Shawn's Blog | The Olive Oil Source Wholesale Store

Shawn's Blog

2018 Harvest and Milling

I had visions of writing several posts during milling season documenting the progression of the season, perhaps photos of the same variety of fruit coming in several weeks apart and also giving the differences in yields we saw as this transpired. Then I had hoped to have bucolic photos of our crop coming in on beautiful fall days, harvest crews in the background and so on. The reasons this did not happen are threefold.

First and foremost, milling season didn’t really happen this year. As has been pretty well documented in my blog and elsewhere, the crop was extremely light throughout the state due to the weather we had at the end of last winter and early spring. Beautiful weather ran from late January through early March causing many of the trees to bloom only to be followed by two months of very cool wet weather that destroyed the bud break. We will only end up milling a small fraction of our annual average tonnage this season and most of that was fruit for ourselves. As for the photos of the crews, crews wouldn’t be plural and you could fit the one crew there was in a four door truck. The custom crush for other orchard owners essentially didn’t happen. This year we may have milled 10% of the average amount of fruit we mill for other orchard owners. 

The second reason it didn’t happen is that the season was compressed. It doesn’t pay for us to mill for a couple hours day after day. Once the mill is fired up, it needs to run for a bit otherwise as much time is spent getting it up and running and then cleaning it as is spent actually milling. As a result, we only milled for a few weeks as opposed to a few months. We did not mill enough fruit of the same varietal over a long enough period of time to give three different ripeness evaluations. 
This compressed schedule is not great for our customers as we mill for orchards spread across about 200 miles of latitude ranging from orchards that overlook the ocean in central California to orchards that are quite a distance inland and much further south. The optimal times for customers spanning such a broad spectrum of microclimates and latitudes does not fall into a window of a few weeks.

The last reason those posts did not happen is that The Olive Oil Source was extremely busy this fall and demanded a lot more of my time than the mill did. Thank you to all of our customers who made it a very good fall. Thank you also to our mill manager and accountant, Jose and Blanca Rivera for handling the milling, scheduling, and paperwork associated with that work. Best wishes for great holidays to everyone who reads this.


December 27, 2018

California’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil Engine - Part 2

My last post briefly described SHD production and alluded to the competitive difficulties this method of production creates for both traditional and small SHD growers. In order for SHD production to work, it needs to be done on a relatively large scale: the cost of bringing in or owning the equipment is sufficiently high that if you are not farming sizable acreage, there is no cost effectiveness to the mechanization. This means that the typical SHD operation is better capitalized and more efficient than the typical small producer. That makes for a pretty tough competitor.

I was recently asked to speak to a group of small producers about marketing strategies and gave a presentation I have now given repeatedly. The main point I try to make is that you have to distinguish your product in some way from the oceans of California SHD oil being produced now. That distinction can take many forms like being a single varietal oil that isn’t Arbequina, Arbosano, or Koroneiki, being organic production, hand harvested fruit, a local product and the list goes on. The small producers who really have a problem, however, are the small SHD operations. They don’t have any way to distinguish themselves and they don’t get the cost savings of mechanization that the larger operations do.

After my presentation, one small SHD producer said to me, “I don’t need to distinguish our production because our oil tastes different from the large producers’ oil. I can tell the difference”. While I don’t doubt for a minute that that producer can tell the difference, it doesn’t really matter. The only thing that matters is: can the customer tell the difference and is it different enough to cause them to prefer it and to pay more for it? In my experience, they can’t and they don’t.

It is an unfortunate situation for a lot of small SHD growers. We are frequently approached by growers with anywhere from 1 to 20 or so acres wanting to sell us their excess oil at astronomical prices: 20% - 80% more than what we can purchase it for from the larger operations. Frequently it is hard for the producer to understand how it can be that their carefully made oil is not worth any premium but unless they can somehow successfully make a distinction pitch to a potential customer, it just isn’t.

Photo courtesy of California Olive Ranch


November 13, 2018

California’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil Engine - Part 1


I frequently find myself in conversations about how the olive oil industry is doing and usually reference SHD production and get blank looks. SHD is Super High Density production and I am surprised how many people tangentially involved in the industry still don’t know either what it is nor how important it is to the success of domestic olive oil production.  

