Olive Oil: 10 top artisan producers in Wine Country

olive1.jpgWhether you like it green and grassy or butter-churn yellow, chances are you don’t know quite as much about olive oil as you think you do. More than just a dip for bread or tasteless oil for heart-healthy sauteeing, true olive oil has as much depth, flavor and character as a fine wine. And can cost you just as much.

Sonoma County, along with nearby Marin, Mendocino and Napa, are at the heart of an artisan olive oil renaissance that goes back to the early 1990s. Inspired by the robust, peppery, fresh flavors of Tuscan olive oil, a handful of producers — among them SoCo’s own Bruce Cohn, Deborah Rogers, Ed Stolman, Ridgley Evers and Colleen McGlynn — began producing award-winning small-production oils that tasted more like Italy and less like the bland, flavorless imported oils being dumped on the American market.

“There’s fat and there’s flavor,” says DaVero Olive Oil’s Ridgely Evers, one of Sonoma County’s most outspoken advocates for buying fresh, local, extra- virgin olive oil. According to Evers, as well as UC Davis olive expert Paul Vossen, most of the cheap, imported olive oil on grocery shelves is old, substandard stuff dumped on the American market.
“A little rancidity is normal. But olive oil just doesn’t get better with time. You need to get it fresh to capture the essence and flavor,” Vossen said.

Those flavors include things like green apple, green beans, grass, hay, butter, nettles, green banana or green tea. They shouldn’t include flavors (or smells) like varnish, oil-based paint or old walnuts – signs of rancidity. Extra-virgin simply means the oil is of the highest grade. Look for a certification on the bottle from the California Olive Oil Council.

Want to know how to get the good stuff? Go right to the source and be prepared to pay a pretty penny – upwards of $20 -$30 a bottle. This isn’t cooking oil. Instead, use these high-quality oils for dipping, light dressings and finishing oils for meats and fish — where you can truly appreciate their flavor. Save the cheap stuff for searing, frying or sauteeing. The best time of year to get olive oil is straight from the presses in November/December (called Olio Nuovo) or after it has settled, usually around March. Store in a cool, dark place for about a year. After that, treat yourself to a new bottle.

Where to get it? BiteClub hits the hot spots…


One Stop Shopping: The Olive Press
Located inside Jacuzzi Winery (and just down the
street from the dip-and-nibble mecca, Viansa winery in Sonoma), it’s
easy to dismiss the raffia-ribboned, sample-bar charm of The Olive
Press as tourist fodder. Which would be a mistake. Co-owner Deborah
Rogers
is one of the most lauded and respected olive oil producers in
California and the Press is a bonanza of hard-to-find, small-production
local oils made on-site.

Two of the earliest champions of Northern California’s Olive Oil boom,
Rogers and business partner Ed Stolman, recently relocated their milling
operation from Glenn Ellen to the higher-trafficked Carneros region.
Rogers continues to make her private label, Marquessa, a bold blend of
old and new world olives and Stolman’s, Lunigiana, has taken top prizes
in Italy and Spain — a bold oil with plenty of bitterness and
throat-tickling pepper.

For olive oil enthusiasts, Rogers also bottles a handful of varietal
olive oils, from the grassy, fruity Sevillano (one of the most
approachable dipping oils we tasted), to the lusty Koroneiki, a Greek
olive variety under the Olive Press label. Best-sellers, however, are
her growing lineup of flavored oils — clementine, Meyer lemon,
jalapeno and most recently, lime. Citrus zest is crushed along with the
olives to infuse, rather than just flavor the finished product. You can
taste many of Roger’soils, as well as offerings from her clients,
including microproducers Beltane Ranch, Stone Edge and Napa’s Cypress
Hill. Go to The Olive Press in Sonoma (24724 Arnold Dr., Sonoma,
800-965-4839) or the Oxbow Public Market (644 First Street, Napa).

davero.jpgThe Legend: DaVero Olive Oil
Ridgley Evers has some strong opinions about olive
oil, which he’s never shy about sharing. One of a handful of olive
growers behind Sonoma County’s artisan oil boom, Evers and his wife,
chef Colleen McGlynn, have made a career out of meticulously
understanding the nuances of flavor, balance and timing when it comes
to their oils. The 4,500 trees on their Dry Creek property trace their
heritage from a handful of saplings they imported from Lucca, Italy (a
Tuscan region with weather much like Sonoma County). McGlynn and Evers,
who counts chef Mario Batali among his admirers, can be found most
weekends selling their oil at local farm markets and are in the midst
of converting their estate to biodynamic farming principles. Their
flagship EVOO has all the qualities of a great California olive oil —
fresh grassiness, a mild bitterness and a sneaky pungency. “Three
coughs are a compliment,” says Evers. Tours, classes and tasting:
davero.com or (707) 431-8000.

Mom & Pop: Terra Bella Vista Olive Oil Co.
A true mom-and-pop venture, this
growing Bennett Valley orchard is a labor of love for Doug and Judi
Webb. The couple have gone from harvesting just a few hundred pounds of
olives in 2004 to 5,300 pounds in 2007. Each November they gather
friends and family to assist with the harvest and immediately head for
the press, Olivinio in Hopland (also used by DaVero). Tours, by
appointment, (707) 586-3777 or tbvevoliveoil.com.

