05 Oct

The olive has its day in the sun

By Leslie Gornstein,

In California wine country, olive oil may be the new Chardonnay. Producers are offering tours and tastings.

Squished together like grapes in a harvesting crate, the weekend wine-tasters are crawling along clogged California 29 through the Napa Valley. The olive trees lining the road whisper of the Other Napa, but the Chardonnay sippers don’t know to listen.

It’s olive pressing season, time to taste a different type of vintage — the extra virgin kind. Across California, frantoios (that’s Italian and insider lingo for an olive press) are coaxing liquid gold out of midnight-colored fruit. A few oil producers also are offering tastings and a crash course in the good life, Mediterranean-style.

The state has more than 6,100 acres devoted to olives, squeezing out a combined 750,000 gallons a year, about the same as France produces. Most of it comes from Butte and Tulare counties, but the industry is just starting to tap into tourism, so the best place for beginners is the visitor-friendly Napa and Sonoma valleys.

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