Interview with Walter Hewlett from Owens Creek

1. What is your favorite part of artisanally producing olive oil?
I really like wandering around looking at the trees. I like seeing all the stages in the process — the buds, the new shoots, the olives growing on the trees, the harvest, and the pruning after the harvest. The plants will talk to you. You need to look and see what they are saying. For example in the summertime, you may need to cut back on the water to stress the trees — but not too much. You have to feel the leaves.

2. What made you want to produce artisanal olive oil?
We started out with rangeland, and we thought it would be worthwhile to put some of it to a higher use. We didn’t have a lot of water there, which limited our options. But if we stayed small, we could still do something that was very high quality. We looked at several options, including wine and other orchard crops, but we settled on olives because it is such a great climate for that.

3. How long have you been producing Owens Creek olive oil and where is your production?
This is the 4th year that we have bottled the oil. The olive orchard is in Mariposa County, right off the main highway to Yosemite. The oil is pressed in Fresno County, about 1.5 hours away from the trees.

4. How long does it take to make Owens Creek olive oil from start to finish?
The olives grow on a yearly cycle. New buds appear in late spring. The olives are harvested in mid to late October, the oil is pressed right away, and the new oil can be bottled right after the pressing. But most of the oil is stored in oxygen-free tanks and bottled when the demand is there.

5. How many people work together to make your product?
There is a small crew that watches over the orchard year-round. The olives are harvested by hand. This requires a crew of about 50 workers for 10 working days.

6. What is your favorite thing to pair Owens Creek olive oil with?
Though good olive oil adds a dimension to almost any type of food.
By the way, these questions are making me hungry!