The Santa Ynez Valley Tasting Trifecta: Wine, Craft Beer…and Olive Oil
Chances are, most Santa Ynez Valley visitors have delighted in the offerings of regional world class vintages and brews from local wineries and craft breweries, yet there is another fascinating tasting adventure that affords your taste buds a reason to celebrate in the valley. Olive oil! Like wine and craft beer, this magnificent treasure comes in a wide and distinctive range of varieties and flavors. So also parallel to wine and craft beer, a true tasting experience is indispensable in order to fully understand and appreciate it.
Ready for a little Olive Oil 101…
Why Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
Known in American kitchens as EVOO, extra virgin is an internationally recognized standard that designates the highest quality olive oil. It is produced by cold pressing, a process that extracts the oil without chemicals or excessive heat. The oil must pass rigid standards and taste specifications as determined by a certified tasting panel. Extra virgin olive oil is not filtered (which often in mass produced oils, introduces chemicals to the product). Although filtering does extend the shelf life by removing any actual bits of olive, which will ferment and cause the oil to spoil, it also diminishes the flavor in doing so. With that in mind, extra virgin olive oil is allowed to ‘rest’ in air-tight, steel tanks for a couple of months after crushing to allow some of the fruit particles and remaining water to settle to the bottom of the tanks and let the oil’s flavor mellow and stabilize. The oil is then taken from the top of the tank throughout the year ensuring a fresh supply of oil for bottling. A few producers bottle a small portion of their new oil directly from the mill after pressing. This olio nuovo or new oil is available only in late November through the early part of Winter and is often accompanied by a seasonal celebration at the mill. It is the freshest and finest extra virgin olive oil available – brilliant green and the essence of olive oil goodness!
The typical “extra virgin” olive oil you find in the supermarket today is an industrial product that has been heavily processed and is often labeled strictly for marketing rather that actual content. Since there is no real label enforcement through the USDA or FDA, it is helpful to be educated in label decoding. California, though, does adhere to an Extra Virgin Certification program that ensures quality. Bottles that are marked with the‘COOC’ seal are guaranteed certified.
Four main factors account for the variety of flavors:
- type of olives – borrowing from wine tasting 101: varietals of olives offer distinctive flavors. Producers can make their oil from single variety of olive, or a blend to create interesting and unique flavor combinations.
- ripeness of olives – early harvested green olives tend to have ‘grassier’ flavors, while the later harvested darker olives tend to have ‘buttery’ ones. Additionally, a shorter gap between harvest and processing will produce a fresher, stronger oil. Olives harvested late, in January or even February, will produce a darker, milder oil.
- growing and harvesting conditions – climate, soil and harvesting techniques all impact olive oil flavor. Many producers pick their olives by hand to avoid bruising. The olives are then pressed within 24 hours of being picked because like all fruit, they will begin to ferment, which will lessen the quality.
- oil storage – exposure to heat, light, and oxygen can also impact olive oil taste. Light is very damaging to olive oil, as is heat; so unlike wine, olive oil does not get better with age. It starts out most pungent, and then softens over time, until it finally turns. Your best bet is to keep your oil in a cool, dark place.
Which brings us to taste. Ranges vary from delicate and buttery, to fragrant and fruity, to olive-y and peppery, or leafy green and grassy. With this in mind, the logical place for an olive oil education to unfold is with tasting. All the reading in the world isn’t going to mean a thing unless you can connect it to the sensory experience—the aroma and taste of olive oil. The Santa Ynez Valley is host to a distinctive array of hand pressed olive oil farms, making it the ideal location to taste, learn, gather recipe ideas and explore the health benefits of this ‘other’ Santa Ynez Valley fruit. Check out the olive oil experiences the valley has to offer:
Santa Ynez Valley’s charming town of Los Olivos is hosting its Annual Jazz & Olive Festival, Saturday, June 8, at Lavinia Campbell Park from 1-4pm. Enjoy all things olive paired with world class, professional jazz, fine wine tasting from 20 local wineries, vendor booths from over 10 regional olive oil producers, professional chefs cooking demonstrations, an amateur cook-off, great home-made food and the ambiance of one of the most charming small towns in America. Sponsored by the Rotary Club of Los Olivos and benefiting local charities, the festival celebrates the growing contributions of the Santa Ynez Valley’s olive producers. Rumor is that this event ALWAYS sells out…so don’t miss out! Tickets include a free souvenir wine glass and plate, and are available for $50 each, from local Rotarians, at the Book Loft in Solvang, Coghlan Vineyard & Jewelers, the General Store in Los Olivos, Lucas & Lewellen Tasting Room in Solvang and Pea Soup Andersons’s in Buellton, by calling 805-325-9280, or on-line. Tickets can be held for you at Will Call or mailed to you if you order early enough.
The local Olive Oil community in the Santa Ynez Valley is abundant. Some of the offerings include:
- Figueroa Farms Olive Mills and Orchards – A true family business where everything from milling to bottling and labeling of ward-winning, world class olive oils takes place on their local farm.
- Olive Hill Farm – Employing certified organic farming techniques as well as the solar power, Olive Hill Farm takes pride in producing some of the finest olive oils available as well as balsamic vinegars, wine vinegars, truffle oils, table olives, and other gourmet food products.
- Rancho Olivos – Sustainably growing olive trees which produce their award winning handcrafted gourmet olive oils.
- Global Gardens – featuring olive oil from some of the most renowned groves on the planet, including countless Gold Medal Winners, Global Gardens also offers home-made fruit balsamic vinegars, organic mustards, organic snacks and other local California food items made in their kitchens.
For a memorable getaway, consider arriving early to visit the Los Olivos art galleries and shops, and tour the Santa Ynez Valley’s beautiful rolling hills,horse ranches, and vineyards. The Annual Summer Wine Pass Event is just kicking off and is the only ticket you’ll need this summer to enjoy fabulous wine tasting at the premier boutique wineries of the Santa Ynez Valley. Learn the ropes, tips for tasting and while in the Valley take advantage of an excellent opportunity…
It’s Summer Pass time!
One Pass – One Price – 13 Wineries!
The pass (available online for $40 and on-site for $45), includes one wine tasting flight (usually 4-5 wines) at each of the Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country Association participating tasting rooms (a $130 value). You choose the dates anytime between May 1 and August 31. There are no reservations required and no blackout dates. Your pass will expire when you’ve tasted at all 13 wineries or on August 31, 2013 – whichever occurs first.
The Summer Wine Pass participating wineries include: Alexander & Wayne in Los Olivos, Buttonwood Farm Winery, Casa Cassara in Solvang, Cimarone & 3CV Wines, Daniel Gehrs Wines, Imagine Wine in Santa Ynez, Lincourt Vineyards on the Amamo Pintado, Lucas & Lewellen, Rideau Vineyard, Standing Sun Wines in Buellton, Toccata Wines and Toretti Family Vineyards.
Make it a true custom getaway and book your stay at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott. Enjoy the unspoiled, relaxing charm of the valley and all it has to offer. The Los Olivos Olive & Jazz Festival as well as the Summer Wine Pass are just two of the many adventures waiting for you in the unforgettable Santa Ynez Valley. Visit the Starting Gate Restaurant, on-site at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott, for cooked to order wood-fired pizza on the patio made with fresh, local ingredients,house-made dough and sauce on Wednesdays and Fridays, 5-8pm. Pair with a wide variety of local vintages and craft brews for a memorable summer evening meal.