Each harvest season brings with it the hope of something new or unexpected. Our baseline of expectations is fairly high, since even the lowest quality oils in our region in Greece are among the best in the world. We started planning for this season's harvest as soon as last year's ended. The plan was to begin our harvest even earlier, with the expectation that harvesting the olives earlier, while still completely green and unripe, would yield a different and exciting flavor profile.
Mother Nature had a different plan in store for us, however. Even before we arrived in the village, we'd heard reports that the harvest yield would be lower (olives peak every other year and this was an "off" year). In addition, family members tending to the trees told us about the pervasive presence of the dreaded "olive fruit fly", which decimated crops in other parts of Europe in previous seasons.
The situation as we arrived was as difficult as we've ever seen. In fact, most of the old-timers couldn't recall conditions this bad in decades. The fruit fly had impacted trees wide and far. There was a glimmer of hope--many of the trees in our fields were not impacted. In addition, starting our harvest earlier allowed us to select the best quality fruit before the damage from the fly had set in.
So, we set off. I took on the role of screening the trees before the harvest crew came through to pick the olives. Carefully, and branch-by-branch, I plucked any damaged fruit from the tree and discarded it. This process reduced our crop by more than 20%, but left only the best-quality olives for our oil. On November 9, we took our first batch of olives to the factory, with great anticipation of the resulting oil. After the hour-long process for the oil extraction, we tasted the season's very first oil. Green. Fruity. Peppery. Fresh. Amazing. Despite an incredibly low yield of 7.5:1 (7 lbs. of olives for 1 lb. of oil), we were thrilled with the output.
We continued on for nine more days--our fingers crossed every day for sunshine. At the end, we'd harvested roughly 12,000 lbs. of olives and made about a ton of oil.
Our plan wasn't supposed to end at this stage, however. Like every year, I was supposed to come back in February to help finish up the harvest and also select the best batches from those produced throughout the season. It quickly became clear that there would be no February trip. By the end of our November harvest, many of the trees were succumbing to the fruit fly damage; the olives falling to the ground. Based on our observations and experience, there will be no harvest beyond the middle of December.
Despite the disappointment with the situation, we counted ourselves in the fortunate category. Had we waited until later in November (like normal) to begin our harvest, we would have had next to nothing. Our plan had worked in our favor in a different way. Thankful was our only sentiment. And, more than ever, we couldn't wait for the next harvest season to begin.
Of course, the practical outcome of all this is that there will be a whole lot less Spartan Oil for 2017. The quality of our oil is amazing, despite the conditions. We're excited for you to try it. The first bottles of this harvest will be available in late winter/early spring.
And, there are many more details. You can find some photos and videos on our Flickr page and also on our Facebook page. If you are interested, just shoot me an email and I'll be happy to answer any questions.