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Heroic Cultivation on Lake Como

Oct. 22, 2015
Ylenia Granitto

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Lake Como is the most beau­ti­ful lake in the world accord­ing to the Huffington Post, which in its 2014 rank­ing defined it as blessed with a superb microclimate.”

Despite its north­ern lat­i­tude, the lake — also known as Lario — has a mit­i­gat­ing effect on the cli­mate of its shore and banks that stim­u­lates the devel­op­ment of a lush flora, rich in Mediterranean and even sub­trop­i­cal species.

We per­ceive these issues as stim­u­lat­ing chal­lenges- Massimiliano Gaiatto

Massimiliano Gaiatto, his wife Luciana and his right-hand man Erman Maggioni pro­duce the Gaiatto extra vir­gin olive oil DOP Lombard Lakes Lario under pecu­liar conditions.

In 2005, Massimiliano obtained some rugged plots of land that had been aban­doned since the 1960s. He came from a very dif­fer­ent career (he runs a com­pany that pro­duces bicy­cle hel­mets) and his unpre­ten­tious ini­tial idea was to cre­ate a small olive grove ded­i­cated to the fam­ily consumption.

He began to explore the art of olive grow­ing with pas­sion, study­ing every­thing from prun­ing to man­ag­ing a mill, and became a pro­fes­sional taster to under­stand how to improve his product.

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Currently, he cul­ti­vates about 7 acres of olive groves scat­tered in the province of Lecco between the two vil­lages of the shore of Varenna, and the hill of Perledo. Six hun­dred and fifty young plants of Frantoio and Leccino are flanked by a small per­cent­age of Bianchera, a vari­ety that Gaiatto trans­planted from the area of Friuli to give an inter­est­ing con­tri­bu­tion in bit­ter­ness and pun­gency to his blend.

Steep terraces of the Gaiatto grove near Lake Como, Italy.

The sup­port of the olive grove has become essen­tial for the pro­tec­tion of slopes and the safety of soil sub­ject to land­slides, as the steep banks of the lake, once cul­ti­vated and then aban­doned, were highly sus­cep­ti­ble to ero­sion and struc­tural failure. 

He told me that when he was plant­ing the first olive trees with his col­lab­o­ra­tors, they were hit by a land­slide that left them mirac­u­lously unharmed. The nar­row escape gave him a fur­ther moti­va­tion to con­tinue and he found a bet­ter area, the one that now con­tains the grove. 

The olive trees that we planted, and a hun­dred plants that we found in the prop­er­ties, helped to retain and sus­tain these hard lands,” he said. The con­stant main­te­nance of the ter­rac­ing and rein­state­ment of the retain­ing walls are nec­es­sary since, espe­cially over these years, they suf­fered the ero­sive effect of heavy pre­cip­i­ta­tions fol­lowed by peri­ods of drought”.

We under­stand how the preser­va­tion of the ter­ri­tory also has an aes­thetic value in the beau­ti­ful land­scape of the lake.

The first ter­races are located on the lake banks at 220 meters above sea level. The wider ter­races can con­tain at most two rows of plants. The small plots that com­pose the olive grove often have ardu­ous accesses and some areas are dif­fi­cult to reach.

Through a 45-degree slope we reach the higher plants at 500 meters above sea level, a con­sid­er­able ele­va­tion for olive tree cul­ti­va­tion. Access with large machines (e.g. for mow­ing and recov­ery of prun­ing residues) is impos­si­ble. Only hand-held har­vesters can be used, as they can be maneu­vered by a sin­gle operator.

Moreover, expo­sure to the sun is lim­ited and in win­ter it decreases dra­mat­i­cally, since the sun begins to go down at 4 pm. 

We per­ceive these issues as stim­u­lat­ing chal­lenges,” our pro­ducer affirmed. We can­not com­pete in terms of quan­tity, so the goal is to reach the high­est level of qual­ity. We are smaller than a niche and the high price of our prod­uct is jus­ti­fied by the great efforts made to pro­duce an excel­lent EVOO,” he said, his words con­firmed by awards from Crown Maestrod’olio 2015 at ExtraLucca.

This month the heroic har­vest begins again.

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