Ryan MacDonnell stood next to a row of olive trees, which bumps up against a row of grapevines. The grapes are long gone, but the olive harvest is in full swing. MacDonnell, who wears two hats overseeing both Round Pond winery and its olive oil mill, is holding a dozen small berries that are about to be pressed into oil.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition here in the middle of Rutherford. This is king Cabernet country and Round Pond owns some 300 acres of vines in this elite neighborhood; its neighbors are Caymus, Honig and one of Andy Beckstoffer’s properties. Round Pond only uses a small portion of its grapes. Yet with its striking new state-of-the-art winery, it is poised to grow.
For many who toil in this area, Round Pond’s founders—Bob and Jan MacDonnell—are known not only for their commitment to wine but also their passion for olive oil. Not many people would uproot Cabernet vines for olive trees. But the MacDonnells did. The family has a dozen acres in olive trees, some as old as 100, which were planted in 1998.
Olive oil isn’t about to upstage Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley anytime soon. But at Round Pond the two are about as close as it gets to a balance between a commitment to wine and oil.
Yesterday, Ryan MacDonnell, the CEO of both the wine and olive oil operations, along with her brother, Miles MacDonnell, the COO, was excited about the quality of the 2007 olive harvest. Her 2007 Round Pond wines were finishing up fermentations in the winery, across Rutherford Crossroad and the olive mill, and she drew some similarities between making wine and olive oil.
Both are capital and labor intensive, and of the two, olive oil is far more costly to produce. Olive trees need about a decade to be productive. And olive trees aren’t nearly as fruitful as grape vines—they render about 3 tons per acre, whereas grapes might yield 4. But here's where the numbers get more interesting: Olives produce just 20 gallons of olive oil per ton, while a ton of grapes would yield about 150 gallons.
Harvest dates and ripeness are crucial to quality for both. And the processing of olives shares some parallels with wine vinification. Handpicked olives arrive in the same bins as the grapes. They’re dumped into a bin where the stems and leaves are removed before the berries are sent up a conveyer belt where they’re rinsed with water. Next the olives are milled, or pressed—at one stage the crushed olives looked like tapanade—and the result is raw oil. Once processed, the oil will be blended and spend three to four months in chilled tanks to keep it as fresh as possible. It is bottled as needed.
The MacDonnells grow five kinds of Italian olives and three kinds of Spanish olives. They’re picked with the goal of a mix of very ripe, soft black-colored berries, which gives the oil its buttery texture, and firmer, green olives, which are higher in acidity and impart a spicy bitter edge. It’s sort of like blending Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot with Cabernet. As in wine “balance [in olive oil] is crucial and blending is important in creating complexity,” MacDonnell said.
Round Pond has a tasting room, where you can make an appointment to taste its three oils (including oils with the essence of Meyer lemon and blood orange) with different foods. Then you can walk across the street to the winery and sample its excellent Cabernets, a Nebbiolo and soon a Sauvignon Blanc from 2007.
Ashley Potter — LA, — November 28, 2007 6:21pm ET
Mary Constant — Calistoga — November 28, 2007 10:33pm ET
Don R Wagner — Illinois — November 29, 2007 8:35am ET
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