Milder flavours in latest olive harvest

PETER WATSON
Last updated 14:57 16/07/2013
 Murray Elwood.
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
GOOD SEASON: Roger Armstrong with some of Tasman Bay Olives produce.

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Customers of Nelson olive oils can expect milder, better balanced products from this year's harvest, say growers.

After a tough, wet growing season last year, which made it difficult to produce top oils, the long, dry summer has been much kinder, although rain before and during picking caused some disruption.

The region's biggest grower, Roger Armstrong, of Tasman Bay Olives, is pressing about two-thirds of a record crop of about 280 tonnes - 40 tonnes more than in 2011 - and he's happy with what he's seen.

There was some "delightful" oil, particularly from frantoio and leccino varieties.

"Often it can be a little too strong, but this year it is milder and has a better balance to it, which may be to do with the drier growing season."

However, there was more variation in the oil percentage of fruit, although some had topped 20 per cent which was excellent, he said. This reflected the age and management of groves, with young trees generally performing better.

Oil percentages from older trees tended to drop off, especially if they weren't pruned enough to allow sunlight in.

"It's opened our eyes further to the work we need to do on the groves."

The weather hadn't interfered too much with the harvest and he hadn't seen any frost-damaged fruit.

"There's been a little bit lost to birds but it's been a good season."

Rather than increasing plantings, growers were getting better at identifying the most productive sites and putting their efforts into those.

"There is still a lot of crop that can be produced off the trees in the ground."

More were using a mechanical trunk shaker which was much faster and cheaper than handpicking, he said.

"It takes just a minute or two per tree and instead of having a gang of 12 running around in cold conditions handling wet nets we now have a guy on the trunk shaker and another servicing the bulk bin."

John Dunlop, chairman of the Olives NZ Nelson branch, said production on his Redwood Valley grove was the highest it had been for a few seasons and he expected to end up with a good quality and balanced blend.

"Our frantoio was bland but we are pleased with our leccino and minerva.

"Our oils weren't particularly robust and that is probably indicative of the amount of rain we had prior to harvest."

More rain during harvest reduced the fruitiness of some oils, he said.

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