On a smoky Wednesday afternoon, Julie Coldani, co-founder and director of sales, events and marketing for Coldani Olive Ranch, inspected some of the Arbequina olives — not yet ripe — harvested from their fields on Thornton Road just north of Lodi.
“We like to pick them when they’re green because it gives the oil a better flavor profile,” Coldani said as she picked up handfuls of olives. “It also produces a healthier oil.”
This year’s harvest season began at the end of October, Coldani said, and has been progressing quickly due to a lack of rain which would have created mud and made it harder for mechanical harvesters to move through the olive fields which produce olives for Calivirgin Olive Oil.
“We hope to be done before Thanksgiving,” she said.
Michael Coldani, Julie’s husband and co-owner of Coldani Olive Ranch who also works as an olive oil miller, said their fields have been yielding approximately five tons of olives per acre, and between 42 and 45 gallons of oil per ton of olives.
With 100 acres worth of olive trees to harvest each year, Julie said the trees are planted on trellises to make it easier for mechanical harvesters to drive over one row at a time, using its arms to shake the olives of each tree on either side to be collected in buckets attached to conveyor belts.
“They’ve got to go slow and steady to make sure they get them all,” Julie said.
The olives are then taken to the pressing facility to be milled within hours of being harvested.
“As soon as the olives are harvested, they start breaking down, so you want to start milling as soon as possible to get the best oil,” Julie said.
Once the olives arrive at the pressing facility, the sticks are removed and the olives are washed and then pressed with lemons, habañero peppers or other produce used to flavor the oils, Julie said, before the mash is sent through two different centrifuges spinning in opposite directions.
“Then, the oil is extracted at the end,” Julie said.
Harvest season is a team effort, Julie said, with everybody working to harvest the olives, extract, bottle and label the oil which will be all of the product they have to sell for the coming year.
“Our whole livelihood depends on how the harvest goes,” Julie said. “It’s a really critical time for us because there are no do-overs, we can’t make more later.”
Despite the high stress levels, Julie enjoys how the harvest season brings the entire team together to work toward a common goal.
“With everybody coming together at the harvest to make everything happen, it feels like a family,” Julie said.
Corto Olive Company is also in the middle of their harvest season, although president Brady Whitlow said this year’s harvest is lighter than in years past due to high temperatures earlier in the year.
“We expected it, we anticipated it and we planned for a lighter crop, so we’re fine. We’re producing some really nice, fresh oil,” Whitlow said. “Our total tons and gallons are a little bit up from last year — despite the short crop — because we’ve added a couple thousand acres, about 30 percent more than last year, and we’re planning to add more next year.”