By Cristin Wilson
Near the end of February this year, I was able to get away for a few days of touring down in San Antonio, Texas. During the trip, I saw the San Antonio Zoo which is rated in the top 10 of zoos in the United States. San Antonio is the seventh largest city in the nation. Also, on my trip, my curiosity peaked as I anticipated a tour of an olive orchard, in Texas. I had only ever heard of olive oil originating from Italy, let alone an olive orchard in southern Texas!
Almost 20 years ago in 1998, eight investors in San Antonio, Texas, had a wild idea to start an olive orchard. Sandy Winokur of Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, one of the eight investors, was on hand the day I toured the olive orchard. “The challenge in Texas was from the Agriculture Department. They said we were crazy! First, the Ag. Dept. said that the trees wouldn’t grow, and if they did grow, they wouldn’t produce,” says Sandy.
The first batch of 1,000 trees died in transit from sitting too long at London Heathrow airport and then the second batch (another 1,000 trees), fell victim to an inspector who mistakenly sprayed them with insecticide. Sandy finally found an olive tree nursery in California for sale, and later bought more trees than she needed. After testing 38 varieties of olive trees, 10 were suitable for handling the crazy growing weather in Texas. The winters in San Antonio see-saw from very hot (70° – 80°) to plummeting down to 22°, and then back up to higher temperatures again.
The Tunisia variety of olive tree called Arbequina, produces olives very fast and is the most popular tree in her orchard. Olive trees don’t need bees to pollinate but are wind pollinated, which takes about 10 days.
The small olive remains on the tree to grow for six months and is harvested from August through September. Olive trees take five years to produce. During the first 10 years in the orchard, Sandy and her crew planted 11,000 trees over 50 acres of land. Along with the olive trees, they planted peach trees, figs, pomegranates, and will soon be putting in blackberries. Production has been good and Sandy hopes to produce two 55 gallon drums of olive oil for every five acres of land, in the future.
When the olives are harvested, the whole tree is picked by hand including the three colors of green, rosy, and black olives that are all picked at the same time. The black olive has the enzyme that pulls more oil out of the green and rosy colored olives. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is considered the first pressing of the olives and contains the most nutrients. Sandy offered that 100% of every olive is for olive oil.
The olives are picked in five gallon buckets from 7 a.m. up until 3 p.m. The hottest part of the day is after that and reaches a temperature of 100° consistently in Texas, in September and October. They pick over 1,000 pounds in one run, or in a day. The olives are picked and pressed entirely in one day. They are extremely fresh. It takes 75 pounds of olives to make one gallon of olive oil!
Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard has a gift shop, nursery, orchard, online store, retail & wholesale stores, and a farm-to-table restaurant. Sandy sells her fresh olive oil to chefs and to the farmers market at the Pearl Brewery. She also sells to gourmet shops, but primarily her olive oil and skin care products are sold at her store and online. Just recently in 2010 when the restaurant opened, Sandy has experimented with Olive Leaf Tea which is decaffeinated and contains twice the strength in anti-oxidants of green tea and 400% more Vitamin C. Visit their online store at SANDYOAKS.COM.