SHD production was really driven in the U.S. by California Olive Ranch (C.O.R.) soon after 2000. At the time there were many skeptics and C.O.R. operated with a very open format sharing what they were doing with anyone interested in listening. Alan Greene was leading the operation at that time and was an excellent ambassador for the industry and I think should be given a lot of credit for the domestic industry being where it is today. 

SHD production is the result of three varieties of olives, Arbequina, Arbosano, and Koroneiki having been cloned to grow like vines. The advantage of this horticultural practice is that it allows mechanical pruning and more importantly mechanical harvesting. Mechanical harvesting is 4 to 5 times more efficient than hand harvesting and in a country where labor costs can be as much as 5 times higher than in many other oil producing countries, this labor cost saving alone can keep domestically produced oil competitive with imported traditionally produced oil.

SHD oil is very good oil. A lot of small producers want to discredit it as bad oil, industrial oil, factory farmed oil or any number of other derogatory descriptions, but in the end, it is perfectly good extra virgin olive oil. The only drawback to it that I can define is that it is a very standardized oil, which in some ways is good. You can be pretty certain that you’re not going to be surprised by any “interesting” flavors, good or bad.


The vast majority of growth in the domestic olive oil sector is in the SHD arena. While C.O.R. was the only major player in the field 15 years ago, there are now too many good sized SHD companies to list. As any small producer will tell you, trying to compete with SHD production is a tall order and one has to work hard to carve out a market niche to distinguish their production. More on this in my next post.


October 31, 2018


I would like to explain a dramatic price increase that will occur over the next few months for many of the bottles we sell. This is not intended to be a partisan post nor a politicization of anything. I only hope to make clear something that I worry is not clear to many of our customers and to consumers in general. This is a post about tax policy and the effects of tariffs. The only reason I’m bringing it up is that the bottles we sell that are made in China just got hit with tariffs.

Tariffs get charged to the importing company when that company retrieves the imported product from the docks or airport where the product arrived. An invoice is provided to the importer with a breakdown of all the customs, duties, fees etc that have to be paid before the product(s) is released from the port. The revenue for the tariffs is treated in exactly the same way as federal tax revenue. Any importer who is paying these fees passes them on to the consumer. By passing that expense on to the consumer, the new tariff is nothing more than a new sales tax.

Since the tariffs are implemented at the federal level, they really are not very far removed from your federal income tax in that they get implemented across the entire country and get spent the same way as income tax revenue. The only difference is that this is a tax tied directly to a consumer’s decision to buy a product but the tax never appears where the consumer could see it. The tax is just buried in the price of the product.  Looking at some of the hundreds of products hit with these new tariffs though, this is pretty much a tax on any consumer. Included in the list of finished products is everything from tires to carpet, glass bottles to LED’s.  Also getting hit with tariffs are many basic products like chemicals and minerals that go into myriad products, the effect of tariffs being even harder to see for the consumer. I know, the argument is buy American and avoid the tariffs, create American jobs etc. but in many cases, like most of the bottles we sell, there simply is not an American producer.

One more important thing to note with regard to tariffs. A tariff is government regulation. Tariffs are a direct government regulation on what is imported and at what price. Implementation of the tariffs requires vast amounts of time at the government level and at the business owners’ level. There is filing of paperwork, creating, sending, and tracking invoices etc. and every cent of those costs get passed on to the consumer with absolutely no added value to the consumer.


October 13, 2018

Identifying Olive Fly Damage

This is the time of year when a lot of people with a few landscape trees or hobby orchardists see a crop ripening and decide to try to make oil with their fruit. Frequently tree owners are unfamiliar with the existence of the olive fly, the effects of the fly on the quality of olive oil, and how to identify olive fly damage to fruit. This post is not about how to control the fly or the effects of fly damage as that has been covered in great detail many places including on our site.  

