View my photo gallery here to experience the growing journey – Margery Wheaton
MARGERY WHEATON, Grower/Producer
VISTA LUCIA FARMS, LLC
Certified Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The process of olive farming is an art, every step of the way, from the first planning and planting of the trees, to the continuous care of the groves, to the careful timing of harvest, to the handling of the fruit, right on through to the nuances of the milling. Paying close attention to the details of olive farming and tending to the land for the production of quality olive oil is a passion for Margery Wheaton at Vista Lucia Farms.
It is the mission at Vista Lucia Farms to grow and tend with care olive trees for the harvest of prized olive fruit, professionally milled for the production of extra virgin olive oil, certified annually by the California Olive Oil Council.
Margery Wheaton started her one woman olive farming operation at Vista Lucia Farms in 2001. With the purchase of a John Deere tractor and along with the essential instructions in heavy equipment operation, Margery began preparing her farm land for planting on the east side of the Santa Lucia Mountains of the central coast of California. First, the soils were tested. Next, the weather conditions were recorded and after a careful review, the field plans were drawn and the irrigation system was installed. The value of understanding the environment and caring for the land were the first considerations in the artful process of olive farming at Vista Lucia Farms.
While living in Italy in the 1980’s, Margery walked the olive groves of Tuscany and Umbria, enjoying the multiple oils from the small Italian farms. With years of travel and tasting Italian, Greek, Turkish, Spanish and California olive oils, the study and selection of the tree cultivars became the focus of the second step in the artful process of olive farming. At Vista Lucia Farms, theTuscan trees ( Frantoio, Pendolino, Leccino and Maurino ) stand at the property’s hilltop and the Mission and Manzanilla trees grow on the slopes of the hillside. • Each tree cultivar was chosen for the growing conditions and specifically for the taste profile of the olives for olive oil. • The Mission/Manzanilla blend reveals an aroma of fresh herbs and green tea, with a round buttery, nutty finish. • The Tuscan blend reveals an aroma of green grass and cinnamon, with a sweet woody finish.
By 2006, a total of 250 own-rooted cuttings from the Santa Cruz Olive Tree Nursery had been hand planted at Vista Lucia Farms. Planting from small four inch pots, each 12” cutting was placed in a hand dug basin, supplemented with trace minerals and lime. Protection from gophers, ground squirrels and rabbits required placing chicken wire cages around each plant, to be removed within two years. Imagining the olive trees at a full height of 18’, with a broad canopy of limbs designated the planting grid of 30’ between trees, the important third step in the artful process of olive farming.
Vigilance in olive grove maintenance determines the health of the trees and the quality of the olive fruit. As a Master Gardener, Margery learned the value of a studied response to the well-being of each tree, the essential fourth step in the artful process of olive farming. • The broadcast of seed for grasses is applied annually between the trees. • Regular mowing multiple times, to maintain a grass height of four inches is important. The ground cover acts as a soil stabilizer in the winter and a soil protector in the summer. • The control of field critters is a battle. Owl boxes and predator perches have been placed between the groves and multiple ground traps are used throughout the year. • The threat of olive fruit fly requires an organic spray every week on every other tree, starting in June and continuing to the November harvest. The spray contains a pheromone which distracts the fruit fly away from the olive fruit. Traps are also set containing a yeast formula for fly attraction and control. • Pruning, to maintain the proper fruit-to-leaf ratio and to open the canopy for even sunlight exposure is done annually after the winter rains. • Measuring soil moisture for depth and uniformity is done by hand, followed with a detailed recording. The scarcity of ground water during California’s drought years demands strict water management. From year to year, grove maintenance is adjusted as various threats to the groves appear.
With the planting of the large Tuscan, Mission and Manzanilla trees, hand picking of the fruit is required at Vista Lucia Farms. Harvest is scheduled (weather permitting) during the months of October, November and as late as December, with crews raking the olives from the trees onto tarps or into buckets worn on chest harnesses. The harvest schedule depends upon olive ripeness, the determining factor for how the olive oil will taste. · Early picking of green olives will produce a robust, peppery oil. · A late harvest of deeply purple olives will produce a milder, gentler oil. For an olive farmer, olive harvesting costs are the largest expense of the year, with hand picking more than double the cost of mechanical harvesting. The choice of tree cultivars determines the harvesting process. Only a limited number of cultivars produce trees small enough to be mechanically picked. All large trees with heights of 5’and above need to be hand harvested, as fruit grows within the canopy and is not accessible with most machinery. Fruit damage by rough handling contributes to fermentation and diminishing quality. Identifying the optimal time for harvest and choosing the best harvest procedure for each tree cultivar is an important fifth step of the artful process of olive farming.
