Getting the good oil in Central

 Steve Morris and his wife Olivia, of Lowburn, have a family-owned olive oil press and process up to 40 tonnes of olives from growers in Cromwell and surrounding areas. The long, hot summer just past promises to be one of the better ones for olive oil pro
Steve Morris and his wife Olivia, of Lowburn, have a family-owned olive oil press and process up to 40 tonnes of olives from growers in Cromwell and surrounding areas. The long, hot summer just past promises to be one of the better ones for olive oil production. Photo: Yvonne O'Hara
This season's long summer has resulted in a bumper harvest for olive growers in Central Otago.

Lowburn's Stephen Morris, his wife Olivia and his in-laws Alistair and Sue Stark own Olive Press Central Otago (Opco) on the family's vineyard, St Bathans Range, near Cromwell.

Mr Morris has been busy during the past three weeks cold-processing olives to produce extra virgin olive oil,

The good summer has meant the fruit produces more oil with a better flavour, and promises to be one of the best they have had.

Harvesting began about three or four weeks earlier than usual, and would continue for another three weeks, Mr Morris said.

''Normally we start pressing in mid-May but we started on April 29,'' he said.

''We process up to 30 or 40 tonnes a year from about 40 or 50 clients.

''Last year we did 28 tonnes.

''This year we have been getting 14% to 18% of oil, or 180 litres of oil from a tonne of fruit, and that is some of the highest we have had, as normally we get about a 10% recovery.''

Mr Morris said they had been pressing for about four years. They process about 350kg of fruit an hour.

While oil from under-ripe olives is peppery and fiery, oil from riper fruit has a milder flavour, but there is a race between getting the fruit ripe and the autumn frosts, which can ruin a crop.

He said Central Otago olives were starting to develop a reputation as a high end product.

Terra Sancta Vineyard, Bannockburn, planted 350 olive trees last winter and the olive oil would eventually be sold as part of the brand's range.

St Bathans Range Vineyard manager Ian Dee also oversees the olive groves.

''It is a trial for us - it is at the start-up stage,'' he said.

He said the Central Otago olive oil industry was ''cottage-esque'' at the moment.

Alexandra accommodation owners Ric Oram and Louise Joyce started their olive grove of 29 trees when a friend gave them one as a house-warming present.

They planted six trees in 2003 and their first harvest yielded just under 12kg in 2006.

A further 23 trees were planted the same year.

''Over the years, the number of kilograms picked has increased but some years are better than others,'' Ms Joyce said.

''It depends how early the frosts start.''

Crops have ranged from less than 20kg to 44.68kg in 2012, while oil production has risen from 1.2litres to about four litres in 2017.

''This year has been a whopper season - the best we've ever had,'' she said.

''We picked about 55kg and [we got] a further 25kg from a friend in Clyde who planted olives in her garden. We had 80.21kg of olives and received eight litres of oil.

''This year we were getting 1.5 litres of oil per 10kg of fruit, because the olives were bigger and bursting with oil,'' she said.

-By Yvonne O'Hara

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