
“This is our first time participating at the NYIOOC and we are truly honored to have received this award,” owner George Pananos told Olive Oil Times. “We very much enjoyed the live broadcasting of the results and the spotlight it provided to the winning olive oils.”
The Greek olive oil sector, on the other hand, has room for improvement, Pananos argued.
“Greece is a major producer with some of the world’s best cultivars,” he said. “We must continue to further improve our cultivation and olive oil producing practices through education.”
“We believe the Greek olive oil sector must make a greater effort to promote and to market the Greek olive oils on the international stage,” Pananos added.
Yet another one of Greece’s 30 Gold Awards went to Kyriakos Apostolakis, from Lakonia, for his Salvation extra virgin olive oil, made from a delicate Myrtolia.
“Winning a Gold Award in the NYIOOC, we were overcome with pride and joy; the whole oil-producing Apostolakis family is filled with optimism,” Apostolakis told Olive Oil Times.
“At the same time, there is this growing sense of responsibility,” he added. “We wish to fully maintain the high level of our production so as to excel and maintain this important award year after year.”
“Salvation Olive Oil has already proved it is here to stay,” Apostolakis continued. “Its taste continues to get better each year and that’s why it is bound to attract even more consumers and exceed their highest expectations, whether tasted raw or cooked.”
“I cannot really express my emotions,” he said. “It is the first prize I have won in a competition, and not any competition but the NYIOOC. I am truly happy and grateful and I think all the hard work my associates and I have done has been rewarded.”
“We will keep working hard,” Garofallos added. “The Greek olive oil sector is developing as more young people get in, bringing ideas, enthusiasm and passion. The new brands, the innovative packages, and the international prizes won are proof of that.”
For Spyros Armyros, the owner of Oilove, from Fokida in central Greece, receiving a Silver Award for his limited-production organic extra virgin olive oil, made from the Patrini and Tsounati varieties, was a great achievement.
“Winning at the NYIOOC is extremely important for the promotion and recognition of our products in international markets and especially in the demanding U.S. market,” Armyros told Olive Oil Times.
“Organic cultivation faces many challenges due to risks in yield volume, changing weather conditions, diseases, low prices and the international competition,” he added. “The pandemic has further deteriorated the prospects of the olive oil sector, but we are convinced that our adherence to quality will reward us.”
In spite of problems caused to the sector by the pandemic, producers did not let them dampen their celebrations for their successful 2019 season.
“We were extremely honored to receive the award this year at NYIOOC,” Peter Liokareas, who won a Silver Award for the second straight year for an early harvest medium Koroneiki, told Olive Oil Times.
“To win awards in back-to-back years at the NYIOOC means a lot to us,” he added. “It proves we can be an award-winning producer in the ‘off years’ and in the ‘on years’ as well. Being able to produce consistent high-quality olive oil with the ongoing changes to climate and harvest conditions is our goal.”
The Corfu-based Olive Fabrica was yet another producer celebrating a first-time triumph at the World Olive Oil Competition.
“We are proud and happy for our first NYIOOC award,” Spyros Dafnis told Olive Oil Times, after winning a Silver Award for the Governor, a monovarietal Lianelia.
“It is like a dream come true,” Dafnis added. “By marrying tradition with technological innovation and scientific research we managed to produce and present the first single variety from Lianolia.”
However, Dafnis acknowledged that success brings responsibility and pressure to remain competitive.
“Our NYIOOC award is also a recognition of all these days and nights we spent over the last 10 years in our olive farms and the mill, looking for high quality,” he said. ”Finally for us, this award symbolizes a great challenge to return with an even better oil next year.”