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Science Insight: The Weather in the Grove

Terroir, the characteristic taste and flavor imparted by the place in which a particular wine is produced, is just as significant in Extra Virgin Olive Oil production as in wine production. Similarly, just like vintages for fine wines, each growing year is a combination of moving variables determined by weather, timely human intervention and good and bad luck. For small farmers like us, each year has its own memorable characteristics, both in terms of the growing season and in the profile of the resulting oil.

The 2022 olive season is a story still to be written. So much still has to happen that will inevitably affect our olive trees and their precious fruit. Like all agricultural production, we are subject to the effects of a rapidly changing climate.

A cold, “rigid” winter, while the trees are still dormant, can be positive. Freezing temperatures acts as a natural insecticide. The local saying is “sotto la neve pane” which means that there is wealth (bread) under snow. In fact, a good snowfall is the best way to get water safely into the soil with no risk of erosion or flooding.

We will never forget the terrible freeze of April 2021 where temperatures in Florence were as low as -9C (15F). We then suffered a heat-wave during flowering that affected fruit set, followed by a dry hot summer. Hail and unusually heavy rains played their part. In Tuscany last year EVOO production as a whole was halved with huge economic impact and a rise in prices. According to a 2017 poll 91% of Italians consume EVOO daily so a significant drop in supply is a big issue.

There is already talk of another hot summer in 2022 and certainly we have had less rainfall than is considered normal. The good news is that this can mean concentration of aromas and high polyphenolic values that in turn bring great health benefits and vibrancy to the resulting oil. It can also result in a challenging pit to pulp ratio of the olives which requires extra care and skill in the extraction of the oil. A tangible bonus is that the dreaded olive fly cannot reproduce at high temperatures. As always, we will monitor the groves constantly and, if necessary, treat the trees with organic Kaolin clay. This is a natural repellent as opposed to a pesticide, creating a white film on the olives that prevents flies making their way in to lay their eggs under the skin of the olives.The timing of picking of each cultivar is crucial and linked to the organoleptic characteristics of the oil; the ratio of fruit and bitterness, spice and sweetness. The best time is at invaiatura, the moment in which the olives change color from green to black and this is different for each variety of olive tree.

We will face whatever 2022 brings us with the constant vigilance and traditional know-how and integrity of our loyal team. Let the season commence!

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