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Sandy Oaks Celebrates Phenomenal 2014 Olive Harvest

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ELMENDORF — Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard is known industry-wide for its dedication to exceptional olive farming and harvesting  in South Texas.

This did not happen overnight. And, it’s not always been an easy road for owner Saundra Winokur. But this year is proving that hard work and an unswerving dedication to a dream can realize success in abundance.

Sandy Oaks Harvest Picker and Flowers

Photographs courtesy Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard.

This fall, the ranch, founded more than 15 years ago, had a breakout harvest. Just as important an achievement this year is what Winokur terms “amazing” results with the acidity levels and other objective standards used industry-wide to assess the quality of the oil that came from so generous a harvest.

The sheer number of tons harvested this year far outstripped any of the past — in fact this year’s production rolled in at 10 times that of last year’s good harvest, says Winokur.

The deep green oil, from olives milled in September, is now resting in large containers awaiting bottling.  Already tested, the oil has achieved marks that rank it among the top league of oils produced in the United States.

In fact, the oil from the 2014 harvest has far exceeded the California standards, which are even more stringent than the international benchmarks.

“They said it couldn’t work in South Texas,” said Winokur, who is recognized throughout the state a pioneering agricultural producer of olives.

“Not only is it working, but we are producing phenomenal olive oil. My dreams and hopes are coming to fruition,” she said this week.

Winokur’s success will take her to the White House in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 20 where she will join a small group invited to discuss women’s leadership in agriculture, hosted by the White House Rural Council.

Sandy Oaks 2014 Harvest oil jarsThe acidity of this oil is so low compared to other U.S.-produced oils that the richness and buttery flavors are prompting our experts to call this the most complex harvest to come out of Sandy Oaks yet. — Saundra Winokur

 

The group will meet with the secretary and deputy secretary of agriculture to discuss ways in which the U.S. can “better support and mentor the next generation of women leaders in food and agriculture,” the invitation stated.

“Women today own 14 percent of the nation’s farms and ranches — an increase that has “significantly outpaced” the growth in the number of farmers overall, making women the most rapidly growing segment of the nation’s changing agricultural landscape,” according to the release.

The orchard at Sandy Oaks is planted with 38 different varieties of olive trees on 40 acres.  Some of the fruit will be pickled and sold in jars; other oils will go into the line of skin care and beauty products that are produced at the ranch and sold in the gift shop.

This year’s excitement of a huge harvest was shared by those who picked, milled, poured and stored the beautiful green harvest from the ranch’s more than 10,000 trees.

The public will have its turn on Nov. 15  when they can get a taste of the first-pressed new oil, or olio nuovo, at a festive event, Celebrate the Harvest, Share the Bounty (see details here).

Sandy Oaks 2014 Harvest pile of olivesThat olive oil will be bottled and sold at the Sandy Oaks gift shop where it has, over the past years, become a must-have finishing oil for chefs in San Antonio and beyond.

What chefs look for, of course, is quality and that lies not just in subjective taste but in hard numbers reflecting the acidity of oil that will be called “extra virgin.”

California has a benchmark standard of .05 percent acidity or less; the international standard for extra-virgin oil is a bit less stringent at .08 or less. Sandy Oaks oil has surpassed both numbers this year, says Winokur, by coming in at an average .022.

Also important is shelf life, and this oil will store (in a cool, low-light environment) for more than two years.  What determines shelf life (longer is better) is oil that has low levels of peroxide and a low ultraviolet rating.

Saundra Winokur

Saundra Winokur, founder and owner, Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard

“Once again, we came in well under California standards. That also means that our oil has lots of polyphenols, which are what make for the oil’s great health benefits as well,” Winokur says.

Blending two or more varieties is often desirable in reaching, or maintaining these levels of beneficial chemicals.

Winokur says this year the first-pressed new oil blend is from primarily from Arbequina variety. Some 7,000 Arbequina trees comprise a large part of the orchard. Winokur brought the Arbequinas from Spain and planted them in 1999. Two other varieties going into the proprietary blend of olio nuovo this year will be Koroneiki and  Picual.

As a pioneer grower of olive trees in South Texas, Winokur is certainly enjoying the fruits of her labor — and that of a dedicated permanent staff and enthusiastic harvesters this year. But her vision goes further.

“This kind of success also bodes very well for the industry in Texas as a whole,” she says.

 

Sandy Oaks 2014 Harvest bucket and pickerSandy Oaks Harvest 2014 trees and ladder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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