An Oasis of Award-Winning EVOO in Tabernas

Sergio Leone, the Italian filmmaker, chose the desert region of Tabernas as a film location for his Spaghetti Westerns. Few believed the area was right for olive oil production.

Oro del Desierto (Pablo Esparza)
Sep. 14, 2017
By Pablo Esparza
Oro del Desierto (Pablo Esparza)

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The esparto grass cov­ered hills and dry ravines of the Tabernas desert are not the usual back­drop to grow olive trees in Spain.

Sustainability is not only think­ing about the envi­ron­ment. It is also think­ing about the peo­ple who live in the envi­ron­ment. So it is some­thing that we want to leave as a legacy.- Rafael Alonso, Oro del Desierto

With just 200mm of annual rain­fall (7.8 inches) — less than that in the areas by the sea — and over 300 days of sun­shine every year, this cor­ner in the south­east­ern province of Almería is con­sid­ered the dri­est place in Europe.

Its weather is extreme: the 400m (15748 feet) ele­va­tion above the sea level makes tem­per­a­tures vary from very hot sum­mers to cool win­ters.

Sergio Leone, the Italian film­maker, and many oth­ers chose Tabernas and its sur­round­ing areas as a film loca­tion for Spaghetti Westerns.

The Mexican vil­lages and the American far West land­scapes where Clint Eastwood per­formed The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and For a Few Dollars More were, in fact, the old cor­ti­jos” (Andalusian coun­try houses) and vil­lages of this long-for­got­ten region.

Growing olive trees and any other crops in this area requires spe­cial tech­niques and a good amount of deter­mi­na­tion.

As he dri­ves through the 100-hectares (247-acre) olive grove, Rafael Alonso, export and mar­ket­ing man­ager of Oro del Desierto (Gold of the desert), told Olive Oil Times that when his father started pro­duc­ing extra vir­gin olive oil in Tabernas 20 years ago some peo­ple hes­i­tated about the qual­ity of the prod­uct he could obtain in this arid land.


In 2017, Oro del Desierto, which is still a fam­ily run com­pany, won a Gold Award and a Best in Class Award in the New York International Olive Oil Competition.

Traditional oil pro­duc­ing provinces like Jaén, Córdoba, Sevilla and Granada are not far away, but the con­di­tions in Almería are quite dif­fer­ent. And they affect the fea­tures of the olive oil.

Our region being so dry and hav­ing so much sun com­pared to other Mediterranean regions, makes our oil — I would not say bet­ter than oth­ers — but very dif­fer­ent. Our oils are very aro­matic, not too pun­gent, not as strong as oth­ers,” Rafael argues.

The Alonso family’s estate lies in a val­ley sur­rounded by bare moun­tains a few kilo­me­tres away from Tabernas, a vil­lage with a pop­u­la­tion of 3000.

Water is the main con­cern here”, Alonso said.

As long as we are in a desert, we need to irri­gate the trees. We found sev­eral wells and that is the main source at the moment. But we are not far from the sea, around 30 kilo­me­ters (18.6 miles), and there is a project for bring­ing water from a desalin­iza­tion facil­ity in the future,” he added.

We have stopped at a spot in the mid­dle of the estate. A group of horses seeks shade under a big solar panel. Both the ani­mals and the energy-pro­duc­ing device play an impor­tant role in the way olive trees are cul­ti­vated here.

We pump the water from the wells from between 16 – 18 meters (18 – 19 yards) under­ground thanks to solar energy. All the energy we use here is solar energy,” Alonso explained.
See Also:Buy Oro Del Desierto Organic Coupage
The 25,000-tree estate is irri­gated by a drip­ping sys­tem. In most of the fields, the tubes are buried 40 cen­time­ters (16 inches) under­ground to pre­vent evap­o­ra­tion.

Before drip­ping irri­ga­tion sys­tems were applied, farm­ing in this region was very scarce.

This was mainly cereal land. Olive trees were grown just on the banks of the ravines so they could ben­e­fit from the water run­ning through them once or twice a year. It was sub­sis­tence agri­cul­ture,” Rafael says.

Now things have changed. Although pro­duc­tion rates are lower here than in other Spanish regions, inten­sive farm­ing has become pos­si­ble.

But Alonso, an Environment sci­en­tist who a few years ago decided to join his family’s olive oil pro­duc­tion project, is a staunch defender of sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture.

And this is the point where the small black horses that roam the estate are a valu­able ally.

They are very good com­bin­ing with this crop because they don’t like the olives. They don’t like the trees so they don’t eat them, but they eat the weeds. So they are kind of a nat­ural her­bi­cide,” Alonso noted.

Some peo­ple mis­take them for ponies. But they are not. They belong to a race from Asturias, in Northern Spain, called astur­cón.”

Despite the obvi­ous con­straints that they imply, con­stant drought and high tem­per­a­tures also have some advan­tages for organic farm­ers.

There was very lim­ited farm­ing and in a very tra­di­tional way. So there was no con­t­a­m­i­na­tion and very lit­tle pres­sure in the ground. So it is a kind of vir­gin soil. So grow­ing some­thing in this kind of soil, and to be organ­ics, is eas­ier,” he said.

On the other hand, the lack of humid­ity makes it dif­fi­cult for to spread and grow as fast as they would in more rainy areas.

The com­bi­na­tion of four dif­fer­ent vari­eties of olive trees on the estate — Hojiblanca, Picual, Arbequina and Lechín — also helps to pre­vent the impact of pests as each cul­ti­var is affected by them dif­fer­ently.

20 years ago, when the Alonso fam­ily started pro­duc­ing organic farm­ing, their project was seen as an odd­ity in the region.

Now, other farm­ers are pro­duc­ing good qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil in the Tabernas desert and, slowly, olive trees are chang­ing this dra­matic land­scape.

We strongly believe that sus­tain­abil­ity is not only think­ing about the envi­ron­ment. It is also think­ing about the peo­ple who live in the envi­ron­ment. So it is some­thing that we want to leave as a legacy.”

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