The New Kid on the Block | The Olive Oil Source

The New Kid on the Block

Source: The Olive Oil Source
December 11, 2002

Some have said that the new high density olive plantings (HDP’s) near the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada is the biggest olive farming “breakthrough” in California since Father Junipero Serra first introduced olive trees to the new world in the 17th century. This 700 acre farm, developed by California Olive Ranch (COR), was first planted near Oroville in 1999. At the time of this writing (November 2002), the owners had just harvested their second crop, which produced about 25% of the volume expected at maturity.

One of the most unique features of these HDP’s is the size of the semi-dwarf trees and their “hedgerow” planting pattern, which lends itself to mechanical harvesting by grape harvesters that have been adapted to olives. This combination of cultural practices and harvesting techniques were first introduced in Southern Europe only within the last decade. The result is far lower harvesting costs and a more rapid harvest when the fruits are at their peak, greatly enhancing quality. To further ensure quality, olives are immediately pressed after harvest in COR’s newly installed “state-of-the-art” olive oil mill. The resulting extremely high quality oil, (less than .1% acidity), directly flows into temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks for future bottling or bulk sale.

Michael Denny at California Olive Ranch

Michael Denny at California Olive Ranch

Although both science and technology have been used to reduce cost and enhance quality, some of the traditional factors in producing olive oil remain.

The primary variety planted is the European Arbequina, prized for its intense flavor and fruity aroma. Although the oil mill is state of the art, the production method is traditional, using only cold extraction and the natural procedure of “decanting.”

Arbequina I-18 olive Variety

Arbequina I-18 Variety

The area in which the orchard has been planted enjoys a classic Mediterranean climate, with warm days, cool nights and moderate winter dormant conditions. COR feels that their drip irrigation system and cultural practices will greatly reduce the olive tree’s tendency to alternately produce. COR sees their farming and processing methods as a marriage between the best of technology and tradition.

Although many may view COR as a huge player in the domestic olive oil market, COR’s management is quick to point out that total olive oil consumption in the USA is only 5% of the total edible oil consumption. Of the 220,000 tons of US olive oil consumption, less than 1% is produced in California. COR’s total olive oil production at maturity will only be 20% of California’s total.

“No California producer is very big when viewed on a global scale. It is this huge and growing yet still underdeveloped market that attracted our investors to this venture,” cited Michael Denny, manager of COR’s US operations. “We feel there is a great opportunity to expand the US market for high quality olive oil that uses all of the best practices developed in Europe but grown in California and delivered virtually fresh from the tree.”

olive groves

Olive Field Day

COR’s concerns are consistent with the rest of the California industry. “Labeling that truly identifies the quality in the bottle (for imports as well as domestic production) and a level field for producers without export or production subsidies is our goal, as it has been for other California producers,” stated Denny. “We also need to undertake as an industry, a campaign to educate the American consumer on the qualities and uses for olive oil and further reinforce the healthy attributes of our product. It is our intent to be a team player in expanding California’s competitive position in the US market,” Denny added.

COR’s marketing plans include the development of their own brand to be sold through supermarkets and foodservice. They will also offer private labeled products to companies looking for a very high quality, California-produced oil. COR also anticipates the sale of oil in bulk to repackagers. Toll crushing services will also be available, subject to COR’s own harvest timing.

COR’s primary contact is Michael Denny at 530-846-8000, email

For marketing and sales, contact Jaime Sancho, 530-846-8000, email