Napa Valley's oldest olive orchards are planted at Long Meadow Ranch on the Mayacamas Estate. Abandoned for years, the orchards were hidden from view by new forests that grew over the original sites. Although aware of a few olive trees when the ranch was acquired, no one knew of the mysterious treasures to be uncovered.
Following the purchase of an adjacent parcel in 1992, a significant olive orchard was discovered among much taller trees. This site contained over 250 mature trees that had been completely hidden from view. When cleared of the second growth forest, 54 trees of greater than 75 feet in height were removed. Mostly Douglas Firs and Digger Pines, these trees had grown up after the orchard was abandoned. By counting the growth rings of the removed trees, we estimate that this orchard was last cultivated in about 1920.
As additional parcels of the original land grant were re-assembled into Long Meadow Ranch, more trees were discovered. One orchard was found on horseback in 1993 and another was found nearby in dense brush, again on horseback, in 1996. (Our Appaloosa horses are especially well suited to exploring our mountainous terrain while off the trail pushing through brush.)
Today we have restored more than eight acres of olives with nearly 1000 mature trees. These trees provide the olives for our estate-produced extra virgin olive oil, Prato Lungo.
Although experts from the University of California at Davis have been unable to identify the cultivars (i.e., the variety) of our olives, it is wonderfully suited to making fine oil. These experts speculate that the olives are related to the Picholine olive from the Provence region of France and that the cuttings were likely brought to California by ship around the Horn. These cuttings were planted in the 1870s at Long Meadow Ranch.
Recent DNA tests at a state-of-the-art facility in Spain have not solved the "mystery of the cultivars." With the recent discovery of the site of the original olive oil mill on the Ranch , we may find additional clues to the olives' origin and use.
We organically farm our orchards using our own compost as fertilizer and employing clover cover crops to provide nitrogen and to control erosion. After an aggressive pruning to re-establish the trees' shape, our trees are lightly pruned annually. The cuttings are chipped and added to our composting system.
Today we are propagating the original olive trees to grow new trees that will fill the missing spots in the historic orchards. Working with our neighbor, Bob Herrick, at Cottage Gardens Nursery, we may have trees from the historic cultivars available for sale in a few years.
Additional orchards have been developed using the traditional Italian cultivars of Frantoio, Leccino, Pendolino, and Moraiolo. Our first new orchard was planted in 1998. During the past fourteen years we have planted more than 1500 new trees. These new orchards provided the first commercial harvest in 2005-06 and we are now comparing the oils from both "French" and "Italian" cultivars. Depending on the orchards' continued development, we may have an addition to the lineup of olive oils from Long Meadow Ranch.