This post is intended for new comers to making olive oil so they can take a look at their fruit and identify infestation. At this point, in California, I can say with 99% certainty that if you are not doing fly mitigation, your orchard is infested, but this is always a tough sell. So, take a look at this and then go take a look at the fruit on your trees. At its most early detection when the fruit is still forming, what you will see on damaged fruit is a slight pit where eggs have been laid inside the fruit, sometimes with a little discoloration, sometimes not.  Usually there will be nothing more than a slight indentation with or without a gray/brown spot smaller than a pin head at its center. There may only be one or there may be many pits and the fruit will actually become deformed proportionally to how many times eggs have been laid in it.  The photo below shows early fly damage on the olive in the middle.

As the season progresses, portions of the fruit will begin to turn black where damage has occurred. Note that this discoloration will be completely inconsistent with the natural coloring of the fruit as it ripens.  Often times when you cut damaged fruit open, you will actually see the worms developing inside the fruit. Depending on the maturation of the process, you may not see anything at all.
Eventually, usually once the fruit is very ripe, you will see the exit holes in the fruit where the flies have left the fruit.


October 3, 2018

Quality Driven Market Expansion

I took some grief about my post on August 9th, among other things being accused of doing “…sh—ty marketing….” which sort of perplexed me.  I did not mention our products, I did not make any comparisons of anything we do to anyone else, nor are we really a competitor of Deo Leo as we could only hope to be operating on that scale and we don’t operate in that market.  While completely unfounded, it did serve to make me think more about this topic.

As much as I deplore lawsuits, there may be some good coming out of them in forcing everyone to raise the bar for the quality of product offered to consumers.  I think it would be better to see the sector more closely follow the path the global wine industry took starting in the early 1980’s.  At that time a massive shift in the industry began driven by the confluence of five factors. 

1. Producers realized a change in their operations had to occur for them to have continued success whereby priorities went from ever increasing yields to ever increasing quality.

2. The norm of learning vineyard management or winemaking from your parents or a mentor moved to formal learning at universities.  

3. Standard practice in the learning process included traveling the world working in diverse vineyards and wineries leading to a flow of information throughout the industry previously not experienced.  

4. Consultants became commonplace refining processes and furthering the rapid overall improvement in the quality of wine available around the world.

5. Consumers got caught up in the improved wines and diversity of available wine reinforcing the need to produce good wine to be competitive.  

Jonathan Nossiter, the famed filmmaker of Mondovino, predicted the end result of this globalization would be mammoth international wine companies that took all the individuality and soul out of wines.  In fact, the exact opposite happened primarily due to the dynamic of improved quality stirring greater interest with the consumer.  While gargantuan wine operations certainly exist, the enthusiastic consumer is looking for that interesting wine from a small producer or interesting place and not the cheap bottle from the globally recognized name.

Is this happening in the olive oil industry?  I think it is, however, it is not as advanced as in the wine industry. Looking at the same sequence of events in the olive oil sector:

1. We are seeing pressure put on producers to improve their product rather than just boost yield, but at this stage, I think it is difficult to ascertain if it is what occurred in the wine industry or just industry players beating each other up trying to obtain market share.

2. There are many more learning opportunities available now than even 15 years ago with higher education coursework focused specifically on the industry along with a proliferation of seminars and conferences. Events like those at U.C. Davis where they have brought in Leandro Ravetti or Pablo Canamasas is aiding the international flow of information linking Spain, Italy, Argentina, Australia and the U.S. among many others.  

3. The international exchange of people wanting to learn about the business seems to be occurring too.  On a personal level, we have had interns at our mill from Turkey and Mexico and requests from individuals from approximately half a dozen other countries.

4. A globe trotting consultant base is getting established much along the lines of Denis Dubourdieu, Stephane Derenoncourt and Michel Rolland in the wine world.

5. Consumer interest does seem to be growing as twenty years ago I don’t recall ever seeing signs by the roadside for olive oil tasting.  There was the occasional old mill in the Mediterranean basin that had a kitschy presentation with old wood presses etc., but they weren’t making it on the quality of the oil they were making.  Now it is very common to see tastings being offered by a local producer whether it is the Mediterranean basin, California, or Tasmania.  Similarly the explosion of tasting bars attests to this substantial increase in consumer interest.  Finally, what mill owner hasn’t had phone calls from random nearby consumers or tourists saying they want to visit and learn more about olive oil or local food?

