napa valley olive oil

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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Guess the Yield #2 Rutherford Runway Olives

by Peggy OKelly on December 6, 2010

As we were leaving the Flower Market, I found out that the crew I was counting on for Fridays pick was a no go.  Hmm…a no go…I was scheduled to begin a pick the next day with NO crew.  I then received a message from the Mill hoping they we could put a larger crew on the pick so they could have the olives earlier in the day.  A larger crew?  Larger then 0?  After a bit of discussion with Shari at McEvoy, we decided that a 10 person crew would be the best scenario…ok then I only have to add……10.

Sue took the wheel so I could get on the phone and call every Vineyard Management Company that I knew.  I wasn’t having great success until I spoke to my sister.  She could get 10 guys but no foreman so I would have to lead the way…which would be fine except that I took French….my Spanish is no bueno.

About halfway home, Sue decided to mention her friend who is “connected to the Vineyard Mgmt business”…she said it so nonchalantly that I didn’t have much hope but agreed we should call.  Long story short…we did…and he was…..and they could….and all I needed to do was bring the tarps!  HUGE relief.  All was set and we were to meet at 6:30am at our newest property, Rutherford Runway Vineyards.

Rutherford Runway Vineyards is located on South Whitehall Lane….neighbors to the Hornbergers.  The Moreland Family has a history of farming….almonds, bees, olives, grapes…and I have yet to get their detailed story but it sounds as if they are a motivated bunch.

Their property on South Whitehall Lane has 37 olive trees…most are Italian varietals with a few Sevillano trees mixed in.  They keep their trees beautifully manicured and low to the ground which eliminates the need for ladders.  One look at their trees and you know the Morelands are dedicated to the land.

NOW….onto the contest… are some facts pertaining to the possible yield…..

This is a very difficult yield to guess because it is our first year.  We can only go by what the owner tells us and how the trees look compared to other properties that we have.  We were told that the tonnage two years ago was about 1600 pounds…..there are 2000 pounds in a ton.

We were also told that there were a few trees that came into production from the last harvest so tonnage should be up.  Remember from Twin Sisters that there is an average of 30-35 gallons of oil per ton.

The olives had a little frost damage so we would lose some crop but very little….10% maybe.

You can see in the pictures that the olives were at a nice ripeness…50/50 to be conservative…and remember…the riper the olive, the more yield.

The olives will be milled using a Blade Press at McEvoy Ranch..thank you Shari!  A Blade will usually give you a little more yield then a Stone.

I think that is all the info that is pertinent….you can try to get some clues from the pictures below and then go to the comments section and make your guess!


Back to the day…………

I didn’t sleep well the night before as I had never used this crew before…and this was a new client…..and there was a possibility of rain…and the appointments available at the Mill were getting tight.  I tossed and turned and was grateful when my alarm went off at 5:30am.  I threw on layers of clothes and my trusted work boots and out the door I went with Matcha tea in hand.  I arrived at the property at 6:33am.  As I turned the corner of the drive, I felt the adrenaline rush of harvest.  There were trucks and cars and men….plenty of men putting on picking buckets and getting ready for the day. I felt an immediate sense of relief…this crew was professional and on task….I could sense it before I even got out of my car.

It was still too dark to begin so their leader, Eduardo, and I walked the property and noted the trees that were going to be picked.  He was very pleasant and assured me that it was all under control.  We discussed a few things and as the light of the day began to peek through, his team began to pick.

Hand picking is a whole different ballgame.  It takes a lot of time..and patience.  The tarps are laid below to soften the fall of the olives but the majority are picked and put right into the bucket.

Just as we discussed in the Twin Sister posts, it never ceases to amaze me how one tree will be turning black and the one next to it will be green…varietal type can make a difference but that’s not always the case.

Here are olives nice and purple…..

and the tree next door is nice and green…..

The Rutherford Runway estate is a very special property….and as the name implies…it sits right where the runway in Rutherford used to lie.  According to Jonathan Westerling, this small private airstrip ferried many of California’s famous winemakers in and out of the Napa Valley over several decades.  It was located on Inglenook Ranch Winery and constructed by John Daniel Jr., whose father managed the vineyard from 1919 – 1933.  According to a 2006 article by the California Farm Bureau Federation, John was a Stanford University graduate, aviator and talented businessman.  He worked closely with his friend, Robert Mondavi, to establish the basis for the Napa Valley wine industry.

My favorite part of working with new growers is listening to their story….this is no exception.  I look forward to learning more about who they are because in the limited discussions that we have had, it is apparent that they are a driven family…very motivated and serious about their land….and their crops….

Ryan is a budding winemaker, no pun intended, and anxious to release his first wine under the Rutherford Runway Vineyards label.  He will be releasing their “crown jewel”, Rutherford Runway Vineyard barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc in the Spring.  He notes that it has lots of sur lie so it should be creamy with a nice mouthfeel and it’s showing bright acidity with flavors of lemon zest and green pear.  It sounds like a fun pairing with their extra virgin olive oil!

We picked the trees on the left side of the drive.

This is the back side of the driveway….grapes to the left…olives to the right….my kind of path.

First Bin has filled up.  Because these aren’t ventilated macro bins, we only fill them 3/4 full to prevent anaerobic fermentation….

We lost about 10% to the frost.  It’s pretty easy to see frost damages fruit….they are brown and slimy to the touch…see the brown ones in the bunch?  Those olives are left on the tree and then the crew comes back around and picks them off and throws them out.

All went without issue today…we arrived at McEvoy at about 2:30….ahead of schedule!

Unloading at McEvoy….you know the drill!

Bin one……

Bin 2…..

The day was done….the olives would be pressed the next morning so I jumped in my truck and headed home.

As I was driving out of the Ranch, I was taken back by this young buck grazing in the field right next to me.  I wish I could have gotten a better picture…he was so stunning.

As I came to the end of the driveway, I decided to stop and appreciate my surroundings before heading home.  I leaned against the fence post and couldn’t help but think about the day….all the effort that went into the olives…so many hands involved….so much care taken….so much respect shown…all as it should be but seldom is…
And then these cows caught my eye…the calf was running around having fun and mom was headed up the hill, looking back at her calf in a way all mothers could relate to…the calf was oblivious.  I had to smile.

Then I gazed at this view and I wondered….I wondered how it would be to live on so much land that you could never walk it all?  Or on land where you go for a hike in your backyard?  Or land with a beautiful barn that you converted to a house?

The ringing of my cell phone in the distance reminded me that my day was far from over.  It was time to head home……

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Stagecoach Harvest

by Peggy OKelly on December 6, 2009


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