Margery milled on site the first two years of harvests with her very small mill capable of a limited pressing of 250 lbs of olives for home use. As the olive production grew in tonnage, a mobile mill was contracted and operated on site and made available to neighboring olive farmers. Continued growth in tonnage now requires all fruit at Vista Lucia Farms to be milled at a large, 4-ton per hour facility with state of the art equipment. Attending milling courses over the years at the University of California at Davis and volunteering at a large milling facility has allowed Margery to understand the important details of milling. • Within hours of harvest, it’s important for the olives to be delivered to the mill in prime condition. • After the completion of leaf removal and fruit washing, the steel blades of a hammer mill begin crushing the olives at a high speed, breaking the cells of the fruit into a paste. • The paste is piped into a malaxer, warmed to a temperature not to exceed 86 degrees and stirred slowly. Within an hour, the top layer of paste will begin to glisten with surfacing oil. Now ready for the first stage of extraction, the paste is transferred to a decanter. • In the decanter, the paste (crushed pits and fruit) is separated from the liquids (oil and water). • The liquids are moved on to a high speed centrifuge, separating the water from the fresh quality olive oil. Careful handling and the awareness of the nuances of milling techniques is the final and gratifying step in the production of quality olive oil. Vista Lucia Farms Extra Virgin Olive Oil annually meets all of the strict standards, through lab testing and sensory evaluations, which lead to the valued certification by the California Olive Oil Council.
In a small glass, at room temperature, pour in two tablespoons of olive oil and swirl, placing one hand on top of the glass to trap the aroma and the other hand on the bottom of the glass for warmth. • Upon bringing the glass to your nose, identify the first impression of the aroma, as in olive fruitiness, floral or herbaceous. • Take a comfortable mouthful and roll the oil to the top of your teeth, spreading the oil in your mouth and swallowing carefully. Identify the taste flavors, bitter or sweet, mild or robust. With extra virgin olive oils, the robust peppery element may cause a cough, this is a good cough. Oils have been evaluated as a one cough, two cough or three cough oil, which identifies the heart healthy aspect of the polyphenols in the olive oil. The pairing of olive oils with a variety of food products is an art within itself, heightening tastes.
Olive oils have a wide range of tastes. • A mild olive oil may complement light salads and sauces with a gentle finish. • A moderate olive oil may highlight vegetables and spreads with a unique fruitiness. • A strong olive oil may add to the tasting complexity of roasted meats and cheeses. Individual preferences vary for the use of olive oils on fish, chicken, pork, vegetables, rice, pastas, cheeses, in baking and with desserts. Enjoy the richness of using extra virgin olive oil in food preparations of all kinds.
The bottling facility for Vista Lucia Farms Extra Virgin Olive Oil is located at the farm and licensed by the California Department of Public Health, Food and Drug Branch (CDPH-FDB). Prior to bottling, the barrels of olive oil are stored in a temperature controlled room at 64 degrees. After four to six weeks, racking removes sediment in the oil. Argon gas is again applied to the barrel to limit oxygenation and adding to the shelf life. Custom bottling takes place just days prior to the sale of the oil, maintaining maximum freshness. Olive oil for restaurants and commercial kitchens is available in five gallon and one gallon containers. (Container expenses are added to the cost of the olive oil). Individual bottles are available in two sizes, 250ml and 500ml, both in dark glass. All containers meet the appropriate labeling requirements.
MISSION BLENDAn aroma of green olives and fresh herbs with a buttery, nutty palette finish. 250 ml bottle $ 15 1/2 case $ 80 1 case $ 150 500 ml bottle $ 22 1/2 case $ 120 1 case $ 230
TUSCAN BLENDAn aroma of green olives and cinnamon, with a dry hay and nutty palette finish. 250 ml bottle $ 15 1/2 case $ 80 1 case $ 150 500 ml bottle $ 22 1/2 case $ 120 1 case $ 230
To place an order now please call (805) 423-2393
Vista Lucia Farms, LLC ships with GSO (Golden State Overnight) and CWS (California Wine Services). Both provide detailed reports of package tracking and delivery. Alternate shipping arrangements are also available.