Mondo Mendo: Stella Cadente Olive Oil
Mendocino fave Stella’s basil olive
oil recently won big love at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, put
on by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade every year
in January. Though herb-flavored oils sometimes just mask low-quality
oil, Stella’s bright, fresh-basil flavor doesn’t overpower the flavors
of the oil. (800) 305-1288 or stellacadente.com.

Well-kept Secret: Skipstone Ranch
Small-production Alexander Valley olive oil with a
very fresh, green flavor.  Fahri Diner and Jill Layman, who own the
property mainly devoted to steep hillside vineyards, take advantage of
550 Manzanillo olive trees planted there. Available online at
skipstoneranch.com.

The Big Boys: BR Cohn
Winemaker Bruce Cohn’s grove of French Picholine olives trees,
planted in the late 1800s, inspire the soft, buttery flavors of their
Sonoma Estate extra virgin olive oil. Available at the winery, 15000
Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen, (800) 330-4064 or online:
brcohnoliveoil.com.

Young guns: Dry Creek Olive Company
This recent entrant into the local olive oil
scene has impressed even the toughest critics with their approachable
and well-made oils. One of the few mills with a granite press (the
large circular stone wheels that crush the fruit), Dry Creek mixes
olives from local growers, their own estate and does several infused
citrus oils. Best bets are the cheeky Healdsburg Blend and refined
blood orange and Meyer lemon oils. Want a taste of the harvest? Olio
Nuovo is a green, grassy and fruity blend. Tasting room and mill at
4791 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, (707) 431-7200.

Dry Creek also mills for a number of small, local producers, including
El Poeta (available at the Dry Creek General Store), a strong, earthy,
lusty oil that just about knocked our socks off.

Gold Standard: McEvoy Ranch
McEvoy has become the gold standard for Northern
California olive oil making. Even competitive olive oil producers get a
little wistful when describing the painstakingly designed property and
state-of-the-art Italian equipment used to mill their mild yet complex
extra virgin olive oil — the one and only oil they produce. The ranch,
based in Marin county and owned by newspaper heiress Nan McEvoy, boasts
nearly 18,000 trees over 550 acres. It is a private residence, but will
be open for tours on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day weekends and
occasional dates throughout the summer. Reservations are required. 5935
Red Hill Road, Petaluma. More details at mcevoyranch.com or (707)
778.2307.

Want to learn more? The “Beyond Extra Virgin” Conference will be held
at the CIA Greystone and UC Davis from June 21-23, 2009 the largest
conference on olive oil quality ever held in North America. The
Culinary Institute of America at Greystone is located at 2555 Main
Street, St. Helena. More details: www.cooc.com/events.html

Where to buy:
Oliver’s: 560 Montecito, Santa Rosa, 707 537-7123; Stony Point, 461 Stony Point Road, Santa Rosa, (707) 284-3530.
Pacific Market: 1465 Town & Country Drive, Santa Rosa, (707) 546-3663
Dry Creek General Store: 3495 Dry Creek Rd., Healdsburg, (707) 433-4171

Author: biteclub

Food Dining and Restaurants in Sonoma County and beyond, BiteClubEats.com is Wine Country dining with Drive-Thru Sensibility.

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19 Comments

  1. We carry (and have them for tasting) the Dry Creek brand Olive Oils & Vinegars in our tasting room on the square in Healdsburg, next to Oakville Grocery,

    We tasted around, and they are one of the best.

    Roadhouse Winery.

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  2. Dear Sir,
    I love olive tree very much , but its very difficult to find olive tree in my country.
    May i have info. whether its possible to shipping door to door olive tree scions to my country .INDONESIA, JAKARTA.
    May i know the minimum order , olive varieties & age ,sizing of plants, and its pricing n cost of delivery.
    Hope We can hear good news from you.
    thanks n best regards
    fauzi

    Post a Reply
  3. Regarding the May 15 post by ‘P’ …
    Having attended multiple events at McEvoy Ranch and their retail store at the SF Ferry Building, I really like the variety of superior organic olive oil, soap, skin care, fine foods and the other products in their line. The founder is a remarkable woman; a visionary who, years ago showed the community Marin was indeed a fine place for a commercial olive venture. She engages the input of talented artisans and keeps top notch employees. I have always been treated cordially by every employee and guest I have met. I especially enjoyed the divine culinary creations prepared by her 2 extraordinary chefs. It doesn’t get any better than this!
    It puzzles me that the former employee continued to work there for so long without seeking resolution to their grievance. From what I have seen the McEvoy staff is diverse, dedicated and hardworking. I know the employees are trained to support each other. They serve one another and they serve their customers. Ultimately, everyone benefits and enjoys all the fruits of their labor.
    Kudos to the Press Democrat for publishing information on these top 10 artisan producers. I encourage everyone to visit all of them and enjoy the abundance of all they have to offer in their individual production lines. I know I will!

