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Olive harvest starts in Sonoma Valley

THE HARVEST CREW at B.R. Cohn Olive Oil Company spent Tuesday collecting picholine olives, which went straight to the press to transform from olives to oil. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

THE HARVEST CREW at B.R. Cohn Olive Oil Company spent Tuesday collecting picholine olives, which went straight to the press to transform from olives to oil. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

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With the grapes tucked away to ferment for the year, Valley agricultural producers are focusing on Sonoma’s second most popular crop: olives. While this season’s limited rainfall has meant smaller fruit, when pressed, the oil produced is packed with flavor.

“It’s a lighter harvest this year but the density is definitely there,” said Dan Cohn, a principal at B.R. Cohn Winery and Olive Oil Company, which produces an array of estate-grown and award winning olive oils in Glen Ellen. “The oil coming out looks unbelievable, just phenomenal this year.”

Cohn said the lack of rain meant the olives didn’t plump up as much as usual, but the smaller fruit, when pressed into oils, brings a richer flavor profile. This only enhances B.R. Cohn’s award-winning line of flavored olive oils, such as its Meyer lemon olive oil that earned double gold medals in the 2012 and 2013 Sonoma County Harvest Fair. Cohn said by pressing the flavors with the olives, the oils come out with a more concentrated profile.

“We actually press the garlic and the basil with the olives,” he explained. “The Meyer lemons go right in with the olives. The blood oranges go right in with the olives. It creates that intense, fresh flavor.”

Cohn said the olive oils pressed this week will be available before Christmas, but first must spend a month in the tank before bottling. Each batch includes both a harvest date and a bottling date, and are only available at B.R. Cohn’s Glen Ellen tasting room or online at brcohn.com.

Wendy Peterson, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, which hosts the annual Olive Season celebration, said she’s heard only good reports from Valley growers. “We are so excited that the olive harvest is going just like the grapes – it’s better than ever,” she beamed.

While the Olive Season used to kick off in December, launching three months of parties and promotions based around the salty fruit, this season has been pushed back to January. The same popular events – from the Blessing of the Olives to Martini Madness to the Feast of the Olives, will take place, they’ll just be spread over two months instead of three.

“We have reorganized our winter campaigns. For November and December, we’re really focused on the holiday season,” Peterson said, adding that this year the Plaza will be festooned with lights like never before. “That will give us the opportunity to really focus on the Olive Season in January and February.”

Keep up with the Olive Season activities at olivefestival.com.