Post image for The olive oil of the South Istrian drought

The olive oil of the South Istrian drought

by Gogo on October 4, 2011

in Olive oils

While I am writing these lines the olives from our 20-years-old olive grove in Medulin are being pressed in an olive oil mill in Vodnjan. Today, for the first time in many years, I was not able to help my family in the harvest and I can not tell how bad I’m feeling right now.

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The harvest is not only about work. I missed politically incorrect jokes, local gossips and talks about politics you usually hear from your picking comrades while you climb up the olive tree trying to reach the highest olives. I missed Istrian marenda around 11 AM (Istrian word for brunch) and looots of food for the final lunch/dinner around 5 PM when all olives are already in the truck, ready to be transported to Vodnjan. See for yourself a typical feast that follows an Istrian olive harvest.

20081011.DSCF990720081011.DSCF9914The last caseThe job is done!

I missed the magic moment when the fruits of my one year work in the olive grove are squeezed into fluorescent jet of olive juice, the freshest you can taste.

But, there was nothing I could do. I have a hectic period on the work (writing up a really interesting scientific paper) and olives could not wait till the weekend. Last two months were unusually hot and dry in Istria that the olive harvest was anticipated for more than two weeks. The olives turned black already a week ago and my uncle decided he’ll gather the family and our friends and harvest today, on October the 4th.

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I was a bit worried about the quality of the olive oil since in order to get lots of fresh fruity and herbal flavors you have to pick them when half are black and the rest is green.

I was consoled by my friend Igor Palčić, a young and gifted agronomist from Brtonigla and organizer of Malvasia festival in Brtonigla, who told me there’s nothing to worry about. In fact, the olives, due to the drought stress, are turning black only on the surface but this doesn’t necessarily mean they are overripe. Moreover, as Olivera Koprivnjak from University of Rijeka explained in one lecture, the olives under stress produce much more polyphenols – healthy molecules that give taste to the oil and can prevent many diseases. These are the good news.

The bad news is I’ll be happy if we get half of the oil we got in 2010. My uncle yesterday told me: “Don’t worry, we’ll do the harvest with ease even without you. There’s maybe only 50% of the olives with respect to the last year”.

I phoned him again few minutes ago. The harvest was finished already at 1 PM while usually it last until the sunset. They picked only 270 kg of olives that is less than 1/3 of what we had last year! Damn drought and global warming!!! At least the yield was higher – 15,2 % with respect to 11,5% of the last year. This comes as no surprise since the olives were dry as hell.

Finally, we got about 41 L of olive oil that will be barely enough for the consumption of our family. Not bad at all for such a harsh season, at least for olives. What comforts me is that at least the 2011 vintage could be extraordinary for Istrian wines. But this is a story I’ll be hopefully writing up in a year or so.

I end this post with a wise saying by the father of my dear friend Vinka from Korčula island. I heard it this summer with a wonderful view on Lumbarda and its ancient olive groves just below the old town.

Lumbarda maslinici i vinogradi
Olive groves in Lumbarda, Korčula island

“Ne brinem se ako će biti manje maslina. Ako je manje rodilo, manje je i posla.”
and a clumpsy translation:
“I don’t worry if there will be less olives. If they give less, there will be less work to pick them up.”

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