Willow Creek Olive Ranch
Loaf of Bread, a Jug of Wine and Pasolivo Oil
Bitter, peppery and
will make you cough. To the layman, this is probably not the
most appetizing description when it comes to olive oil. But
as Joeli Yaguda prepared us for a tasting at her family’s
Willow Creek Olive Ranch, she assured us that these were good
qualities. Then she poured.
the up-and-coming Central California wine region of Paso Robles,
home to dozens of charming boutique wineries, tastings are the
main attraction. Usually, though, the glass you sniff and sip
from contains a liquid made from grapes. But at Willow Creek,
it is the ranch’s signature extra virgin Pasolivo olive
oil that is decanted into small, bulbous, cobalt blue cupsblue
so that the taster cannot see the color of the oil.
was hosting us in the ranch’s intimate, sun-filled tasting
room, which has been open to visitors on the weekends since
July of 2004. (The ranch has been selling to the public since
2000). The tasting room can be found on bucolic Vineyard Drive,
where deer graze in fields, falcons soar overhead and the lack
of traffic will make you question ever tackling Napa’s
Silverado Trail again. Outside on the porch, the family dog
lazed in the shade. Inside, behind Joeli through a large plate
glass window, we could see the olive press.
Joeli explained that the first aspect we would examine in the
oil was its fruitiness. This refers to the aroma, which should
carry over into the taste. We inhaled, and the scents were distinct.
Grass, tea leaves and artichoke. As instructed, we each held
a cup in the palm of one hand and placed the other hand over
the top. While the oil warmed, we learned that because olive
oil has a shelf life of 18 months, checking the date of harvest
on a bottle is important. In addition, pressing time is also
crucial. Since the ranch has its own press, Pasolivo can be
estate pressed within the optimum 48 hours of harvest. In one
case, it was pressed within two hours. This is where the bitterness
comes in. A rich, deep and slightly bitter oil means that the
fruit was fresh when it was pressed.
the oil was warmed, we sipped and held just the smallest amount
on our tongues, breathing in and out and in again. When we finally
swallowed, the aromas did not mislead (or disappoint). The flavors
were rich: grassy, vegetal, peppery in the back of the throat.
These distinctive tastes come from a blend of five Tuscan varieties
grown on the property: Frantoio, Leccino, Lucca, Moraiolo and
Pendolino. A dramatic combination that originated after Joeli’s
mother-in-law, Karen, tasted an oil in the Italian town of Greve.
The Greve epiphany occurred after the ranch was established.
When the family acquired the property fifteen years ago, everyone
else in the little known area was planting grapes. But Karen’s
research revealed that the climate was also ideal for olives.
The ranch’s first bottlings were California varieties,
admirable but lacking the Tuscan blends’ strength and
pungency, well-suited to American palates. Fortunately, Karen
did not fear introducing such bold, startling flavors to the
U.S. Instead, she believed this was the kind of oil Willow Creek
should be making. If the 2,000 gallons the ranch bottled last
year are proof, Karen’s instincts were correct.
the ranch uses twelve varieties of olives. There is still a
California blend, and along with the signature extra virgin
there is a lemon oil, made by crushing Meyer lemon peels with
the olives; with a surprising hint of mint, it makes an excellent
complement for Thai food. Forthcoming (and back by popular demand
after selling out a few years ago): an orange oil made with
Minneolas. Willow Creek will also customize bottles. In fact,
we first learned of the ranch when we attended a wedding in
Paso Robles and were given small bottles as gifts at the reception.
Personalized attention: to technique, to flavors, to aesthetics,
to service. It is thisand Joeli’s hint to use the
orange oil when making browniesthat sets Willow Creek
Olive Ranch apart.
Willow Creek Olive Ranch, 8530 Vineyard Dr., Paso Robles, CA
93446, 805-227-0186, www.pasolivo.com.