A New Harvest from the Talcotts

by Peggy OKelly on January 31, 2012

The whirlwind of December’s olive harvest is done, and now all that’s left to do is wait.

We wait while our new crop of olive oils takes a breather. They need this time — usually a couple of months after they been pressed — to rest. The natural olive sediment settles out, leaving a clearer, more stable oil that is then bottled as the year’s vintage.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have any new oils to share. If you follow our newsletter, you know that we released our own “olio nuovo” just after it was pressed in December. It was made from olives grown at Twin Sisters Ranch in Suisun Valley, and had a thick, meaty texture and a bold finish — a perfect, delicious way to celebrate the olive harvest.

We have none of our nuovo left, but we do still have few precious bottles of new oil from Napa olive grower Jim Talcott. Like us, Jim bottled a small quantity of his oil, which was pressed in mid-December, and is allowing the remainder to settle before he releases it this winter.

Jim and his wife, Patricia, moved to southernmost Napa to grow olives about seven years ago. Surrounded by the famed vineyards of Carneros, they now tend about 3,000 olive trees, mostly Italian varietals. When Jim gives directions to their home, there is no street address involved. Instead, there is a series of landmarks — wineries, a pond, mailboxes, a gravel road. So when you do find your way to the secluded house — and to the magnificent olive grove that surrounds it — you feel almost like you’ve stumbled into some kind of secret.

But this beautiful landscape takes some seriously hard work to maintain. A surgeon by trade, Jim spent several years as a grape grower in St. Helena before making olives his primary focus. As organic growers, the Talcotts must be exacting about the methods they use to control mold and ward off pests, such as voles, which eat bark and destroyed half of the couple’s trees during their first year. After rebounding from that setback, Jim now spends much of the growing season pruning his trees to ensure all of their energy is going into producing fruit.

This year, the result is an new oil that is fresh and green with strong fruity flavors, and just a hint of the pepperiness that often characterizes Italian olive varietals. Jim proudly declares it “the best oil we’ve produced so far.”

The Talcotts were lucky to have a bountiful harvest this year. Many local orchards were affected by springtime rains, which stripped trees of the flowers that are necessary to produce fruit, leaving many with limited or non-existent harvests. While the Talcotts’ harvest was somewhat smaller than anticipated, Jim believes the relative youth of their trees kept it from being severely hampered.

Jim, like many of his fellow growers, is happy to keep the momentum going in favor of quality oil. He sees an increasing number of consumers turning toward fresh, small production, extra virgin oils both for their flavor and health benefits.

“I do think that more and more people are using good olive oil,” he said.

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Rutherford Runway

by Emily Shartin on December 15, 2011

The only sign that David Moreland’s land used to be part of an airfield is the modest hangar nearby. Otherwise, you probably would have no idea that this property off Whitehall Lane – now replete with olive trees and grapevines – was once part of the Inglenook Ranch airstrip, which shuttled winemakers in and out of the Napa Valley.

David is the grower behind our aptly-named Rutherford Runway extra virgin olive oil. He and his family moved here from Silicon Valley in the early 2000s, but the Morelands are no strangers to farming. They previously owned a cattle ranch and, along with olives and grapes, currently grow walnuts and almonds, and keep honeybees.

There were already olive trees growing on the Rutherford property when the Morelands arrived, and the family has planted more, bringing the total to about 40, all Italian varietals. Their harvest, on a warm December day, yielded about half of what it did in 2010 – like many growers in the valley, David’s trees were not immune to the springtime rains that stripped them of their flowers and, in turn, their fruit. His crew patiently picked each tree by hand and later that afternoon, the olives were transported to the mill for pressing.

Historical records show that the Inglenook Ranch Airfield was established in 1947, and was originally an unpaved airstrip that was used for emergency landings. It was eventually paved and used as a private airstrip — its last known use was sometime around 1990. After Francis Ford Coppola bought the remaining Inglenook property, the runway was taken out and replaced with grapevines.

Proof that an interest in the valley’s agricultural roots runs in the family, David also grows about an acre of grapes for his son Ryan, who makes wines under his own label Corvalle. Ryan produces a Rutherford Runway Sauvignon Blanc that aims to celebrate the agricultural heritage of the Napa Valley and its pioneering farmers.

David meticulously cares for his grapes throughout the growing season, and is proud of the wines that they become. But he also notes that olives undergo a much simpler process in becoming olive oil and, unlike wine, there is no way to alter an oil once it has been pressed.

“It’s a more true expression of its environment,” he said.

Look for the release of the newest Rutherford Runway extra virgin olive oil sometime in early 2012.


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Understanding Green

by admin on March 17, 2009

I haven’t stopped thinking about my visit to the country….and the people who I met. When I think back, I feel as if it were all a dream…people don’t really live like that anymore. But then I glance up and see the tin of extra virgin olive oil that they generously bestowed on me as I was leaving and realize….it was not a dream…it was real…..actually more real then any real I have known before…and that is why it feels like a dream.

