Recently one sunlit morning I woke early and headed to the rural Chiles Valley that runs parallel to its more illustrious Napa Valley neighbor. I was headed to Storm Olive Ranch to see the 2013 olives being harvested for Grove 45, the label that Bonnie Storm and Nena Talcott started in 2010. Storm, who had imported bare root trees from Tuscany in the ’90s and was somewhat of a pioneer in reenergizing the olive oil industry in the Napa Valley, was on the verge of retiring from the olive oil business when her friend Talcott –who years earlier had taken cuttings from the trees to create her own grove over the years–suggested they go into business. With nothing to lose, the pair, both post divorce, decided to launch Grove 45. They produced 60 cases from their first harvest in 2010. They sold it to a local supermarket where expert reviews from an olive oil expert caused a buzz, and the pair have never looked back. Each year Grove 45 sells out of all their cases (this crop is already accounted for), but you can still find it in some local speciality food stores.
Photography by Mimi Giboin.
Above: The entrance to Storm Olive Ranch.
Above: A grove of olives at Storm Ranch that features four typical Tuscan blends: Pendolino, Maurino, Leccino, Frantoio. Sicilian Nocellara del Belice trees were planted in the front to “tone down the hotness of the Tuscans,” Storm explains.
Above: Black olives indicate ripeness (with green being not ripe). Talcott explains “Ideally we pick when 60 percent are black and 40 percent are green and before any frost has set in. We can get an early freeze here, but this year it’s a beautiful harvest.”
Above: To prepare for the harvest, large cloths and tarpaulins are placed on the ground to gather the olives after they have fallen.
Above: Storm explains, “We start at dawn and use these pneumatic combs from Italy. They are new this year, but do much less damage to the trees than the limb shakers we were using. The guys had to do hand milling, but this is more gentle and thorough than shaking and whacking the trees.”
Above: Once gathered, the olives are poured into large bins where the leaves are blown off. Olives are hauled off to the press and milled within 24 hours of harvesting.
Above: A third of the olives will be stone pressed (more if there is a higher ratio of green olives, which are more bitter than the ripened black ones). Talcott says, “The stone milling helps produce a softer oil as it exposes the olives to oxygen longer and makes for a milder flavor.”
Above: A view looking down onto one of the groves at Storm Ranch.
If you can’t quite afford your own grove, Michelle explains how to get your own Potted Olive Tree.