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Olives are Wine Country's other crush

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OLIVE ME Although handpicking is laborious, Jamie Anzalone prefers this method of climbing a ladder to fill his buckets. - PHOTO CREDIT: KELLY FLEMING
  • Photo credit: Kelly Fleming
  • OLIVE ME Although handpicking is laborious, Jamie Anzalone prefers this method of climbing a ladder to fill his buckets.

Now that the grape harvest is complete, it's time to turn to the olive groves to pick, crush and extract the oil. According to Jamie Anzalone, in about a week, olives in Napa Valley will be ready for harvest, and he should know. As the former owner of two storefront olive oil companies in Upper Napa Valley, Anzalone's experience dates back to 2011.

Initially lured from his roots in Buffalo, New York, to enroll in a food and beverage education at the Culinary Institute of America 20 years ago, Anzalone last worked at Solbar at Solage Calistoga as maître d' before he switched his career to accommodate his restructured family life.

He knew he wanted to do something different, so when he found an available retail space on Lincoln Avenue, he transitioned to an olive oil sommelier and opened the storefront, Calistoga Olive Oil. He later changed the name to Napa Valley Olive Oil and opened a second storefront in St. Helena.

At first, he bought olive oil direct from producers, but when the late Bob Pecota of Bennett Lane entered the store and asked if he'd be interested in picking from the 100 olive oil trees on his property, Anzalone accepted the opportunity to produce his own olive oil and began to research the process.

"That year when I picked olives, I took a gold medal at the 2012 New York International Olive Oil Competition," he said. "The valley proved to be the perfect growing area."

He knew he was onto something—utilizing a crop he noticed usually falls to the ground and goes ignored. Through connections he made while working at Solbar, Anzalone arranged to source from olive trees at several wineries and estates within the Napa Valley. His neighbor introduced him to some olive pickers and everything fell into place.

He worked with viticulturists on properties where he picked from the olive groves, advising them on pruning techniques and necessary nutrients. When the time is right for harvesting, he takes his crew in to pick and then press the olives. Once they've harvested the olives, the processing begins at a local mill in either Sonoma or Lake county. The mill process takes about an hour per ton.

"Once they go in the machine," he explains, "an hour later you've got fresh olive oil."

Anzalone allows the oil to rest for 45 days, or until the sediment falls to the bottom.

The business deal varies with each grove, but in the case of Pecota, Anzalone forfeited 10 percent of the olive oil in exchange for owning the olives.

"Sometimes they hire me to pick with the crew, and they pay the mill and own the oil," Anzalone explained. "I'm like a consultant. They keep the oil, but I can buy it back from them."

When his family situation changed, however, so did Anzalone's business model. His young daughter moved to San Diego with his ex-wife and he could no longer work 12-hour days with the new visitation in place. So, in one slick move, Anzalone closed the doors to both his storefront Napa Valley Olive Oil companies and succumbed to the online shopping world. That was in 2016, when he realized the online presence of his company was enough to sustain him.

"I trimmed the fat," he said. "Looking at the numbers, I asked myself why I gave landlords so much money every month?"

The online plan allows him time to participate at local events such as Calistoga Food & Wine and Festival Napa Valley's Taste of Napa and across the country to a circuit of food and wine shows. He continues to source from olive groves on Mt. Veeder, Diamond Mountain and in St. Helena. A few wineries, such as Cliff Lede, Duckhorn, and Spottswoode, are sources as well.

Next year, he plans to sell his olive oil and products at the St. Helena Farmers Market on Fridays, and every other Saturday at the Napa Farmers Market, alternating between the San Diego Farmers Market during visitation with his daughter.

Storefronts that carry his new label, Anzalone's Olive Oil (honoring his Sicilian surname), include Cal Mart in Calistoga, Oakville Grocery and potentially the new Gary's Wine & Marketplace in St. Helena. Restaurants such as Perry Lang's in Yountville serve Anzalone's Olive Oil with their bread service, and it's also on the menu at Angèle's Restaurant & Bar on the riverfront in Napa.

The new business model agrees with Anzalone, who has more time to spend with his daughter and more time to travel.

"Now, I love it. It's the dream for me," he said. "It's afforded me a great lifestyle, freedom and the ability to make great olive oil—100 percent pure, property-specific from the Napa Valley."

Anzalone plans to create a food line based on olive oil, and to create a healthy line of olive oil beauty products such as soaps and lotions, in the new year. He admits olive oil is best served in its raw form as a finish to soups, as a salad dressing, over risotto and for use in baking (he says it's a natural preservative). His personal favorite is to make scrambled eggs pooled in his own olive oil.

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