Jack Dougherty of Bella Vista Ranch knows olives.
It was olives that bridged the gap between your high tech haven of Palo Alto and the Texas Hill Country heaven of Wimberley for Jack Dougherty. Mr. Dougherty had a distinguished career in the hi-tech industry and at one point supervised more than 1,000 employees. But his heart was always in the fruit groves and nut bearing groves near his boyhood Palo Alto home.
In Jack’s case, it seems you just can’t take the country from the boy and he made his way to Texas and Wimberley when he could. media coverage He still travels the planet in search of information and technology, and techniques on olives, but his home and his heart are now at Bella Vista Ranch near Wimberley, Texas.
We took a tour of Bella Vista Ranch a few weeks ago and sat in amazement as he explained the story of olives to us and some others gathered under some live oak trees sitting on picnic tables right smack in the middle of one of many premier olive groves in Texas and the USA. We had no idea we had stumbled upon one of the premier experts of the olive world there in Wimberley.
As he told the history of olives, he related that the first one who ever tasted an olive was probably not impressed. Raw olives contain an alkaloid which makes them very bitter and unedible. Some ancient civilization found that soaking them in brine removes the bad taste.
Olives have been around for years and years, but until recently these were just a condiment you served together with your meals or at a party as an appetizer. It was in the 19902s that health organizations took notice of the health benefits, specifically our heart health. With this particular discovery, new diets emerged using ESSENTIAL OLIVE OIL in their recipes.
Olive farming started in the Mediterranean, but as the economy changed so did the usage of the land that olives were grown. In america, California is our major grower of both green and black olives, but as a result of high prices of land, the olive growing is also shrinking. So now Olive farmers are looking for less expensive land to cultivate olives to produce the olive oil to meet up the increasing demand.
It really is apparent that Mr. Dougherty has spent lots of time researching olives. There exists a report written by George Ray McEachern and Larry A. Stein, Extension Horticulturists from Texas A & M University titled ‘Growing Olives in Texas Gardens’, where they talk about growing Olives in Texas. They discuss where the climate is good in Texas, and all about what olive trees have to survive. They limited the areas to East, Central, and South Texas. But that has been about it. Mr. Dougherty kept on along with his research and settled in on the Wimberley area to be ideal. He did involve some concerns about the weather, but the soil conditions seemed to be similar to ideal olive growing locations in other parts of the world. Very few olives are grown in Texas north of San Antonio.
The Bella Vista Ranch fits all the criteria for being in a position to grow olives. The soil has a lot of caliche making for great drainage and the temperature doesn’t dip to freezing frequently or for long periods of time. You can find over 1,000 Olive trees on the ranch today.
There are 16 different varieties of olive trees grown at the grove, with the California Mission Olive as the tree of choice that is primarily grown at the Bella Vista Ranch.
Below are a few things we learned about olives and olive production in Texas. Olive trees were taken to the New World by the Spanish. They first arrived in Mexico and made their way from there to California with missionaries where in fact the trees were first planted in 1769. The olive trees were referred to as Mission olives because they were grown in olive groves near the missions. This variety no more exists in Spain, but is popular in California and Texas. Using Mission Olives gives Olive Oil a very long shelf life.
The weather have not always cooperated with the Bella Vista Ranch olive trees. In fact a late freeze almost put the Olive ranch out of business. That they had to cut back and replace almost all their olive trees. Other concerns were that Olives are an alternating fruit producer, meaning that some years you can find more olives produced than others, and you also have to hand select the olives and pruning is very important. Olive trees grow very rapidly and if the tree grows out of control, the nutrients are used by the tree for the growth and not the fruit. The Olive trees must be kept pruned.
The Olive tree produces fruit in a fascinating way, the blooms create the olive cluster, then only 1 one or two 2 olives that are the strongest continue steadily to grow and hang from the tree. They go through a color change from green to red, Jack can go through the tree and decide from the texture of your skin and the color if it is time to pick the entire tree. The olives gathered from each tree will be a mix of olives from green to red and also dark red. With the different stages of ripened olives, when pressed together should create a very flavorful olive oil.
When harvesting the olives, since they need to be hand picked, they will start in the bottom of the tree and pick as high as they can reach. Then they use ladders to pick more. The final step they will use would be to construct tarps or nets at the bottom of the tree and work with a device that looks like just a little rake to comb through the tree and when the olives fall to the ground, they are gathered in the tarps.
They will start producing a decent crop once the tree is normally 4 to a decade old, and each tree can produce up to couple hundred pounds of olives in an excellent year. Being that they are alternate bearing, one year you can obtain the maximum pounds and then the next get just a couple of pounds. There is no solution to know which year a tree is a good producer. Pruning may be the key to producing more olives.
As was told us, the first person who ever tasted an olive was probably not impressed. Raw olives contain an alkaloid which makes them very bitter and unedible. Some ancient civilization discovered that soaking them in brine removes the bad taste. In the Frantoio room where in fact the olives are pressed into olive oil, there is a centrifuge method called ‘Cold Pressing’ from enough time the olives are harvested to enough time the olive oil is bottled, the olives will never go past a particular temperature. Heat and light along with oxygen may cause a chemical change, and will effect the flavor of the olive oil.