    Post a Reply
  4. Regarding the May 15 post by ‘P’ …
    Having attended multiple events at McEvoy Ranch and their retail store at the SF Ferry Building, I really like the variety of superior organic olive oil, soap, skin care, fine foods and the other products in their line. The founder is a remarkable woman; a visionary who, years ago showed the community Marin was indeed a fine place for a commercial olive venture. She engages the input of talented artisans and keeps top notch employees. I have always been treated cordially by every employee and guest I have met. I especially enjoyed the divine culinary creations prepared by her 2 extraordinary chefs. It doesn’t get any better than this!
    It puzzles me that the former employee continued to work there for so long without seeking resolution to their grievance. The McEvoy staff is diverse, dedicated and hardworking. From what I have observed the employees are trained to support all their team. They serve each other and they serve their customers. Ultimately, everyone benefits and enjoys all the fruits of their labor.
    Kudos to the Press Democrat for publishing information on these top 10 artisan producers. I encourage everyone to visit and enjoy the abundance of all they have to offer in their production lines. I know I will!

    Post a Reply
  5. Frantoio Restaurant in Mill Valley features their granite rolling press through a window visable in the dining room. $18 for 375 ml bottle. Go to Frantoio.com

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  6. Buy anywhere but McEvoy Ranch olive oil. I worked there for 4 years and the way they treat their employees(many legal mexicans) is appalling.There is absoutely no respect there- from the stupid “chefs” who think they’re so great, to the gardener, to some employees at the mill.
    Yes- the olive oil is good- I delivered many cases to business’s myself on my own time, without so much as a thank you.
    I’m not vindictive- just letting you know what it was like, while they put out the press conferences and beautiful scenery, there’s more to it.
    Buy oil in Sonoma County- just not there.

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  7. My hubby and I like olive oil from B. R. Cohn. It’s expensive but worth it.

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  8. I love to cook and consider myself an olive oil afficiando. I have traveled throughout Europe and buy olive oil whereever I go. It’s true that the good stuff from Europe never makes it here. There is a big difference in price and quality – you get what you pay for. People think nothing about spending $20 on a bottle of wine, but shy away from a $20 bottle of oil that lasts a lot longer. Sonoma is blessed with incredible local food, why buy elsewhere? I have many bootles of olive oil for all my culinary uses, but the hands-down winner for me consistently is The Olive Press Sevillano – fresh grass, bright olive aroma, yummy on just about everything!

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  9. The Olive Press oils are by far the best Olive Oils that I have tasted. I truly enjoy all of the varities they offer. From the mild, delicate oils to the hearty and robust, the Olive Press has an offering for every palate.

    Post a Reply
  10. I love to cook and consider myself an olive oil afficiando. I have traveled throughout Europe and buy olive oil whereever I go. It’s true that the good stuff from Europe never makes it here. There is a big difference in price and quality – you get what you pay for. People think nothing about spending $20 on a bottle of wine, but shy away from a $20 bottle of oil that lasts a lot longer. Sonoma is blessed with incredible local food, why buy elsewhere? I have many bootles of olive oil for all my culinary uses, but the hands-down winner for me consistently is The Olive Press Sevillano – fresh grass, bright olive aroma, yummy on just about everything!

    Post a Reply
  11. My personal favorite for the fine “condiment” olive oil is the Three Orchards Blend by Dry Creek Olive Oil Company. For everyday cooking and general use I love the Napa Valley Olive Oil packed by G. Guidi, in St. Helena. Olive oil…Good!

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  12. The Olive Press, if you have been there nothing more needs to be said. If you haven’t, try it and it will be all you will need to say.

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  13. Deborah Rogers from the Olive Press is a national treasure!

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  14. I recommend Preston Olive Oil! It is not in Sonoma county, but my other favorite is Napa Valley Olive Oil packed by G. Guidi, in St. Helena. I love this place – it is like stepping back in time!

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  15. I’ve been buying my olive oil at The Olive Press since they opened nearly 14 years ago. The quality is unsurpassed, and their choices increase each year. Their new store in the southern part of the Valley is gorgeous. THE OLIVE PRESS ROCKS!!!

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  16. California Rare Fruit Growers
    Redwood Empire Chapter
    2009
    The Year of the Olive
    http://festivaloffruit.org/speakers/pv.html
    Cazadero has three boutique olive oil producers, Best Dog, Las Serenas and The Olive Branch. They are available at Food for Humans in Guerneville and Aioli Deli in Forestville

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  17. The Beyond Extra Virgin III conference direct link is: http://olivecenter.ucdavis.edu/news-events/events/beyond-extra-virgin-2009
    This is shaping up to be an wonderful event–a must for food writers, chefs and olive oil lovers. The line-up includes US food luminaries like Daniel Patterson of Coi, Deborah Madison, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, John Ash and Georgeanne Brennan, and a slew of international olive oil experts from Italy, Spain, Greece and Australia. Check out the program on the UC Olive Center website for more….

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  18. Argh! You’re right. I heard Schlumberger was great, but I never made it. I also got a bottle from Preston too late for the article. Sounds like I need to do a follow up.
    h

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  19. You left out two of my favorites; Michele-Schlumberger and Jordan. Some of the finest Olive Oil in SoCo.

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