I hope I am not as incorrect as Jonathan Nossiter was and that this is in fact the direction the olive oil industry is headed.  If it is, then the need for lawsuits should go away and consumers can run amuck in a market full of fabulous olive oils or pick it up from their favorite local producer.  Oh, and this is definitely marketing, marketing for a better industry just as my August 9th posting was.


I’d like to thank Veronique Raisin for her excellent article in En Magnum #8 that covered this topic from the wine industry perspective extremely well.

Photo: Vineyards and olive orchard in the Santa Ynez Valley, California.

August 22, 2018

Olive Orchard Check

In May, I wrote about the peculiar bloom and fruit set we were experiencing.  I thought that it could prove to be a very interesting year. First, I should make a few qualifications about my comments below though. Most of the exposure I get to growing operations is in the coastal zones of California and tend to be from about Monterey south. Also, for the most part they are traditionally farmed orchards and not super high density operations. That being said, during the year I do talk to a lot of people throughout the state and it seems that it is going to be a less than stellar year.

In the spring, my expectation was that there would be a split harvest as a result of the very distinctly defined separation of fruit maturation at that time. I see now that most of the late to develop fruit was actually so late that it amounted to nothing more than shot berries. While it is not uncommon to see a few clusters of olive shot berries on a tree, this year is taking it to a different level. One grower I spoke with in Napa said that he had never had shot berries before and this year, they made up the majority of his “crop”.



In addition to the worthless shot berries, there is also a significant amount of less than mature olives right now. Perhaps they will mature late in the season, but I suspect a lot of them are just going to be small fruit. Typically, however, there are some perfectly normal looking trees in each orchard as well. And just to ensure that there is a whole lot of variety, I’ve seen more than a few clusters that look like this poor totally confused olive tree’s fruit at a vineyard near our orchard.

Taken together, I suspect we will be seeing a very light crop in our traditional areas of operation.


August 20, 2018

Fake News

I have been following, at some remove, the steady flow of lawsuits in the olive oil industry, not in small part through The Olive Oil Times but also through other media. It is really a staggering lineup including so many of the giants like Deoleo, Filippo Berio, Safeway Inc., Capatriti (Kangadis), and the most recent additions to the list, J.M. Smucker Co./Transnational Foods Inc.

Something that caught my attention in these costly mudslinging exercises, however, were some of the statements made by Deoleo CEO Pierluigi Tosato as reported in Just-Food (7/13/18) and The Olive Oil Times (7/11/18). Mr. Tosato makes the excellent proposition of having a global standard for what constitutes E.V.O.O., even though there are some monumental hurdles to such an idea given geographic differences in the chemical composition of olive oil. This still does not seem like an insurmountable goal and could only be good for the industry.

Mr. Tosato goes on to say “Consumption (of olive oil) is falling because consumers have a lack of confidence and they don’t trust anything”.  This is a statement that is hard to argue with given the number of suits listed above, the numerous reports over the years of Italian law enforcement breaking up adulterated oil operations, and studies like the infamous one conducted by U.C. Davis.   

Deoleo’s response to this confusion is where a substantial disconnect really begins for me. The Deoleo website, under a title of “…official statement against fake olive oil news” goes to great lengths to disparage the U.C. Davis study stating, “Recently you may have seen false and defamatory online articles circulating, which make reference to various olive oil brands. The information these articles are based on is from a study made in 2010 by the University of California Davis Olive Center. This study was completely discredited …” (" They do this making a case for why their products are legitimate. I find it hard to see how belittling a study by a reputable  academic institution, and making allusions to it being fake news is ultimately going to clarify much for any consumer, though.

The Olive Oil Times astutely if a bit vaguely points out that:

“Industry observers note that it’s those allegations, fake or not, that were the driving force behind changes at Deoleo and other major producers in recent years, and if it weren’t for the Davis study and others just like it conducted around the world since then, it would likely be business as usual.”

