This year’s olive crop in Greece is not expected to yield an immense quantity of olive oil, but producers in different parts of the country report that they made very high quality early harvest extra virgin olive oil. Others who start their harvest later also predict very good quality. Any labor shortages due to the pandemic seem to be surmountable.
Vassilis Zampounis, publisher of Olivenews.gr, has reduced his estimate of Greek olive oil production for the current crop year from 240,000 metric tons to 210,000 or less due to recent weather developments, although he expects considerable regional variation around Greece.
Although Zampounis reports that there have been sufficient laborers to harvest the olives in Chalkidiki, northern Greece, including experienced Albanians, Eleni Zotou of Golden Tree in Kalyves, Chalkidiki told Greek Liquid Gold that for her company “this year things were difficult due to lack of staff. The pandemic made it difficult for the foreign workers we expected to arrive.” Golden Tree succeeded in completing their early harvest by hiring local Greeks. On the other hand, in the southern part of the country, an Albanian association has been arranging to bring foreign seasonal laborers to Crete for the olive harvest, focusing on those who worked on other crops elsewhere in Greece during the summer.
Up north in Chalkidiki, Zotou says, Golden Tree managed to produce an organic early harvest extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) with “strong aromas” and a balance of intense bitterness, spiciness, and fruitiness, along with “a rich amount of vitamin E and polyphenols”—plenty of healthy antioxidants. However, Zotou adds, “the drought that prevailed throughout the summer season and the high temperatures” in Chalkidiki make it clear that water will soon be a problem. “Climate change is a fact, and we need to adopt more environmentally friendly habits for our planet.”
Athanasios Katsetos of Loutraki Oil Company agrees, yet he has seen no damage from weather or pests so far this year in the Sparta and Loutraki areas in and near the Peloponnese. In any case, with their organic-only cultivation, Loutraki Oil Company is “always on top of our olive trees’ needs.” Beginning their harvest in mid-November, Katsetos “had a bit of a problem finding extra foreign harvesters,” but he got the job done. On the other hand, the organic fertilizers he generally uses at this time of year have been held up (perhaps for two or three months) by the lockdown in Greece. He optimistically terms this “a chance to track how the cultivation will be” with a different fertilizing time. For this harvest, Katsetos forecasts about 40% less olive oil than last year for his company, “but the best quality as is always the case.”
Farther east, George Dimas of Energaea thinks eastern Attica (near Athens) will produce much less than last year’s “huge harvest”—only 20% as much olive oil. He looks forward to “good quality due to smaller production and better procedures in olive mills for cultivated and irrigated olive trees,” but not such good quality for others, since especially high temperatures in May burned the olive blossoms, and a summer drought followed. Energaea began to harvest and mill small quantities of olives before mid October, a bit earlier than the harvest in that area generally begins, “with good results: 6.8 to 1” as the olive to olive oil ratio. “Not bad for the season and the Megaron variety.”
Discussing olive oil made on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesvos, Ellie Tragakes of Hellenic Agricultural Enterprises anticipates no problems. Tragakes explains, “this year olive oil quantities will be less than last year because (as is well known) olive trees have biennial bearing. The good news is that the olive trees in Lesvos do not show signs of the olive fruit fly. However, it has not rained as much as was needed for a plentiful crop, and this is another factor that has led to reduced oil quantities this year. The harvest of our olives, which are the Kolovi variety, begins in December because Kolovi olives begin to ripen later than most other olive varieties. Although this year the crop is reduced in quantity, our oils are expected to be of excellent quality.”
On a southern Aegean island, at Terra Creta in Kolymvari, western Crete, olive milling began October 12. Emmanouil Karpadakis reports “an increased number of farmers harvesting earlier than usual” there. He believes “that is because the farmers seem to pay more attention to higher quality this year, mainly due to the poor results of the previous harvest (2019-2020) and in response to the repeated messages from different sources about earlier harvesting.” The result from the earliest batches: “excellent quality parameters, so we are very optimistic about the coming extractions. Of course it is still early to have a complete picture on that” or regarding quantity. However, Terra Creta works year-round with farmers and agronomists to meet “specific targets for the required quality profile and the sustainability protocol implementation.”
Also in western Crete, Eftychis Androulakis of Pamako anticipates 15% less olive oil than average this year from Selino and Xamoudohori, but he sees “great fruits” with little damage from the olive fly and “very good olive oils.” The harvest usually starts around the end of October there, but his team began their extra early harvest in mid September, aiming for especially healthy high phenolic extra virgin olive oils. Androulakis and his team are compensating for atypically high temperatures with different treatment at the mill, refrigerating the olives for at least two hours on arrival; after washing and thoroughly drying the olives, they cool them again with their “new innovative cooling system.” Additional inventions and extra steps help produce EVOO so healthy it has been certified as a food supplement.
Even in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, Greek olive trees continue to produce their nutritious fruit. Greek farmers continue to harvest olives, and millers continue to extract some of the world’s tastiest, healthiest extra virgin olive oil for consumption throughout the world.
This article was updated on December 7, 2020.
Thanks to Golden Tree and Terra Creta for the photos used with this article.
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