I have to say my thoughts are not all pleasant….there is the beauty of the experience but there is also a nagging…you know when something just doesn’t feel right but you’re not quite sure why….that’s it…that’s the feeling that is shrouding the experience……at first I thought it might have been the pigeon as I still can’t look one in the eye…but then I quickly realized that it was more then that….much more then that….my thoughts kept bringing me back to green….sustainability.

We are a world that is yearning to be green….fighting for the survival of our planet. We are recycling…buying local…using solar…..downgrading our cars…..and buying very cool shopping bags to carry our groceries home. You hear individuals almost bragging about how green they are…..and businesses, including ours, let everyone know they are green…it’s everywhere…hey look at me….I’m green. And on this farm, in the Tuscan countryside, it was no where. There were no color coded recycling bins….no “green is the new black” stickers on the windows…and no assortment of groovy grocery bags hanging in the kitchen….no….none of that. There was no talk at the table of “sustainability” or “green” practices….there was just laughter….and love…and the best vin santo I have ever tasted.

And as I sat on the wrong train going home that day, I began to process it all….the pigs in the pens…and the pigs on the salt table…the chicken and pigeons feathered and hanging in the room off the kitchen…for tomorrow’s dinner…..the ten “tail ends” of the pig hanging in the other room off of the dining room….with names on each…as its divided among the neighbors…and the same with the salami….there was the huge clump of pig lard hanging to be used to moisturize hands, gloves and boots….ah…and of my favorite…the attic….where the wine was kept…with the vin santo…and the grappa….in old wooden barrels crusted over with dried juices dating back 63 years….and the drying mats for the figs….so beautifully made….and the jar of anice that is sprinkled on the figs when they dry….the figs were so candy…yet soft enough to almost melt in your mouth….yes, I thought about all of this….and the eggs in the basket in the dining room….one with chicken eggs, one with turkey…and the cavolo nero….a green that grows wild in their fields…that they picked that day for our salad…and the milking cows….laying in the sun….yes, all of this went through my head on the wrong train home.

The wrong train?….oh crap…the wrong train!…as I came back to the scene outside my window, I realized that I was leaving the City that I loved so much….and…ah….that I lived in..oh man…I’m on the wrong train….I jumped off at the next stop, figuring a train would be going the other way…right?…ya just not for quite some time….and the station was desolate…I only hoped I had it right this time…

And so I sat….just me and my tin of olive oil…..with the sun beginning to fade and the air beginning to chill…and as I sat on the bench…completely alone…overlooking Florence and its countryside… thoughts ran right back to my new friends…

Isn’t it ironic that we cry for green yet we allow a life style that is truer to green then anything most of us will ever know, die out. Yes…die out. We are not allowing the most sustainable to be sustained. There is a myriad of reasons why their infrastructure is breaking down but the bottom line is that it becomes less and less feasible to live a sustainable lifestyle….even for people who have lived this way for generations. There is something so ironic about this….something so wrong. We should be celebrating these people…learning from them…and the past…..doing what we can to ensure their lifestyle will continue…so we can continue.

Honestly, I think we may be too busy shopping at whole foods…and our local farmers market…and looking cool with the latest green bag….to notice….and I am speaking to myself so please don’t get offended….but that day, in the Tuscan countryside, I noticed…and I cannot forget…no matter how many glasses of Chianti that I consume…I cannot forget…and I don’t want to forget…I want to grab hold of every piece of that farm, that existence, those people…and not let them go…it’s something carnal…as if I have awakened a part of me…that we all must have….that yearns for the simplicity of this existence….I want to go back…and sleep beneath the hanging prosciutto, in the room with the attic to the elixir of course…and wake up at sunrise…and well..I don’t know…whatever you do on a farm first thing…and work hard…with my hands..outside..and eat what grows around me…at a table filled with love and laughter…and santo!….and at the end of the day, feel the exhaustion and the satisfaction that comes with a physical days work….and curl up…back under the prosciutto for a peaceful nights rest.

I’m pretty tough…but not that tough. These people are amazing souls..and they deserve to be supported and sustained. And although I want to set up camp and live the life of these farmers…and find out everything there is to know about their way of life…and preserve it in some way…I also know that my reality is providing for my family…in the way that I know best….and taking from this a bit more knowledge….and understanding….to not try to be “green” but just try to live in harmony with the earth…using common sense….like they have since the beginning of time.

And as the right train pulls up to the station….I grab my tin of extra virgin olive oil, climb on board and sit quietly close to the door. I watch the City of Florence as it slowly comes back into view….while the last heat from the setting sun warms my face…I smile….it feels good to be home.

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