Drive to Napa Valley for the “Other Harvest” — Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Company has a large selection of flavored olive oils.

Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Company has a large selection of flavored olive oils.

Story and photos by Patricia Corrigan

Patricia worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for 23 years and has written 19 books. She is based in San Francisco.

Fans of “liquid gold” can set up tasting tours at wineries and shops.

Visitors driving to Napa Valley to sample world-class wines may want to taste another product California is known for — extra virgin olive oil. Health benefits aside, paired with crusty artisan bread, olive oil makes a terrific appetizer or snack — or even lunch, in a pinch.

Some 99 percent of all olive oil produced in the United States comes from California, home to more than 40,000 acres of olive groves. The California Olive Oil Council reports that the state has more than 400 growers/producers, including some wineries in Napa County.

At Tom Eddy Winery, owners Kerry and Tom Eddy suspect that Spanish missionaries planted some of their olive trees in the 1700s. The couple bought the property 20 years ago from owners who kept exotic sheep and tended about 50 olive trees. Fires have claimed 20 olive trees since then. The sheep are gone, too, but the Eddys have added vineyards to make their wines, built storage caves and devised an outdoor dance floor for harvest parties.

Originally, the Eddys harvested and cured their olives, but three years ago they debuted their Eddy Family Extra Virgin Olive Oil, dubbed “liquid gold” by Tom. “Olive trees produce every year, but they are prolific only every other year,” said Kerry, whose sculptures are on display in the wine caves. “That’s when we sell our olive oil.”

With stores in St. Helena and the town of Napa, the Particelli and Lucchesi families operate the Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Company, founded by Gugliermo Guidi in 1931. The St. Helena location is housed in a barn that dates back to the 1880s, and the unassuming screen door leads into an old-fashioned Italian grocery.

Open bins hold fresh garlic, dried beans and dried mushrooms. Molinari salami fills a display case. One refrigerated cabinet holds sausages and prosciutto and another displays a variety of cheeses. Boxes of imported pasta — some of them hefty 10-pound packages — fill some shelves. Others hold imported balsamic vinegars and marmalades. Thousands of business cards from customers past and present are tacked on the walls.

An antique water-powered olive crush, imported from Italy, dominates the main room and serves to display the company’s signature product, available in a dozen different flavors and a range of sizes, from 200-ml bottles to 2.5-gallon jugs. I asked if I might sample the storied family blend of cold-pressed olive oil. Giules Particelli, the sales clerk, grinned, put a piece of waxed paper down on a tabletop, poured out a bit of oil and handed me a small container of torn bread. I bought a bottle on the spot.

Two days later, I encountered an olive oil producer at the Calistoga Farmers’ Market, which sets up downtown every Saturday morning. Jamie Anzalone, owner of Napa Valley Extra Virgin Olive Oil, was selling his olive oils, imported balsamic vinegars and almonds at his booth.

At one time, Anzalone owned two retail shops in Napa County, but now he takes his products “on the road,” offering tastings at local trade shows, groceries and — lucky for me — farmers markets.

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