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Juno Olives owners Andrew and Helen Liley with their award-winning olive oil. PHOTO/TOM TAYLOR

Wairarapa olive oil wins internationally

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Three Wairarapa olive growers have impressed international judges to win top awards at the world’s most prestigious olive oil competition.

At the 2021 New York International Olive Oil Competition, Wairarapa’s Loopline Olives won two gold medals, while Olive Black won one gold medal, and Juno Olives won one gold medal.

Loopline Olives owner Stephen Davies Howard with his award-winning olive oils.

It was Loopline Olives’ third consecutive year of wins at the competition.

In a repeat of last year, the Opaki-based olive oil producer won gold awards for its picual and picholine olive oils. The picholine had also won an award in 2019.

“It’s really up there on the world stage,” owner Stephen Davies Howard said.

“We’re incredibly proud to be competing, and not only competing, but equal to the best in the world from the big producers in Spain, Italy, Portugal, and the other southern hemisphere countries.”

The picholine is a French cultivar [plant variety], while the picual is Spanish.

“They’re very similar oils, really well balanced,” Howard said.

“What you’re looking for is that initial bitterness than the pepperiness, but in a nice, balanced tone with lots of overtones of fresh-cut grass, tomatoes, and green artichokes. They’re both beautiful oils.”

Howard said the Wairarapa climate was responsible for the region’s success at the awards.

“I’d love to take more credit for it, but it’s Wairarapa sunshine, rain, and the climate, basically.”

Loopline was gearing up for this year’s harvest, which would begin in about a week’s time. Howard said the harvest timing was always a balancing act between leaving the fruit as long as possible to get as much fruit juice as possible and avoiding the first frosts of winter.

Once harvested, the quality of the oil could be controlled by pressing the olives within 12 hours.

“Like any horticulture, you’ve got to look after the trees, look after the fruit, and then they look after you.”

Loopline was one of the largest producers of olive oil in the region, producing about 3500 litres a year. However, this was a small drop in the bucket when compared with major international producers.

Greytown-based Juno Olives were classed as a boutique producer due to its size.

This was Juno’s fourth win at the New York competition, its picual olive oil winning each time.

“It’s becoming a theme,” owner Andrew Liley said.

As the winner of the boutique category at the 2020 New Zealand Extra Virgin Olive Oil Awards, Olives New Zealand entered Juno Olives in the New York competition on their behalf.

Liley had only taken over the company from founders Karen and Ian Juno in December and was preparing for his first harvest as owner.

“I couldn’t start to do this without their help and input,” Liley said.

“You can read as much as you like, but in the end, it’s just so much easier if you’ve got somebody standing at your side explaining it and helping you through the process.”

The Juno grove was planted with seven different olives, one of them, a moraiolo cultivar from Tuscany, only coming into fruition for the first time this year.

Whether this variety would produce another award-winning olive oil remained to be seen.

“I’ll have to wait for the harvest, but the trees are looking reasonable,” Liley said.

“I’m hopeful.”

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