October 06, 2005
Paso Robles - The Paso Robles Olive Festival has fulfilled its promise of becoming the premier olive oil event in California. The second year for this event in the tree shaded main square of the town had more olive oil producers and olive related information and merchandise than all the other California state olive festivals combined.
Paso Robles is in San Luis Obispo County in the middle of California half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Winemakers have discovered that the area makes Napa Valley level wines but unlike Napa which supports many small boutique vineyards, large wine companies have planted vines as far as the eye can see. Olive growers seem to have taken the same cue and are planting trees on a large scale.
Twenty Six olive oil producers were in attendance as well as olive vendors, the California Olive Oil Council (COOC), The Olive Oil Source, and the Mission Olive Preservation, Restoration, and Education Project (MOPREP). Several local olive mills advertised their services; Figueroa Farms and Willow Creek Olive Ranch; both festival sponsors, as well as Foxdale Farm and Bone Crushing and Extraction Company.
Joeli Yaguda, Lisa Deane, and Carol Firenze at Festival Dinner
Just in its second year, the show felt very professionally organized. The festival and all pre and post events ran like a well olive-oiled machine thanks to Paso Robles Main Street Association, all the great volunteers, Willow Creek Olive Ranch, presenting sponsor of the event, and Gary and DeeDee Brown of We Olive, who are the originators of the Paso Robles Olive Festival.
Paso Robles Olive Festival Dinner
Pieralisi, the Italian manufacturer of most of the olive presses in California and their local representative, The Olive Oil Source, sponsored the Festival Dinner Friday night. Joeli Yaguda helped arranged the elaborate kick-off feast at Chef Tom Fundaro's Villa Creek Restaurant, a favorite among Paso Robles winemakers and olive oil producers.
Each incredible course was produced using local olive oils and was joined by wines from festival sponsor Jack Creek Vineyard. After starters, tomato soup, sardine pasta and rack of lamb, a dessert cake made with rosemary olive oil topped with crème fresh and a sprig of rosemary was paired with the dessert wine. The Festival Dinner was sold out months in advance and promises to be a signature event next year.
The next day the Festival got off to a hot start with temperatures over 100. Free olive oil ice cream went fast as did bottles of water.
Chris Anderson of Tiber Canyon Olive Oil
Event founder Gary Brown of We Olive Oil gave tastings of area producers. A coming 3rd iteration of his retail location on the city’s main square will feature local oils. Merritt Edmunds of Balzana was pouring his Gold Metal olive oil across from Rosemarie Fusano of Fusano Olive oil. Her stunning Alphonse Mucha inspired labels adorned everything from oil to soap.
Carmody McKnight offered tastes; one of many wineries which has planted trees and branched into the olive oil business.
COOC Executive Director Patty Darragh organized local member volunteers to staff her booth while she made sure to get the word about olive oil to local TV, radio and print reporters in attendance.
The Olivina, a new oil from an old olive producing area of the Livermore Valley offered tastes of their gold medal winning oil. Owner Charles Crohare is busy planting olive trees while others are sadly carving the lush valley into home and business construction sites.
Oil producers are upping the ante when it comes to creative marketing ideas. Tiber Canyon had brisk sales of their nicely labeled V shaped bottle containing their mellow Tuscan blend oil, one of many great oils we tasted at the show. Figueroa Farms had logo inspired hats, T-shirts, and even bicycle jerseys reflecting Shawn and Antoinette Addison's passion for biking. Frank Menacho at Olivas de Oro was giving away free temporary tattoos of his logo, a unique mobile type of advertising. Several booths reported quickly running out of Xeroxed booklets of recipes using olive oil.
Pieralisi olive mill Booth
Tutta California creator Mary McCarthy had plenty of customers for her brightly labeled California blend. Chris Banthian of Valencia Creek Farms had good sales of her Le Colline label while partner Bruce Golino of Santa Cruz Olive Tree Nursery sold trees to prospective oil tycoons.
Napa Valley producer Round Pond staff as well as Vineyard Canyon Olive Ranch of San Miguel owner Dean Kahan gave a thumbs up for sales at the show. Clotilde & Yves Julien of Olea Farms from Templeton were selling a variety of olive oil related merchandise at their booth. At the Cook and Ladder booth, by 3 PM bottles of jam were selling better than oil. By then oil samples the temperature of a deep fryer were discouraging tasters.
We saw interest in getting away from the Mission and Tuscan varieties. New orchard owners were talking of planting French and some more unusual Spanish varieties. Bruce Golino said that while the French varieties haven't proven to do well in the cool coastal valleys they seem to thrive in the drier Sierra foothills.
Carol Firenze did a brisk business selling her book The Passionate Olive - 101 Things to do With Olive Oil. She also spoke from the bandstand several times about olive oil and olives.
The Olive Festival After-Party
As well as free olive oil and olive product sampling from producers from all over California, there were head to head cook-offs, olive oil tastings lead by the California Olive Oil Council, Gourmet Alley serving great food, wine and beer tasting, kids carnival zone, open Olive Dish Cooking Contest, a farmer's market and a juried Arts & Crafts Show.
The Saturday night after-party at Muddy Springs Restaurant off the square was full of exhausted, hungry vendors and organizers cooling off with a beer and enjoying gourmet appetizers. A very successful event and one everyone should look forward to next year.