Camp d'Estrelles, set in the beautiful province of Catalunya in North Eastern Spain, is a commercial polyculture of olive, almond and fruit trees, with a small vineyard for family consumption. Our aim to produce quality, single varietal extra virgin olive oils is without compromise. All work carried out here is with the express intention of producing a quality fruit, therefore, although labour intensive, everything is done by hand.
The 4.5 hectare estate has almost three hundred olive trees, the varieties being a combination of Empeltre, Farga and Arbequina. The majority is of Empeltre (187), followed by Farga (84) and finally Arbequina (23), with seven trees we have yet to identify.
On the northern side of the estate the soil on the hillside is chalk, where we have seventy-six trees planted around 50-60 years ago. In the basin area south of a road that divides the property the soil is clay over sandstone and home to 213 trees. This is where the replanting has taken place in amongst the centenarian olives, some estimated to be over 200 years old.
Temperatures here can drop to -14C in the winter and peak at around +45C at the height of summer. Because of this, the pruning season is from February to mid-May when the climate is more temperate and the trees are safe from both the hard frosts and summer sunburn. All pruning is done by hand and the trees are trained in a pendulous fashion to aid hand harvesting and minimise fruit bruising. Because these varieties of olive trees have a naturally upright growth habit, this involves a lot of "top cutting" (the taking out of vigourous vertical shoots) to encourage the horizontal structural branches to produce downward fruiting shoots. All prunings are burnt and the ash returned to the soil around the trees to aid the forthcoming seasons' flowering, making the process carbon neutral.
The land is then ploughed before the Spring rains to aerate the soil and to allow any rainfall to penetrate the soil to root level. This is repeated after the rains to minimise any subsequent weed growth and in order that the olives don't have to compete for soil moisture. Rainfall here is only 500mm per annum, which means, because we dry-farm (without irrigation) all rainfall is precious, and it is therefore paramount for the health of the olives that all available water actually reaches the roots.
Farga olive blossom Farga in flower Empeltre olive fruit-lets
Around the second or third week in May, flowering takes place and dependent on weather conditions, can take anywhere from a couple of days up to a week. As the flowers open, the olive tree loses its dull, evergreen status and takes on a shimmering ivory look as the thousands of flowers open and fill the air with a rich fragrance. With favourable dry, sunny days and a gentle breeze, the olive flowers set quickly.
Summer has arrived, and as the fruit-lets (drupes) progress and swell, we set Olipé traps to control the olive-fly. These are bottle traps containing a sweet liquid and yeast, hung from the trees and designed to trap and kill the olive-fly. Left unchecked, the olive-fly would decimate the crop. Laying it's eggs in the drupes, the lava hatch and feed off the fruit. The damaged fruit then either falls from the tree reducing the yield, or, much worse contaminates the harvested fruit raising it's acidity and oxidation levels thus producing very poor quality oil.
Empeltre olive tree Empeltre olives Farga olive tree Farga olives
Veraison (the colouring of the fruit) takes place during the Autumn and the fruit gradually ripens. November brings the harvest season. The fruit is now black with a pink flesh and at it's optimum for producing quality olive oil. Harvesting consists of laying large nets on the ground and gently "combing" the fruit from the trees with a specialist hand tool. The olives are then put in special ventilated crates (each holding around 20kg) and taken to the local mill for processing. After this, the olive oil is held in bulk containers and cold stabilised, allowing the pulp debris to settle naturally and then racked off the sediment leaving a clean, golden, extra virgin olive oil.
Raw olive oil at the end of pressing... The final product.