By Suphada Rom
If you've visited the winery, you may have noticed the lines of olive trees that frame the driveway as you enter the property. We have tried to keep our decorative planting in the Rhone theme (think lavender, rosemary, and pomegranates), and in 1992 we planted somewhere around 100 olive trees, mostly Manzanilla and a few Mission. We've tried in many ways to foster biodiversity in our vineyard, and these olive trees were our first non-grapevine plantings! The thought of the harvest the trees would eventually produce was frankly secondary in our mind to the aesthetics of the trees, but we've been harvesting delicious olives for the last decade, and making estate grown, organically farmed extra virgin olive oil each year since 2004.
Our olives give us our last harvest of the year, typically 3 weeks or so after we've finished our last grapes. This year's harvest took place on November 16th. We line the ground under the trees with tarps, to catch the falling olives as they are raked off the branches. It's quite a sight:
The olives are collected in picking bins and driven over to Kiler Ridge, a local olive milling facility. Kiler Ridge, located at the top of a hill overlooking Kiler Canyon Road just east of downtown Paso Robles, has one of the best views in Paso Robles to go with a state of the art processing facility. Gwen was kind enough to talk, then walk me through the process, because there is not a chance of being able to hear anything over the whirring machines inside.
First, the olives are weighed out on the industrial scale, located outside the building. After they get the numbers, the fruit is poured out onto an upward moving conveyor belt, bringing them inside. At the top, the olives are separated from non-olive material, such as stems, branches, leaves, and rocks and collected in a macro-bin, located outside. They continue on as they're moved through a quick moving water bath and spray. Since the fruit is treated organically, there is no need to wash away pesticides or herbicides, but instead just dirt or debris.
After being washed, the olives are filtered again through a grill that only allows fruit to pass through. From there, the fruit is crushed into a paste, before it enters a malaxer. A malaxer uses spiraling mixing blades to churn and mix the paste. Oil will begin to accumulate and visually, you can see this as the surface of the paste starts to glisten. This paste mixes for exactly 32 minutes before it moves onto the next stage of decanting. During the decanting stage, the solids -- known as pomace -- get separated from the liquid, which is mostly oil, but does contain a bit of water. A centrifuge will separate the oil from that water, before sending it through a strainer and collecting it in medium sized drums. The oil will rest in these drums for a few months before it is ready for bottling.
The whole process of making olive oil was intricate, loud, and satisfying. Walking outside for a moment of quiet and clarity, away from the clanging equipment, I noticed the pomace being pumped into macro-bins. I learned that the pomace, along with the leaves, will be recycled back into the property: pomace spread in a thin even layer throughout the orchard, while leaves are stacked in high quantity at the base of the tree.
It's always a pleasure working with neighbors whose beliefs about maintaining a healthy and balanced property line up so well with ours. And as for the olive oil, from first hand tasting experience, I'm anxiously waiting for the bottling and release of the the collaborative efforts of both Tablas Creek and Kiler Ridge.