Jack Dougherty of Bella Vista Ranch knows olives.
It had been olives that bridged the gap between your hi-tech haven of Palo Alto and the Texas Hill Country heaven of Wimberley for Jack Dougherty. Mr. Dougherty had a distinguished career in the high tech industry and at one point supervised more than 1,000 employees. But his heart was always in the fruit groves and nut bearing groves near his boyhood Palo Alto home.
In Jack’s case, it seems you just can’t take the united states from the boy and he made his way to Texas and Wimberley as soon as he could. He still travels the planet searching for information and technology, and techniques on olives, but his home and his heart are now at Bella Vista Ranch near Wimberley, Texas.
We took a tour of Bella Vista Ranch a few weeks ago and sat in amazement as he explained the story of olives to us and a few others gathered under some live oak trees sitting on picnic tables right smack in the center of one of the premier olive groves in Texas and the united states. We had no idea we’d stumbled upon one of the premier experts of the olive world right there in Wimberley.
As he told the history of olives, he related that the first one who ever tasted an olive was most likely not impressed. Raw olives contain an alkaloid that makes them very bitter and unedible. Some ancient civilization found that soaking them in brine removes the bad taste.
Olives have been around for years and years, but until recently these were only a condiment you served together with your meals or at a party as an appetizer. It had been in the 19902s that health organizations took notice of medical benefits, specifically our heart health. With this discovery, new diets emerged using Olive Oil in their recipes.
Olive farming originated in the Mediterranean, but because the economy changed so did the usage of the land that olives were grown. In america, California is our major grower of both green and black olives, but as a result of high prices of land, the olive growing can be shrinking. So now Olive farmers are trying to find less expensive land to cultivate olives to produce the olive oil to meet the increasing demand.
It is apparent that Mr. Dougherty has spent considerable time researching olives. There is a report written by George Ray McEachern and Larry A. Stein, Extension Horticulturists from Texas A & M University titled ‘Growing Olives in Texas Gardens’, where they talk about growing Olives in Texas. They discuss where the climate is good in Texas, and about what olive trees need to survive. They limited the areas to East, Central, and South Texas. But that has been about it. Mr. Dougherty continued with his research and settled in on the Wimberley area to be ideal. He did have some concerns about the weather, however the soil conditions seemed to be similar to ideal olive growing locations in other parts of the world. Not too many olives are grown in Texas north of San Antonio.
The Bella Vista Ranch fits all the criteria for being able to grow olives. The soil has a lot of caliche making for great drainage and the temperature doesn’t dip to freezing very often or for long periods of time. You can find over 1,000 Olive trees on the ranch today.
There are 16 different varieties of olive trees grown at the grove, with the California Mission Olive because the tree of choice that is primarily grown at the Bella Vista Ranch.
Here are a few things we learned about olives and olive production in Texas. Olive trees were brought to the brand new World by the Spanish. They first arrived in Mexico and then made their way from there to California with missionaries where the trees were first planted in 1769. The olive trees were known as Mission olives because they were grown in olive groves close to the missions. This variety no more exists in Spain, but is popular in California and Texas. publish articles Using Mission Olives gives ESSENTIAL OLIVE OIL an extremely long shelf life.
The weather have not always cooperated with the Bella Vista Ranch olive trees. In fact a late freeze almost put the Olive ranch out of business. They had to lessen and replace their olive trees. Other concerns were that Olives are an alternating fruit producer, and therefore some years there are more olives produced than others, and you also have to hand pick the olives and pruning is vital. Olive trees grow very rapidly and if the tree grows uncontrollable, the nutrients are used by the tree for the growth rather than the fruit. The Olive trees have to be kept pruned.
The Olive tree produces fruit in a remarkable way, the blooms create the olive cluster, then only 1 one or two 2 olives that are the strongest continue to grow and hang from the tree. They go through a color differ from green to red, Jack can go through the tree and decide from the texture of your skin and the color if it is time to select the entire tree. The olives gathered from each tree will be a mix of olives from green to red and even dark red. With the different stages of ripened olives, when pressed together should create a very flavorful olive oil.
When harvesting the olives, given that they must be hand picked, they’ll start in the bottom of the tree and pick as high as they can reach. Then they use ladders to pick more. The final step they will use would be to lay out tarps or nets in the bottom of the tree and use a device that looks like a little rake to comb through the tree so when the olives fall to the bottom, they are gathered in the tarps.
They will start creating a decent crop when the tree is usually 4 to a decade old, and each tree can produce up to couple hundred pounds of olives in a good year. Being that they are alternate bearing, one year you may get the maximum pounds and the next get just a couple of pounds. There is no way to know which year a tree is a good producer. Pruning may be the key to producing more olives.
As was explained to us, the first person who ever tasted an olive was probably not impressed. Raw olives contain an alkaloid that makes them very bitter and unedible. Some ancient civilization discovered that soaking them in brine removes the bad taste. In the Frantoio room where the olives are pressed into essential olive oil, there exists a centrifuge method called ‘Cold Pressing’ from enough time the olives are harvested to the time the olive oil is bottled, the olives will never go past a particular temperature. Heat and light alongside oxygen may cause a chemical change, and can effect the flavor of the essential olive oil.
Jack Dougherty of Bella Vista Ranch knows olives.