2018 Olive Harvest -- What Worked, What Didn't Work 😀😩

AyO's 2018 olive harvest began at sunrise on Saturday, November 3, 2018.  While much of the world and California's olive market is suffering from a poor olive crop this year, for whatever reason, that is not the case here.  This should have been our alternate producing year (I was looking forward to a year which included some time off), but even with our ten largest trees not producing, we will eclipse last year's production.  Of course, the worrier in me is thinking, "OMG, how many olives are we going to have in our big production year, next year???" 😱

We are so fortunate to not only have family and friends and neighbors help us with the sorting, but since olives must be milled within 24 hours to begin the EVOO certification process in the U.S., we do hire crews to come in to pick the olives, so between the crews and the sorters, in our minds, the entire pick was going to get done in one day.  We were even tracking the bins real-time.

Our milling appointment was for 4:30 with our extraordinary mill, Kiler Ridge, but as bin after bin came in -- and the sorters were keeping up -- it became clear by 1:30 that there was no possibility that every tree could be picked and sorted on that day.  By about 2:30, we made the call that after the particular block the crew was working on, we would release the crew for that day and resume a new picking/sorting/milling session the following week.  That way, we could make our milling appointment and get that gorgeous fruit milled as soon as possible.

It's always an exhilarating, yet overwhelming day -- will the crews show, will they pick according to our color coding, will the sorters keep up with the pickers, will we be able to get all of the half-ton bins loaded, tied and secured and to the mill by our appointment.  

Of course, our post-game wrap on the olives is much the same as with the grapes, how did we do growing this year?   The fact that we had olives, when so many of our fellow olive growers did not, is encouraging that we're doing something right, although it makes us feel very bad for their loss.  It could just as easily be us with no olives.  We had that happen one year and it's heartbreaking.  

The growing year in California featured a very long, cool spring and an extraordinarily hot 46-day stretch from July to mid-August with temperatures over 100 degrees.  Those who had their fruit set had battles to keep what fruit they had throughout that month-and-a-half.  We are in such a desolate, hot area, there is the suspicion that our trees are more accustomed to the blistering heat, but then, there are always those pests to battle.    

In the end, it is really Mother Nature and the growing season which makes the call on the flavor of the oil.  Since it was such a long growing season, not just for the olive growers, but also the grape growers, many of the grape growers are still picking -- nearly unheard of for this area.  That makes it tough to get crews, though, which have to be lined up long in advance.  In this area, olives are the poor second cousin to grapes, which always receive priority, so the long hang time and late pick is good if you're a grape grower, not so good if you grow anything else.  It would have been hard for us to pick any earlier due to labor shortages.

What does this mean for us?  With our largest 10 trees not producing (one tree produced 800 pounds last year), we are without a large amount of our Frantoio oil and Mission oil.  We still have some Frantoio, which is being picked this weekend, but very little Mission -- which was universally loved last year, not only winning gold medals, but it was a huge fan favorite.  The good news is that our oil, on the whole, is a bit milder this year, but still has very grassy aromas and flavors.  We're also going to be picking our Coratina olives this weekend, which traditionally produces a spicy olive oil, so we will have an abundant amount of grassy, pungent oils with which to work when determining our final estate blend.  

We did a lot right this year, starting with our color coding and real-time tracking and weighing, so we would know precisely how much of which olives we had.  In the end, we were only 11 pounds off, which, out of thousands of pounds, was very good.  The difference was precisely the tare weights of two picking bins, so we know that's a spreadsheet issue, which can be easily resolved for this week.  

What could we do better?  Try to estimate how many olives we have and to work even smarter.  Having the exact amount of each olive permits us to more precisely blend and to better set goals for future years and allows us to schedule the crews and mill in the most efficient manner.  We know that unless we experience a tragic fruit loss, as many did this year, we will always have at least two picking days, and possibly more in the future.  

And as I have said over and over in this blog, the other member of my team knocked it out of the park growing the olives in a challenging growing year while simultaneously attempting to keep the pests at bay -- most specifically, the olive fruit fly.  I blended, formulated, bottled, labeled, and sealed a staggering number of bottles of olive oil (and wine) and created our other products.  We also tended to our grapevines and made some very good wines, so it's not surprising that we'd looked forward to some down time after harvest -- but we didn't finish, so we will be doing it all over again next Saturday.  Are we a bit disappointed that it's not a wrap yet?  Of course we are, but still lingering in our minds is the fact that so many growers have nothing this year, so for our bounty, we are grateful.

Our pep talk to selves to get us over the finish line is a quote by Nelson Mandela, "It always seems impossible until it's done."  So, we'll just keep our heads down and get the job done next weekend.  


The Rancho AyO Team

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