Chateau Virant Olive Oil
FROM FLOWER TO OLIVE: THE REBIRTH OF A SACRED FRUIT
Spring always shows up earlier in Provence than in other parts of France. As soon as March is around the corner, we are busy on the ground tending the olive trees as they start growing again. The timetable of agricultural work follows closely the beautiful spring bloom that comes with the awakening of the olive plantation. It’s farm labor time! – Our staff weeds out between the olive rows in order not to allow undesirable grass to compete the olive trees.
The timetable of agricultural work follows closely the beautiful spring bloom that comes with the awakening of the olive plantation. It’s farm labor time! – Our staff weeds out between the olive rows in order not to allow undesirable grass to compete the olive trees.
The caress of our Mistral wind then does a lot of good to the plantation, taking care of the pollination process that helps turn the flowers into olives. Thousands of fruits, barely bigger than the size of a pinhead, begin to form.
With the end of the spring season comes the need to trim the offshoots. They spring from the roots and from inside the main the olive trees but they are also direct competitors that jeopardize their proper development. They are strong and defiant branches which uselessly divert the energy of the main plant: such is detrimental to the olive fruits. That is why our workers actually go inside each tree, as birds, and give them respite from those unwanted shoots one by one.
THE GRAND OLIVE PARADE OF CHÂTEAU VIRANT
During the warmest days of the summer, the olive trees get thirsty, like human beings. We provide the little water they need thanks to a very precise drop-by-drop system in order to ensure the future harvest they bear.
We scarcely water in July because it is the period when the kernels develop. Too much water would lead to big and heavy kernels. On the other hand, in August, when the pulp of the fruit is developing, the tree gladly welcomes caring raindrops on its foliage… but they are then rather scarce in Provence. Hence, as a complement to the drop by drop watering, we spray our trees once or twice a month to gladden them.
The summer does not only attract tourists in Provence. It also brings with it a world of little insects which endanger the harvest of the olives and the quality of the expected oil. The most common, the number one enemy of the sector is the olive fly. It is very active from July to early October. It aims is to insure its reproduction by laying its eggs in the olives. The eggs become worms which dig galleries in the fruits with risks for the maturity of the fruit and the quality of the oil (because of oxidation). At Château Virant, we carefully track the progression of the olive flies thanks to pheromone traps positioned strategically on the olive plantation. The traps are very precise in indicating the presence of the flies in our trees. This is called “reasoned fight.” Its interest lies in preemptive, timely intervention at a small scale but in a very efficient manner. It is a necessary step to insure the quality of the oil. The traps are verified several times during the summer in order to protect the trees.
The end of summer corresponds to the end long time of expectation. It is the beginning of another great adventure: the harvest of table olives. For an entire year, we have cherished and protected our trees so that they can yield fleshy and delicate fruits. Now, the olives are ready to hand their first verdicts. Salonenque and Aglandau for broken olives, and Picholine for crispy olives are some of the varieties we busy ourselves with as early as September. A team of women and men with baskets tied to their heaps pick by hand the best fruits, one by one and according to size and color so that they can to meet the expectations of Château Virant.
THE BEAUTIFUL « OLIVADES » OR OLIVE DAYS
Great romanticists generally agree on finding in the fall season certain feelings of nostalgia, of melancholy. It is all certainly very poetic but this perception is nonetheless superfluous at Château Virant. It is effervescence and excitement that characterize the season at the estate, leaving resolutely aside all forms of poetry.
The first days of October are upon us: one last shredding between the olive trees allows us to clean the area and facilitates the installation of the harvesting nets. In the farmhouse, the trailers are attached to the tractors, the nets and combs have been readied. Everything at Château Virant is set for the great olive harvest.
The results of the tests of maturity performed on the fruits which give the go-ahead for the harvest. As early as the end of September and over a period of 3 to 4 weeks, the olives of the estate become laboratory olives. They will be manipulated and analyzed in order to determine the quality of their oil and their most prominent aromas. These analyses with special emphasis on the evolution of the colors and textures of the olives, our experience and know-how help us determine exactly when to begin harvesting.
For a month and half, 40 more people will join the staff of Château Virant. There is no time to waste! Nets are laid under the foliage of the trees; easels inherited from our grandparents are positioned to reach the highest branches… Men and women outfitted with manual or vibrating combs busy themselves picking the fruits from the trees. In no time, the olives are loaded in boxes and taken to the oil mill. The leaves are removed upon arrival and they are transferred to the mill in the succeeding 12-hour period. Quality does not wait! Nor does excellence!
THE DAYS OF SILENCE
When days get shorter, when the cold hours of winter settle, the olive trees of Château Virant yield their last olives. The time for their rest has come.
Mankind, olive trees, fauna and flora acknowledge the preeminence of the winter. The effervescence of the previous months bows out. From now on, it is the reign of silence and serenity. Only the freezing Mistral is heard blowing through the branches.
The olive plantation of Château Virant is plunged into an invigorating sleep.
For a good preparation of the next harvest, we carry out a field work called scribbling. It consists in burying the residue of the olives which we have spread in the fields during the milling period. They are sub-products of the olives comprising the skins, the kernels…, that it, what remains after the oil extraction. At Château Virant, we chose to take them back to the soil to naturally fertilize it. That’s why the scribbling process is necessary! Once the scribbling is done, we thoroughly fertilize in order to complete nutritional input. However, only the analysis of our soils will give the best reading of our lands and it will indicate exactly the dietary supplements that have to be brought.
Then, with the last month of the winter comes the time to prune the olive trees. It takes time to take cover our 30 hectares. Pruning is a thoughtful step. Our staff will busy themselves trimming the off-shoots that have already yielded fruits and which consequently will not yield anymore; they remove the branches which could hinder the work during the next harvest; they choose the main branch which will protect the bark from summer sunburn in July… while maintaining the well-being of the foliage. Pruning is not something you do once and for all. And even if everyone knows what should be done, the main concern is that of respect for our trees.