THE Mediterranean olive tree is a hardy, drought-tolerant species once established but like anything, to produce a crop, it needs water.
And this year, it’s only thanks to irrigation that local olive grove, Pukara Estate, could begin harvest.
“The trees don’t die in dry times, they just don’t fruit,” Pukara’s managing director Steve Goodchild pointed out.
“It’s tough in the Hunter and a lot of producers have had a nil-harvest.
“Nationally, the crop is dire.”
The Pukara harvest began on Anzac Day and is likely to run for another week or so with estimating yields at about 200 tonne – 40 per cent lower than last harvest.
“The good news for producers who have fruit is that when volume is down, prices go up,” Mr Goodchild said.
Pukara Estate has been fortunate enough to irrigate its 20,000 trees, encompassing seven varieties, from the Hunter River.
Lack of moisture means it takes longer for the olives to ripen but that in turn also means there are fewer issues like fungal disease and therefore a higher-quality crop.
Mr Goodchild said he had selected several parcels for early harvest to produce the Estate’s Novello, the first pressed oil of harvest.
“Novello is a unique product for Pukara, we pick in the morning, crush in the afternoon then bottle it and have it for sale the next day.”
Traditionally, olive oil is harvested and pressed, then left to settle for six to eight weeks before blending and bottling.
“Olive oil is typically clear and golden in colour whereas Novello has herbaceous, green, fresh characteristics and is cloudy.”
Pukara Estate has also taken to grazing lambs in its olive grove and selling to restaurants to great acclaim.
Details on that business venture can be read in our January story, Olive twist at Pukara.