This story is about growing olives, pressing their oil and offering bed and breakfast accommodation to the public. However the owner of this Olive Grove is from Manchester and came to Te Kauwhata via the world. So his story may take a little longer to tell.
Adapted from an article by Penny Twiss
An engineer in the merchant navy, Brian Jones has sailed the world aboard oil tankers, cruise ships (including four years on the QE11), Nauru Pacific and for the past 25 years has been Chief Engineer on the cement tanker MV Golden Bay. He has walked the entire Pilgrim Trail, the Comina de Santiago, in 40 days, and travelled at whim about the rest of Spain, Italy and the Mediterranean, which is possibly where his love affair with olive trees took hold. Brian saw lot of olive trees in his travels and was inspired not only by the trees but by the hospitality of the people who lived amongst them.
Brian’s parents immigrated to New Zealand and in 1977 Brian came for the first time. He visited from time to time eventually settling here. In 2000 he realised a dream to own a bit of land when he bought 11 acres in Te Kauwhata. He was based in Auckland at the time, but whenever he was ashore he would come down and plant olive trees... as many as 50 a day. There are now more than 1200 trees stretching away into the distance in long orderly rows. Brian, his wife Ananya and their son Oliver have plenty to keep them busy. A strict pruning regime needs to be maintained, which includes keeping the trees limbed up and giving them a two yearly topping to maintain a height of about 3 metres. The wetter soils in New Zealand mean the root system does not develop to the extent it might in drier climates, where the roots seek further into the ground for water. The smaller root system renders the olive tree susceptible to toppling in high winds if it becomes too tall and top heavy. Olives take kindly to pruning, encouraging new growth to spring away quite vigorously. At the beginning of this venture, Brian knew he needed to set up a processing plant, but as this was the first olive grove in the Waikato District Council, there was no blue print.
After a series of expensive and conflicting requirements regarding sinks, loos and space, a good old fashioned round- the- table meeting finally sorted the issues. There was originally a massive tin shed, albeit smart cream tin, with the processing room, two hand basins, a kitchen and a bathroom, which are now the Koroneiki Studio and Frantoio Suite, with decks taking in the sweep of the olive grove and peace and quiet all around. Brian and Ananya enjoy their little joke when they tell new guests they will be sleeping down in the shed. Some are clearly not impressed by the idea until they are shown the contemporary interior with quality beds and all the creature comforts. Surprise, this is fabulous. “Not bad for a tin shed eh,” grins Brian. They now have regular guests who laugh about their first reaction. The Leccino Studio at the end of the house is equally well appointed and it too has a view of the olive trees.
The most exciting time at Jonio’s Olive Grove Estate and Accommodation must be the harvest in April and May. At the first opportunity when Brian is ashore, picking commences. They could possibly be a little riper says Brian, but leave them any longer and the birds will demolish the crop. So a small group of pickers comprising Brian, his family and whoever is willing and able at the time, madly climb orchard ladders, picking olives by hand and dropping them down onto the swathes of weed mat gathered below. The Koroneiki variety have tough little stems making them difficult to harvest mechanically and anyway, that is not what these guys are about. This is a wee cottage industry and they like doing things the hands on way, literally.
The processing room is an immaculate enclave in an enormous shed that is a complete story in itself. Here are the macerator, the malixer and the press. The olives are processed within twenty four hours. They are washed, tipped into the macerator and turned through the hammer mill. The resulting mash is then transferred to the press. I love this press! But excuse me, I love good olive oil. An open mesh stainless steel drum with a narrow channel running around its base to a pouring spout sits beneath the heavy press which will slowly winds down over a period of 10 minutes to a pressure of around 4000 psi. Out through the steel mesh oozes the oil, green and gorgeous which glides down the spout into the waiting vessel. Yet it still contains a fair amount of water so there now begins a process of decanting and separating the oil and the water. No heat treatment at any stage, just the warmth of the day. In case you are wondering, at Jonio’s they pick about 200kg of olives and you might get 500mls of oil from a bin of fruit. The result is the best quality extra virgin olive oil with an acidity level of .06. To claim your product is Extra Virgin Oil, it must contain an oleic acid level of .8% or less and it must not be heat treated. The Te Kauwhata olives give up the good oil grown in a microclimate that normally has a temperature range of 2 degrees warmer than Hamilton or colder by 2 degrees in winter. Brian whipped out the bread and two dishes of oil. The bottle of $35 Turkish oil at .8 % acidity was not a patch on luscious flavoursome Jonio’s oil with the much lower acidity and undoubtedly very much more fresh.
Extensive studies have found that people who regularly consume olive oil are much less likely to develop cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension, stroke and high blood cholesterol.
This is all great, healthy therapy and a lovely hobby according to Brian. He derives great pleasure from keeping everything ship shape and offering genuine, friendly hospitality in an olive grove in Te Kauwhata.