Our Olive Groves
To understand why our oil has received so much acclaim around the world, it’s probably best to start with a quick history.
In 1988, after careful research, we took cuttings from an ancient olive grove in the hills to the east of Lucca, in the heart of the Tuscan countryside, planted to a field blend of 50% Leccino, 25% Frantoio, 15% Maurino, and 10% Pendolino.
It turns out those are some very special trees. While the varieties are common across Tuscany, that grove has very distinct clones (essentially, sub-varietals) whose fruit makes an oil with a flavor profile unlike any other. The trees from which we took the cuttings are over 800 years old, and the farm has been in the same family since the 1400s!
When we brought the cuttings to the US in 1990, the US Department of Agriculture informed us that we were the first to import olive trees to the US since the 1800s.
Olive Ridge Ranch, as we named our home farm, now boasts 4,500 of these unique trees, with another few hundred planted at our winery.
We also farm two other groves of our trees on friends' properties. In Knights Valley, friends are letting us care for a five-acre grove of our trees planted on their land. This beautiful property, which we have certified as Biodynamic, is at higher altitude than our home farm. This means the olives ripen later than ours, making them perfect for our Meyer Lemon olive oil.
And in the valley just over the hills to the west of us is another block of our trees, planted by another old friend and certified organic, which is now owned by a wonderful young couple who have placed the trees in our care.
The olives are harvested by hand over several weeks in the fall. They are pressed the day they are picked. We use a traditional stone wheel for the early part of the harvest, which emphasizes the richness inherent in the fruit. Towards the middle of the second week, we shift to a blade mill to highlight the pepperiness. The oil is unfiltered, first cold press.
We bottle in small batches throughout the year, with the unbottled oil stored under argon gas to keep it fresh. But it's never better than the instant it's pressed!
Our Meyer Lemon Oil is made from olives harvested a month later when they are extra-ripe. This is not an infused or flavored oil. Rather, our olives are crushed together with the fragrant skins of organic Meyer lemons using a traditional stone mill that extracts both the oil in the olives as well as the oil in the lemon skins. (We juice the fruit beforehand, reserving it for our addictive Meyer Lemon Curd as well as lemonade.)
Our first harvest was in 1994, but it takes 25 years for olive trees to reach full production — so we're still waiting!
The 1997 olive harvest saw our first significant production. We loved it. Others did too: that oil turned out to be the very first American extra virgin olive oil to win a blind tasting in Italy!
The best was yet to come. Each year, Italy’s Gambero Rosso – sort of a Gourmet magazine meets the Michelin Guide – selects the best Italian olive oils of the new harvest. In December 1998, they brought samples to Mario Batali’s famous New York restaurant, “Babbo”, to show them off. They didn't know that we had just sent Mario our very own sample of that year's production. He slipped it into the blind tasting at his restaurant, and – you guessed it – the delegation from Gambero Rosso selected our ’98 DaVero Dry Creek Estate as the top Tuscan oil!
Also worth noting, we became in 2001 the first recipient of the Top Gold Award in the Olive Oils of the World competition, the industry’s most prestigious event and award.
Ultimately, though, what we seek isn’t awards from judges, so we have stopped entering competitions. Our most valued award comes instead from the top chefs and home cooks who delight in our oils, and consistently come back for more.