The Story of our Olive Oil
The Millett family has been nurturing a grove of 300+ olive trees for 15 years. When we bought our home in the Luberon region of France we were not particularly looking for an olive grove, but it offered a lovely landscape and contributed to our decision.
The grove had been neglected and, to tell you the truth, the olive trees had been all but lost beneath a sea of lovely oaks that had been allowed to grow with abandon. Our felling of oaks and the pruning of oliviers (as olive trees are known in France) began in 1999. We sought help from a local friend, Henri, who agreed to begin an annual cycle of tree-trimming, a third of the orchard each year as is the custom in Provence.
Neighbors led us to the local agriculture cooperative where we found an organic fertilizer and began feeding the trees, in April and August. Initially, our property had only one outdoor water source so we decided the trees would have to survive with the water that nature could provide. Fortunately, that has been good enough so far. We have recently devised a system for capturing rainwater that we can offer the trees during particularly dry periods.
In the earliest years, olive harvest was a time of discovery and learning – which trees would bear fruit, how best to reach olives on branches that hung out over ledges and pathways, experimenting with all kinds of buckets and netting and rakes and ladders.
All the hard work was rewarded each year on the day we went to the mill! The first mill we used was literally built into a cave underneath the village of Cucuron. For various reasons, we eventually settled on the mill at Oliverson, also in Cucuron (9.7 miles from our orchard). The most important reason was the knowledge that we could be assured of receiving “our own oil from our own olives”.
These days the olive harvest is a time for family and thanks-giving, literally. We welcome friends and family to help us with the harvest and then we gather in the house for a meal of Thanksgiving!
The harvest of 2015 is the first that we are making publicly available. Our supply is somewhat limited but the oil is absolutely delicious – fruity and grassy, complex, and tangy!
All our olives are of the Anglandau variety that is a naturally biennial producer. But our trees seem to be on staggered schedules, ensuring a constant supply of oil.
All of our trees are sprouted from the roots of the original trees that froze in 1956 along with nearly all the olive trees in the Mediterranean region of France and Italy. We are still in the process of transplanting some of those “sprouted trees” into a more open and accessible space within the grove.
About 100 years ago, our original trees came to France from Italy, along the Via Domita, one of the oldest Roman Roads. That road stretches even today from the French Alps to the Spanish Pyrenees across the South of France. It runs about 12 miles north of our grove, as the dove flies. From the size of our stumps we are told that our original trees were likely planted in the early 1900s.