28 Mar

Templeton olives star in high-end products

By Katy Budge,

Lee Alegre and Adriana Marquez work together in Templeton to market Alegre Olive Oil Company products and Adriana’s Gourmet Olive Tapenade.

Thanks to his vineyard management business, most people probably associate Lee Alegre with grapes, but lately he’s teamed up with close family friends Art and Norma Ornelas and business partner Adriana Marquez to branch out into the world of olives.

In 2000, Alegre was approached by the Ornelases “to plant something on their (Templeton) property that would stay green year round.” Alegre thought of olives, perhaps a no-brainer these days, but at the time “we were one of the first orchards to go in.”

The 4000 trees are all Tuscan varietals, and the resulting oil proved to be “true Tuscan oil with a peppery finish, though we harvest a little later, so it’s a little mellower.”

With the oil showing well at events such as the Paso Robles Olive Festival, Alegre realized he needed to take things to the next level. A couple of years ago, he asked Marquez to help out with sales and marketing efforts. The bonus was that she could also bring another product to the lineup — Adriana’s Gourmet Olive Tapenade.

“I’d been ‘testing’ it on my family for 10 years,” said

Marquez, and the tapenade proved a big hit at family gatherings and dinner parties. “It’s handmade with all fresh ingredients, with nothing processed, but it can keep up to six months unopened in your pantry.”

The fresh, handcrafted theme carries through the rest of the Alegre olive products (which also include cured olives). With the help of family and friends, Alegre and Marquez do almost everything themselves except for the actual pressing — though they’re on site throughout that process as well — including hand- bottling and hand-labeling the Tuscan-inspired, amphora-shaped bottles imported from Italy.

“We want to keep everything handcrafted and keep the high quality,” said Marquez. “It’s fun to do, and if we sent it out to be mass produced, it would change absolutely everything.”

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