Sipping and savoring Wine Country’s lesser known crop
Though vineyards dominate much of the landscape of Napa and Sonoma Counties, the warm, Mediterranean climate of Northern California is spawning another burgeoning industry—olive oil. If you look closely, you’ll see small olive trees dotting the landscape, often just behind rows of grapes, swaying in the warm sun, bursting with green and black fruit in the winter months.
Olives, however, are no newcomer to this part of the world. Franciscan missionaries planted the first olive trees here in the mid-1700s, and they’ve been flourishing ever since. The state is now one of the most prolific producers of olives, and olive oil, with nearly 150 producers just in Napa and Sonoma Counties. There are approximately 375 olive tree growers in the entire state.
And though much of the production in other areas of the state goes to packaged olives, here in Wine Country, boutique producers are pressing their best olives into artisinal extra virgin olive oils that rival those of Europe. With a fresh, green, almost herbaceous quality, the California olive oil often has a more robust taste than that of its Italian and Spanish cousins—a bit like the young, fruit-forward wines of the region. And people are taking notice.
Along with wine tasting, olive oil tasting is becoming big business, with tasting rooms in both Napa and Sonoma dedicated exclusively to sampling different styles and pressings of native olive oils. Though many of the tasting rooms are open year-round, farms like McEvoy Ranch in Sonoma and Long Meadow Ranch in Napa are most welcome to the public from May through September, before the olive picking gets into full swing in the winter months.
Like wine tasting, there’s a method to really savoring the flavor of the different oils—which run from light green to buttery yellow. But whether dipped in bread, or sipped from a small cup (don’t worry if you suddenly get an urge to cough after sipping, that’s a natural reaction to the oil’s robustness) the more you taste, the more you’ll start to pick out different flavors. Whether it’s a pepperiness, grassiness, or maybe even a hint of artichoke, that’s all part of the fun of tasting. And the best part? You can taste all you want, and still drive home.
Learn more about California Olive Oil
The Olive Oil Source
is a great place to start your education about how olives are grown and pressed, along with many other producers in the Napa and Sonoma regions — as well as throughout California.
Where to Taste
5935 Red Hill Road, Petaluma, 866.617.6779
Located in the rolling hills of Sonoma County, the ranch offers tours of their orchards, then discuss the horticulture of growing olive trees, certified organic practices, and harvest techniques. The tour also includes a guided tour of the olive milling room, a sensory evaluation, tasting, and discussion of the culinary uses of olive oil. Call ahead for reservations. $20 per person.
Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch
738 Main St, St. Helena, 707.963.4555
At Long Meadow Ranch–America’s only combined winery and olive oil producer—they make two outstanding organic extra virgin olive oils: Prato Lungo, their estate oil from Napa Valley’s oldest olive orchards and Napa Valley Select, a blend of organic olive oils crushed and blended by the family. Saturdays through October, enjoy a guided walk through the unique rammed-earth winery, explore the caves, and visit the olive oil press. Taste our current releases of wines and olive oils. $35 per person.
Break from the ordinary with an intimate olive mill tour and sensory exploration of Round Pond artisan olive oils and red wine vinegars. Learn about olive cultivation, harvest and olive oil production at our estate mill before immersing yourself in a guided tasting of our fresh olive oils and red wine vinegar blends. Journey through the elements of tasting and sample the oils and vinegars with gourmet bread, cheese and fresh organic produce. Allow 1½ hours for this unique tour and tasting. $20 per person. 24 hour notice required for rescheduling or cancellations.
The Olive Press
14301 Arnold Drive #15, Glen Ellen, 707-939-8900
The Olive Press was created in 1995 by two passionate olive growers and producers who were inspired after touring olive pressing cooperatives of the Mediterranean. Committed to making only the finest Award Winning California Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the Tasting Room and gift store in Glen Ellen is dedicated to “everything olive”. Open daily to visitors.
526 Broadway, Sonoma, 707.938.0300
Wine country’s ‘other crop’–olives–are found in L’Olivier’s collection of premium olive oils from all around the globe, alongside a colorful display of olive varietals in many tastes, shapes, and colors. While you dip your bread into one of the selections of the day, a consultation with owner Elie Maghames will inform you about the region each came from and the unique characteristics of each type of olive oil. His own label contains a delicious, pale oil from a blend of Mission and Sevilliano olives. Look for the popular line of citrus flavored oils in orange and lemon. In addition, L’Olivier offers hand-painted pottery, antique furnishings, lovely tablecloths, cookbooks, sauces, and vinegars.
DaVero Olive Oil and Wine
1766 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707-431-8000
Here you will find Dry Creek Estate extra virgin olive oil (from trees imported from Tuscany); Pollo Rosso red wine; and hand-made castille soap (85 percent olive oil), among other treasures of this passionate family. It’s also a great spot to picnic, visit the willow room, or just wander the fields. Open dailyfor olive tastings and wine tastings, 11am-5pm (only closed on Tuesdays/Wednesdays, January-March).
25200 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 800.995.4740
Along with olive oil, taste through a huge variety of sauces, spreads, jams and condiments made for the winery. Though it can get busy on the weekends, it’s a stop worth making. The grounds are planted with grapes and olive trees. They have started processing the olives for their California olive oil.