Miha Jakovcic pruning at the Giuliana estate (Photos by Pablo Esparza for Olive Oil Times)

“There was a time when a squir­rel could travel from Koper to Portoroz jump­ing from one olive tree to another,” Miha Jakovcic recalls “nonno” Giovanni, his wife’s grand­fa­ther say­ing, as he looks at the mag­nif­i­cent vis­tas from one of his olive groves in the hills of the Slovenian coast.

My wife’s father says that prun­ing is not just a mat­ter of cut­ting the right branches. The tree needs to look beau­ti­ful as well.- Miha Jakovcic, Giuliana

Most of the slopes are now cov­ered by forests. Some olive groves scat­tered here and there.

“That would be impos­si­ble nowa­days, but if you look care­fully, you can still dis­tin­guish the ancient ter­races where olive trees used to grow beneath the oaks,” he says.


 

He comes from the same coun­try, but until that moment, his rela­tion­ship with olive oil had been a dis­tant one.

Despite being a rel­a­tively small coun­try — its area of 23,000 square kilo­me­ters roughly equals that of New Jersey — Slovenia boasts a large diver­sity of cli­mates, land­scapes and cul­tures.

Originally from Ljubljana, Slovenia’s cap­i­tal city, Miha fell in love with olive oil thanks to his wife and her fam­ily and decided to cre­ate Giuliana olive oil.
It takes just one hour’s drive to switch the Mediterranean towns of the coast — with their dis­tinc­tive Venetian influ­enced archi­tec­ture — for the Central European fla­vor of Ljubljana, fea­tur­ing a rich Austro-Hungarian her­itage.

“I con­sumed olive oil, sure, but it was from the gro­cery store. When they showed me how true, very good olive oil should taste and smell, it was a totally dif­fer­ent story for me. And I fell in love with this tree,” Miha says.

Although he works full time in finance and lives in the cap­i­tal, he enjoys get­ting “full of energy” after a day of work in his olive groves.

“Do you think the branches are even?”, he asks as he climbs one of the olive trees to bet­ter prune it. “My wife’s father says that prun­ing is not just a mat­ter of cut­ting the right branches. The tree needs to look beau­ti­ful as well,” he sug­gests.

Farming as a hobby or a sec­ond job, Miha’s case is not much dif­fer­ent from other olive oil pro­duc­ers Olive Oil Times has vis­ited in Slovenian Istria.

In this region, most pro­duc­ers own small, often dis­perse, prop­er­ties spread on the steep slopes of the hills. For years, olive oil was pro­duced only for self-con­sump­tion. That was also the case of Miha’s fam­ily until recently.

Now, he takes care of the land of his wife’s par­ents, four plots of land from Koper to Portoroz, and has man­aged to add the pro­duc­tion of three other rel­a­tives under Giuliana’s brand, named after his wife’s mother.

They farm around 800 olive trees in total. Step by step, Miha says, oil pro­duc­tion is recov­er­ing in Slovenia and many of the once-aban­doned ter­races and olive groves are being brought back to pro­duc­tion.

“There is a say­ing in this area: A vine is like a lover. If you neglect it, even a lit­tle, it won’t for­give you. An olive tree, how­ever, is like a mother. You can always come back to her,” he jokes.

Slovenia has just 46 kilo­me­ters of coast and pro­duces around 400 tons of olive oil each year, accord­ing to the International Olive Council.

This is a small share of the Mediterranean pro­duc­tion, how­ever, the qual­ity of Slovenian oils are gain­ing steady recog­ni­tion. Last year, three Slovenian pro­duc­ers were awarded at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

Giuliana’s olive oil won a Gold Award. For Miha, the spe­cial con­di­tions of the Istrian cli­mate and the fact that most of the farm­ing has to be made by hand are keys to qual­ity.

“Each plot is unique and needs spe­cial care,” he says, remark­ing how height, humid­ity and expo­sure to winds, low tem­per­a­tures and sun may influ­ence the way olive trees grow and the amount and qual­ity of the har­vest.

“We take care of each tree indi­vid­u­ally. We pick the olives mostly by hand and we har­vest very early in October. We have to make a trade-off between excel­lent qual­ity and larger quan­tity,” he says.



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