Adam Englehardt grew up on an olive ranch near California’s huge Central Valley. He’s got olive oil in his blood. Adam is in charge of California Olive Ranch’s farming operations. In the second of two interviews, we ask Adam about his family’s history in California’s olive oil business.
Click here to read the first part of the Q&A in which Adam talks about how he and his team at California Olive Ranch raced to beat the frost during last fall’s harvest.
How did you become involved in the olive oil business?
I grew up in a farming family in Livermore, Calif. I’m the fifth generation on the ranch there. My family has olive trees that are 120 years old. They were planted by the gentleman who founded the ranch in the late 19th century.
We’re still farming those olive trees, which include Mission and Reading Picoline olives. Over the years we’d harvest those olives and truck them to Modesto. We’d sell the olives to a press there that turned them into olive oil. We’d take some of the oil back home for personal use.
Did you grow anything else on the ranch besides olives?
My family raised beef cattle. So olives and cattle were the two primary crops. We also had some wine grapes that we’d sell to wineries.
When did your family become more deeply involved in the olive oil business?
In 1997, there was a push to increase olive plantings. The olive oil sector was just starting to get attention in California. My grandfather, whose ranch I grew up on, saw an opportunity for olives in the Livermore Valley. There wasn’t a lot of water there.
There were a lot of grapes being grown. But there was concern the grapes were being over-planted. So in 1999 and 2000 we planted Arbequina olive trees, the same kind of small trees we use at California Olive Ranch today. We also planted a lot of Tuscan varietals. In all we had 10 different varietals.
How did your grandfather spot the opportunity to plant olive trees?
The concern at the time was that grape prices weren’t great. And the cost to plant grapes was high. My uncle, meanwhile, had read an article about California Olive Ranch and other leading California olive oil producers in what was then a small industry.
It was cheaper to plant olive trees than wine grapes. And it was an opportunity to do something different from our neighbors and everyone else growing wine grapes in the Livermore Valley.
How did your family come to build their own olive mills on the ranch?
After planting the new trees, we found it was too time consuming to haul our olives to mills in the Central Valley and the Sonoma Coast. It was a long way. And we sometimes had to wait at the mill before our olives could be pressed. We were concerned the oil quality was being compromised.
So we made the decision to purchase a mill ourselves. The first mill was built on the ranch in 2002. We purchased a larger mill in 2005 to keep up with our olive production. I was very involved in the construction and operation of the mills.
What did you do with the oil you produced?
We sold it to a lot of winery tasting rooms and specialty grocers. We also sold a lot of bulk oil to restaurants.
What do you like about working for California Olive Ranch?
What’s been fun is that the company is definitely the industry leader in the United States. We’re really breaking ground here. And there’s no instruction manual. There’s a pioneering spirit you don’t get with other agricultural crops.
Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch