05 Nov

Off The Beaten Path: The Wolfskill Olive Ranch

“A tree will produce and produce. You can neglect it, abuse it, forget about it, not water it and it’ll still produce olives,” says Dan Flynn, a U.C. Davis scientist.


They stand as immovable sentinels of the past. Many of these giant mission olive trees are almost four stories tall and at nearly a century and a half old, they robustly bear a tasty crop every year.

And this day more than a hundred well wishers came to this ranch to taste the labor of those fruits.

“Wolkskill is our most delicate flavor, and then it goes to Silo and Gunrock, which is the most peppery,” explains Katie Hetrick of U.C. Davis.

U.C. Davis now makes its own award winning olive oil from these old trees and sells it for $13 a bottle.

“A tree will produce and produce. You can neglect it, abuse it, forget about it, not water it and it’ll still produce olives,” says Dan Flynn, a U.C. Davis scientist.

“Actually these olive trees are pretty young. In Italy some are as old as 2000 years and still producing,” says Flynn.

It was rancher John Wolfskill who began developing this 107 acre ranch near Winters from a Spanish land grant. He experimented with hundreds of varieties of fruits, nuts and vegetables to see what did best in our Mediterranean climate.

Wolfskill planted over 200 Mission olive tress bordering the ranch. Today, some trees like this have lost limbs to storms and rot, but soldier on.

“It’s certainly not one you want to cut down at all. You just want to love it forever. You never ruin an olive tree if you keep at it,” says Eileen Masullo, who is an olive grower.

Inspired by the success of these ancestors, other Yolo ranchers have planted olives like Jim Mayer.

“We’ve taken mostly Tuscan varieties and brought them to Yolo County and said what happens when you mix a little Italy and a little California and what we are doing it hoping to develop a new flavor,” says Masullo.

The Wolfskill family donated this ranch to U.C. Davis in the 1930s as a working research lab, but only with the promise that these old giants be allowed to live on and produce more of these award winning olives.

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