December Olive Harvest, Our First Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the Estate

It has been a long time since the grape harvest (so it seems). So much happened at the end that we were sent into a frenzy like none other and tested and tried as fairly new vineyard owners, but we survived! And today Phillip is enjoying a day in the winery tasting the 2009 and 2010 wines in every barrel…a staggering amount of wine (no pun intended–but someone has to do it).

One more surprise for the estate annals of 2010: an incredible olive harvest! If you’ll remember the minimal crop we had in 2009, (read here to refresh your memory) we weren’t expecting much from our 540 trees this year. It is an interesting activity, estimating a crop load on trees. Based on the two previous years of 120 pounds a year, Phillip estimated about 1/2 ton of olives for 2010. We bought a “hobby” home press with every intention of pressing slowly, day-by-day, varietal-by-varietal until we actually got down to it and realized this would take all year! (This press is now FOR SALE!, it processes 30 lbs/hour and is perfect if you have 2 or 3 trees…not 540!)

We tremendously enjoyed the slow pace while it lasted and tasting each tree’s oil (we have 8 Spanish varietals planted, they all yield different crop loads, size of olives and flavors–just like wine grapes). We relented, but happily called in professional pickers. Over 2 days and 30 workers, our trees gave us 2 1/2 tons of olives! (NOT 1/2 ton as estimated.) Thankfully, we have good friends in the olive business who also have 10 acres of trees farmed organically, and we were able to piggy-back onto their pressing (thank you Jerry and Carolyn Shaeffer @ Rancho Rendezvous Farms in Paso Robles).

New to the Paso area is Mill on Wheels, a mobile mill equipped to process fruit from start to finish: olives to oil, right there at your estate! It is run by Yves and Clotilde of Olea Farm, veteran olive oil producers in Templeton. Yves was a saint, pressing our olives well into the dark hours of the night and keeping our varietals different so we could have 4 different blends, all showcasing incredible flavors and attributes. His niece is chef at Thomas Hill Organics and she had raved to him about our natural wines, and by good fortune we had some with us at the press and all were sustained, keeping us happy (and well lubricated) while working.

The olive harvest yielded 100 gallons of beautiful dry-farmed, Biodynamic extra virgin Olive Oil. It was an exceptional morning after the press: for breakfast we shared homemade bread, drizzled with our estate olive oil and a perfectly poached egg from our chickens. We relished in our bounty, in that moment: all seemed to be complete, harmonious and isn’t-this-really-what-it’s-all-about filled our souls and our bellies and our minds.

We hoped to get some oil in bottles and labeled for our good customers to buy and give as gifts over Christmas. It didn’t happen, we went on vacation instead. However, everyone that has visited in the last month has tasted, raved and purchased oil that we’ve filled for them. We should get our labels this week and move forward. It is available for sale! Right now the oil is green, slightly cloudy, sharp, full of health and incredibly tasty (go here for interesting olive harvesting/timing information).

For Sale at the Winery:
250 ml, $16.95
375 ml, $22.50
750 ml, $35.00

**Bring your own containers and we’ll fill them up for $40 a liter!

Liquid gold, that is the best descriptor of such a wonder.

The Fall Vineyard

Perhaps there is nothing more gorgeous than the 60 tons of aged manure we apply to the vineyard every October/November. This compost, which had the Biodynamic preparations inserted last October, has been aging under our oaks, in a shady location, for a year. At the point of application, it has a moist, fluffy crumble that sits lightly in your hand–as if it is made of air. It is not dense, hard or stony. Really, it is the most pure and beautiful form of “dirt”, or soil, I’ve ever seen. And the aroma carries none of the manure qualities that were present a year ago: it is now sweet and earthy. It is an amazing part of “life” that is formed, and nothing you buy from the garden shop labeled as “compost” compares.

This year we added dandelion seeds to the compost as it was being broadcast throughout the vineyard. We hope to have them growing wildly throughout the vineyard, to once again aide in regulating the relationship between silica and potassium in the vines. Perhaps we’ll be able to have enough dandelion flower heads to pick them, dry them and use them for various teas when needed. We are very happy so far this season, we had an early 4″ of rain in October, but Phillip was able to get in the vineyard to chisel to prepare the soil before the rain. We had no
run-off whatsoever throughout the vineyards, the earth was so ready to receive this rain! Then we were able to get into the vineyards again to broadcast the manure…to apply our natural fertilizer (compost) to the earth. As of this typing, the weather forecast for this week is rain/snow and more rain! Needless to say, bring it on El Nino!
Our family took a two week sabbatical to our favorite place of rest after harvest, only to return to another harvest: olives! As we turned into our vineyard, the olive trees lining the road were full of beautiful black olives. We harvested the Picuals and Lechen de Sevillas: the olives themselves are plump and big, nearly double the size of last year’s crop. We have yet to harvest the newer trees, especially the Arbequinas–we anticipate a major crop from these prolific trees! They are still ripening, making the change from green to black (FYI, all olives begin green). All said, again this year we did not get enough olives to make olive oil due to the June winds knocking off the flowers before fruit was able to set, but we do have enough to brine. We prick each olive, one-by-one, with a toothpick before submerging them in a saltwater bath. The olives remain in a saltwater brine for up to 4 weeks before we jar them and perserve them in olive oil. For the recipe, shoot us an email!

In our home garden we’ve set out seed for our lettuces and hard greens (kale and chard) as well as onions, fennel, leeks, carrots, radishes, cilantro and dill. As a novice gardener, I let quite a few things go to seed last year, and this Fall, after our rainfall, all of those lovely seeds have set themselves and I have wild dill and fennel and lettuces growing everywhere, as well as sweet peas and borage. I love it! I love that as I walk through our landscaping and gardens, I see these little leaf forms growing voluntarily, placed there by the wind and pollinators. I check on them all daily, I feel as though they are my special babies. Yes, this year I’ll be a bit more diligent when I let my plants go to seed, but I also appreciate so much the cycles life goes through: seed to plant to flower, back to seed in the form of another/new plant–amazing!

Right now, we look out at the vineyards and have the beautiful Autumn display of golds and reds throughout the Grenache and Grenache Blanc blocks. All of the other varietals have shed their leaves for the year. You can see from the photo above the stunning leaves of Grenache in Mark’s Vineyard and our lovely, lovely blue Paso Robles sky. This will all change tomorrow, as we have a rainy week ahead, with lows in the 20’s. Our citrus and avocado trees have Christmas lights strung on them to protect the leaves against frost. The dogs will be sleeping inside, begging to be let out to run and carry-on with their daily routines. The fires are lit, I think it’s time for a glass of red wine…