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. The original 19 hectare property has been added to, with the purchase of a further 17 adjacent hectares in 2014. The olive trees take up around seven hectares, with the balance used for grazing beef. The grazing is currently being operated under lease. Steven is well on the way to increasing the grove size by propagating and planting up to 5000 more trees on the new block.
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 by a contractor, with the younger trees (under seven years old) still hand-harvested by Steven, using compressed-air clappers. The fruit is taken within hours to the press for processing. As our harvest tonnage grows (33 tonnes in 2018), we have decided to sell the bulk of the fruit to The Village Press in Hastings, having only a small amount of oil returned to us for direct sale to our valued customers. All the oil we retain for sale is sent, with the assistance of Olives New Zealand, to Australia to be certified as extra-virgin.
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 have finally managed to beat the birds with our three bird cannons being 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.
The 2019 harvest went well, with no major weather events and only a few minor frosts. We harvested just over 30 tonne of fruit and are pleased to have been noted as one of the top producing groves (in terms of fruit weight per tree) in New Zealand. We gained a silver and bronze medal at this year’s awards, for Frantoio and a Grove Blend. We were privileged to have been visited by the Head Judge, Dr Agusti Romero after the judging was complete.
It is November and Steven has finished pruning the trees. They are looking healthy and ‘fluffy’ – a sign that the tiny flowers are beginning to open. Meanwhile, Steven has over a thousand newly propagated trees almost ready for planting as we look to expand the grove.