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Napa Sonoma Magazine
Summer / Fall 2006

 
An Italian-Style Family Affair

After three-quarters of a century, Napa Valley Olive Oil Company still offers patrons the best of what’s around

By Carole Dixon

Tucked away behind TraVigne restaurant in St. Helena, the Napa Valley Olive Oil Company has been a local fixture since 1931. As you approach the unassuming little clapboard house with a small handmade sign, you feel like you might (and you actually may) run into a rooster.

This long-standing institution is all about customer service—and lineage. Co-owner Leonora Particelli Hanna’s family got into the business 45 years ago, when her uncle Nelson and father Osvaldo, originally from just outside Lucca, Italy, were asked by the original owner Guidi to work at the store. Leonora’s father eventually took over the company and then handed it over to Leonora, her brother Ray, and uncle Policarpo Lucchesi, who is married to her aunt Narcisa (are you keeping up?). Leonora literally grew up in the shop. “I used to work when Dad would nap in the afternoon when I was a teenager. Growing up, we had dinner there every night in the back room.” Leonora plans that one day her son Gino will take over from her.

The mainstay of the Napa Valley Olive Oil Company has been its outstanding California Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which for years was made with an old mill and press in the back of the store. Following years of high demand, the olive oil is now produced in the Central Valley, but it is still bottled on the property. “People come in and buy 10 cases at a time,” Leonora says with a laugh. “We’re not sure what they’re doing with it.”

In addition to olive oils, Napa Valley Olive Oil Company’s main room is choc-a-block with every kind of pasta, hanging salami, bread, and cookies—it resembles a giant walk-in pantry. The store also carries handmade sausage with fennel or pepperoni and Dolcelatte and Romano from Tuscany, and Leonora will special-order any delicacy you might be craving from the old country. Not geographically biased, the store also offers such non-Italian specialties as salty Spanish olives stuffed with onions, almonds, or pimento.  Pop in for a snack or lunch, or to put together an artisanal food basket, and you just might find the gregarious family gathered in the back room eating lunch as they have for so many generations. According to Leonora, “There was one couple who had their first date here and they wanted to have their wedding reception at the store.” Naturally, the family obliged—free of charge.

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