RIVER GROVE OLIVES
River Grove lies on the banks of the Ruamahanga River, just north of Masterton in the beautiful Wairarapa. Owners Steven and Chris Price and children James, Katy and Beth moved over the hill from Wellington in 2004 to start a new life. We arrived in time for the first harvest from our olive trees and have learned much and worked hard in the years since. The children have finished school and James and Katy have left home, and the original 19 hectare property has been added to, with the purchase of a further 17 hectares in 2014. The olive trees take up around seven hectares, with the balance used for grazing beef and sheep.
Currently the grove consists of around 1600 olive trees, most of which were planted in 2000. Our two main varieties are the Tuscans, deliciously fruity Frantoio and complex, peppery Leccino, but in the years since we came we have planted several other varieties including Koroneiki, a tiny olive from Greece that produces wonderful, flavoursome oil and Chemlali (another fruity Tuscan) which is proving popular with those who taste it. The trees flower around November and the fruit is ready for harvest in early winter. The Frantoio, Leccino and several of the other varieties are harvested mechanically with the balance still being hand harvested (using compressed air driven clappers) by Steven – and whoever else is willing to help! The fruit is taken within hours to The Olive Press in Greytown and the oil is returned to us to be stored in 75 litre stainless steel cans before sale. After a few weeks settling, our beautiful extra virgin olive oil is ready for sale.
The two biggest problems we are faced with as olive growers are starlings and frost, both of which are capable of wiping out a crop! We finally managed to beat the birds last year when our two bird cannons were joined by six gun-toting, hi-viz clad scarecrows! And we purchased a “frost-dragon” (an impressive big, fiery heater towed behind the tractor) to help combat the frost. Our efforts paid off and we harvested 27 tonnes of olives! Most of the fruit was sold directly off the trees but we have a few hundred litres of lovely oil to sell. We sent three oils to the Olives New Zealand Awards and received silver medals for Frantoio and Chemlali and a bronze for a grove blend. Harvest 2017 is a few months away and while there is plenty of fruit on the trees it will be interesting to see how the oil is affected by the fierce winds, few hot days and lack of sun this awful summer. We’ll keep you posted….