In the waning days of another Oregon wine grape season, vineyards show off colorful leafy leftovers that light up the hills near Dundee in Yamhill County.
But just across the way at Red Ridge Farms near Dayton – there’s another harvest that is just hitting its stride.
If beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, Oregon’s latest olive crop is downright gorgeous to orchard owner Ken Durant and his son Paul Durant, who told me that there is special beauty in an olive tree:
“It’s not the most attractive tree in the world; a little gangly but it’s got its moments of sheer beauty.”
The bold entrepreneurs have planted 13,000 olive trees across 15 Oregon acres with varieties that sport exotic names like “Arbequina,” “Arbosana” and “Koroneiki.”
According to Paul Durant, the Oregon Olive Mill Manager, the family hopes to compliment the Oregon wine grape landscape with something new:
“It’s an oil yielding type of fruit, not like Mission variety olive that you might stick on your pinky finger or stuffed with garlic or placed on a stick in a martini – it’s just a different type of olive that is intended for oil.”
Paul added that the oil type olives require fewer chemicals than wine grapes, they are bird proof and the fruit is easily harvested.
However, there is one worry on everyone’s mind: Oregon’s cold, downright nasty winter weather – where the snow can pile high, last for weeks and take a toll on young fragile olive trees.
Still, Ken Durant ambitiously offers, “You canot learn to swim in the shallow end.”
“Olives are being grown in Europe in climates that are very similar to what we have in western Oregon, including the hard winters. So, the secret for us is to have enough good fortune to build a significant root ball in each young tree (that takes about three years) so if we have a bad weather event we’ll recover.”
Paul Druant added, “The fact that my dad bought a state of the art olive mill and built a beautiful facility around it – you know, we’re in for the long haul.”
The milling process is impressive: totes are emptied of olives, stems and leaves are separated before the olives are tumbled into a mixer where blades blend the fruit into a paste. Eventually, heat and centrifugal force separates solids and water and the result is gorgeous green oil that doesn’t get any fresher.
Last year, the Durant’s Oregon Olive Mill bottled 350 gallons of extra-virgin olive oil and they hope to grow even bigger this year.
The olive oil market is vast and offers plenty of room to grow. America's love affair with olive oil is pegged at 70 million gallons a year.
Penny Durant said that consumption level is for all of the right health reasons too.
“It’s a mono-saturate that is high in antioxidants and olive oil has wonderful flavor – a bit pungent, perhaps buttery and woody at the same time, but a fine compliment to food.”
The Oregon Olive Mill at Red Ridge Farms includes fine wines that are produced from the Durant Vineyards and offers olive oil tasting and more – you can spend the night in a fully furnished apartment that offers a stunning view to the surrounding hills.
Plus, the property is open to exploration so you can wander and watch and learn about a new enterprise that’s taking root in Oregon. There are several exciting Fall events including the Olio Nuova Festa (New Olive Oil Celebration) that are worth your time to visit.