Looking back at 15 – 20 years of lawsuits, busts, and personal tasting of some pretty horrific olive oils labeled as E.V.O.O.,  I don’t think the issue is really fake news or university studies that question the quality of products labeled E.V.O.O.  The problem, it seems to me, is that there is a long track record of questionable product being marketed as E.V.O.O.  Rather than trot out the now tired hue and cry of fake news and distraction tactics, maybe it is time to just market oil that is really E.V.O.O. even if it means sacrificing a bit on the sacred bottom line, and then consumers won’t be confused.

August 9, 2018


Last week I was out on a small consulting project that has been particularly rewarding. My client wanted to be involved in agriculture on a hobby level. He wanted to farm something on a small scale, not go into it with any particular commercial intent, and produce something he could really take pride in. After looking at a number of options, he ultimately bumped into a constraint that we are all faced with: water costs. That made the decision easy, he would produce olive oil as all the other crops considered required far too much water. Being involved in the health care industry made olives an even better choice for him.


This project has gone very well for a number of reasons. The moderately sloped land, good soil, good exposure and mild weather made this an ideal orchard site. I have been involved with this small project now for about 3 years and as you can see, the orchard is thriving. With minimal consulting fees but good research by the owner and listening to the advice he was given, he has had great success. Other than a very brief, small, and easily contained outbreak of black scale, he has had no other setbacks. The first small crop should be coming off the trees this year which is always so rewarding for a producer, even if not cost effective.


By contrast and a bit ironically, I consulted on a project less than 3 miles away from the one described above. While it was also a small undertaking, it was intended to be twice the size of the first orchard but on an extremely steep slope with poor soil and a southeast exposure battered with scorching desert winds. The owner wanted an instantly profitable orchard requiring no upkeep and wasn’t interested in learning anything about farming, the industry, or the final product. He did inquire about what sort of return he could expect on his investment.


I tried to make clear that farming on that land would be very difficult and never profitable given the slope and amount of water that would be required. Additionally, it would be very expensive to get the orchard planted in the first place. I also told him he also should expect exorbitant harvests costs given the steep slope and poor accessibility. Despite my cautioning, he went ahead with the project and had me consult one more time in the process as he was beginning to install irrigation and do the first plantings. I did not hear from him after that. Although I know some trees were actually planted, I went by the property recently and there were no trees visible. I fear he discovered the hard way that it was not suited to farming. I have chosen not to show a photo of the land for privacy reasons.


July 19, 2018

It's that time of year.

Olive HarvestIt’s that time of year. Every year at about this time we start to get inquiries about olive milling. It is too early to be worrying about harvest and milling but it is hard getting this message to resonate with people very excited about their first or second crop. Like every year, this year I have already heard, “Well last year we started harvesting on October 25th, so we’d like to schedule based on that timing”. And, “We’d rather book a time and make sure we have something scheduled than risk not getting a milling time”. 

There is no way to know at this stage when your crop is going to be ready to harvest.Temperatures and irrigation or that rarity called rainfall can and will dramatically impact when your crop is ready. In addition to the long-term vagaries of the weather and water between now and when you would ideally like to harvest, there will also be short term factors as you approach harvest that can impact your milling date. 

For example, you may need to harvest a bit earlier than you would like to due to imminent frost or, as has been the case in the last year, threatening fires. Unfortunately, another consideration for those farming traditionally is that there may be difficulty finding sufficient available labor thereby slowing down your harvest. But you’ll have to cross those bridges later.

Expecting your crop to come in on the same date as last year or anywhere close will just lead to time wasted on irrelevant planning both for you and for your miller. For now, for some tips on figuring out when to harvest, take a look at the information from our website on harvest timing. If your enthusiasm about your upcoming crop is simply untamable, start thinking about what you will need to have lined up when the time does come. Our milling checklist can help you out with that. 

Last, but not least, listen to your local miller. Millers see vast amounts of fruit year after year. They see all the mistakes people make as well as their successes. Equally important, they are in regular contact with numerous growers in your immediate area and are a great source for relevant information.


July 8, 2018