Jack Dougherty of Bella Vista Ranch knows olives.
It was olives that bridged the gap between your hi-tech haven of Palo Alto and the Texas Hill Country heaven of Wimberley for Jack Dougherty. Mr. Dougherty had a distinguished career in the high tech industry and at one point supervised well over 1,000 employees. But his heart was always in the fruit groves and nut bearing groves near his boyhood Palo Alto home.
In Jack’s case, it seems you just can’t take the country out of the boy and he made his way to Texas and Wimberley the moment he could. He still travels the world searching for information and technology, and techniques on olives, but his home and his heart are now at Bella Vista Ranch near Wimberley, Texas.
We took a tour of Bella Vista Ranch a couple weeks ago and sat in amazement as he explained the story of olives to us and a few others gathered under some live oak trees sitting on picnic tables right smack in the middle of among the premier olive groves in Texas and the USA. We had no idea we’d stumbled upon one of many premier experts of the olive world there in Wimberley.
As he told the annals of olives, he related that the initial person who ever tasted an olive was probably not impressed. Raw olives contain an alkaloid that makes them very bitter and unedible. Some ancient civilization discovered that soaking them in brine removes the bad taste.
Olives have been around for years and years, but until recently they were only a condiment you served with your meals or at a celebration as an appetizer. It had been in the 19902s that health organizations took notice of the health benefits, specifically our heart health. With this discovery, new diets emerged using Olive Oil in their recipes.
Olive farming started in the Mediterranean, but as the economy changed so did the usage of the land that olives were grown. In america, California is our major grower of both green and black olives, but due to the high prices of land, the olive growing can be shrinking. So now Olive farmers are trying to find less expensive land to cultivate olives to produce the essential olive oil to meet the increasing demand.
It really is apparent that Mr. Dougherty has spent lots of time researching olives. There is a report written by George Ray McEachern and Larry A. Stein, Extension Horticulturists from Texas A & M University titled ‘Growing Olives in Texas Gardens’, where they discuss growing Olives in Texas. They discuss where in fact the climate is good in Texas, and all about what olive trees need to survive. They limited the areas to East, Central, and South Texas. But that was about it. Mr. Dougherty continued with his research and settled in on the Wimberley area as being ideal. He did have some concerns about the weather, but the soil conditions appeared to be much like ideal olive growing locations in other areas of the world. Very few olives are grown in Texas north of San Antonio.
The Bella Vista Ranch fits all the criteria for being in a position to grow olives. The soil includes a lot of caliche which makes for great drainage and the temperature doesn’t dip to freezing frequently or for extended periods of time. You can find over 1,000 Olive trees on the ranch today.
There are 16 different varieties of olive trees grown at the grove, with the California Mission Olive as the tree of choice that is primarily grown at the Bella Vista Ranch.
Here are a few things we learned about olives and olive production in Texas. Olive trees were brought to the New World by the Spanish. They first arrived in Mexico and made their way from there to California with missionaries where in fact the trees were first planted in 1769. EB1 extraordinary ability The olive trees were known as Mission olives since they were grown in olive groves close to the missions. This variety no longer exists in Spain, but is popular in California and Texas. Using Mission Olives gives ESSENTIAL OLIVE OIL an extremely long shelf life.
The weather has not always cooperated with the Bella Vista Ranch olive trees. In fact a late freeze almost put the Olive ranch out of business. That they had to lessen and replace almost all their olive trees. Other concerns were that Olives are an alternating fruit producer, meaning that some years there are more olives produced than others, and you also have to hand select the olives and pruning is essential. Olive trees grow very rapidly and when the tree grows uncontrollable, the nutrients are used by the tree for the growth rather than the fruit. The Olive trees must be kept pruned.
The Olive tree produces fruit in a remarkable way, the blooms create the olive cluster, then only one 1 or 2 2 olives that are the strongest continue steadily to grow and hang from the tree. Each goes through a color change from green to red, Jack can look at the tree and decide from the texture of the skin and the color when it’s time to select the entire tree. The olives gathered from each tree is a combination of olives from green to red and also dark red. With all the different stages of ripened olives, when pressed together should make a very flavorful olive oil.
When harvesting the olives, given that they have to be hand picked, they will start at the bottom of the tree and pick as high because they can reach. Then they use ladders to pick more. The last step they will use would be to construct tarps or nets at the bottom of the tree and work with a device that looks like just a little rake to comb through the tree and when the olives fall to the bottom, they are gathered in the tarps.
They will start producing a decent crop when the tree is usually 4 to 10 years old, and each tree can produce up to a couple hundred pounds of olives in an excellent year. Being that they are alternate bearing, one year you can get the maximum pounds and the next get just a few pounds. There is no way to know which year a tree is a good producer. Pruning could be the key to producing more olives.
As was told us, the first one who ever tasted an olive was most likely not impressed. Raw olives contain an alkaloid which makes them very bitter and unedible. Some ancient civilization found that soaking them in brine removes the bad taste. In the Frantoio room where the olives are pressed into essential olive oil, you will find a centrifuge method called ‘Cold Pressing’ from enough time the olives are harvested to the time the essential olive oil is bottled, the olives won’t go past a particular temperature. Heat and light alongside oxygen may cause a chemical change, and can effect the flavor of the olive oil.
Jack Dougherty of Bella Vista Ranch knows olives.