We started harvesting olives at sunrise on Monday morning, but we are likely to have the smallest harvest on record.
Thanksgiving Day is the calendar marker for our olive harvest each year. Sometimes we start during the short week prior to the holiday and sometimes right after. So, the harvest is right on time this year.
But, our challenge - and for everyone else in Northern California - is that we have a very small crop. The weather at bloom (in late May) could not have been worse for setting the crop.
Usually we worry about enough moisture content in the soil to help keep the fragile blossoms hydrated. This year we had about two inches of rain on May 15th and we thought we were going to have wonderful conditions. We even skipped our usual pre-bloom irrigation.
But, of course, this is farming. Just as the blossoms opened we had an extraordinary heat spell. Temperatures reached the high 90s (in May!) for more than two days. Then, as often happens when we have an early heat spell caused by a high pressure system to the Northeast, we had very high winds. The so-called "perfect storm" hit us hard: high heat, low humidity, and very strong sustained winds (30-50 mph). The blossoms were gone - except in a few protected locations.
No blossoms; no fruit. There is almost no fruit in the entire region.
We'll see how the harvest volumes go for the rest of the week. However, yesterday afternoon Jason Moulton (our olive oil maker) and I were very pleased with the first oil off the press: fresh, clean, and very agreeably pungent!
So, maybe the good news will be in this vintage's quality. Let's hope so.
More at the end of the week.