Tag Archive | "Saundra Winokur"

Sandy Oaks Celebrates Phenomenal 2014 Olive Harvest

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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Olive Fest! Celebrate the Harvest, Share the Bounty

In August and September, Texas olive growers are full of expectation as they harvest their crops.

In October and November, it’s time to relax and share some of the treasures the harvest brought.

This year, the harvest at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, just south of San Antonio, has been nothing less than amazing — the ranch’s best year ever, according to founder and proprietor Saundra Winokur.

Sandy Oaks 2014 Harvest Olives on TarpSo, the team at Sandy Oaks is putting together a day-long, walkaround event that will allow guests to eat, taste, have a glass of wine and educate themselves while enjoying the bounty of local Texas olives.

Celebrate the Harvest, Share the Bounty will be Nov. 15 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

At that time, the public has its first chance to taste Sandy Oaks  oil, or the olio nuovo, that has been milled and is now being stored and allowed to settle for a time. (Read about not just the quantity of oil from this year’s harvest but also its remarkable qualitative aspects by clicking here.)

Celebrate the Harvest, Share the Bounty will include a special menu using local ingredients — many of which will come from the orchard’s garden — and locally crafted beer and wine in Sandy Oaks’ brand new wine tasting room.

How can you say no to cage-free smoked whole chicken with truffle risotto and preserved lemon and wines from local vineyards?

There will also be opportunities to take a step back from the food and drink and really educate yourself on the olive growing and harvesting process. Education stations will be set up with actives centering around planting and cultivation techniques, tutorials and cooking demonstrations.

Live jazz provided by the Sandy Oaks Jazztet will be floating along the air as you wander around the nursery and find a tree to take home and plant —  and all the information you need to pick a delicious variety that will grow well.

Jazz on Sandy Oaks patio part of the serene, country atmosphere.

Jazz on Sandy Oaks patio part of the serene, country atmosphere.

Activities and games for the kids are planned, making this an extremely family-friendly event in the cool fall weather on the beautiful, well-tended grounds of this working ranch.

This year’s harvest has produced what the experts are saying will be the most flavorful and complex olive oil ever produced at Sandy Oaks — the public will be able to appreciate not only the culinary value of Texas olive oil, but also stock up on products such as olive jelly, olive butter, olive leaf tea, olivewood dishes and servingware and a full line of skin care, soaps and beauty products made from the olives and oil at the ranch.

PRICE: $30 per adult;  $15 for children 12 and under

WHERE: Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, 25195 Mathis Road, Elmendorf, Texas 78112

Find out more by clicking here.


Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard is located on 40 acres in Elmendorf, TX just 20 minutes south of San Antonio. Sandy Oaks is best known for its olive trees, olive oil, and olive leaf based skin and beauty products.  With over 40 acres of olive trees and a nursery that can contain up to 10,000 or more olive seedlings at any given time, Sandy Oaks offers exceptional hospitality and educational services based around the various uses of olive oil.



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Holidays at the Olive Orchard: Open House, Passport Dinner

Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, in Elmendorf, will be selling its newly harvested extra-virgin olive oil at their Holiday Party and Open House on Friday, Nov. 9, beginning at 6 p.m. That is reason enough to go. This exceptional olive oil, used by some of San Antonio’s best chefs, sells fast – and makes excellent Christmas presents.

Colorful, practical handmade gifts at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard’s gift shop.

You’ll find the olive oil in the gift shop, which this time of year will be packed with plenty of other goodies for foodies, from olivewood products to aprons and products for kitchen and table, handmade pottery, olive oil-based ‘gourmet’ soaps, as well as health and beauty products. If you have already discovered the gift shop at Sandy Oaks, there should be some surprises – lots of new merchandise – in store.

Live music, food and a cash bar are part of the fun. The event is free.

Chef Scott Grimmitt and his son, Salem.

On Friday, Dec. 14, Sandy Oaks presents its next in the 2012 Passport Adventure series – this month featuring the wonderful cheeses, olive oils and wine, as well as dishes prepared by Scott Grimmitt, Sandy Oaks’ executive chef. These tickets go fast, so make reservations soon.

Passport Dinners are set in the spacious barn that houses the orchard’s beauty product-making kitchen, the Italian olive oil press and chef Grimmitt’s working kitchen. The setting sparkles – and offers a pleasurable difference from your average restaurant experience.

The Portugal Passport Dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. Reservations are required. To reserve them, go to the Sandy Oaks website.

Sandy Oaks sells some of its products at the Pearl Farmers Market, at the Pearl on Saturdays, from 9 a.m. -1 p.m.

Also, the chef prepares and serves lunch every Wednesday and Saturday. Reservations are required for parties of six or more; all meals are served with a choice of iced tea or water. Here is the current menu:
– The Orchard Burger
All Beef Burger served with Boursin Cheese, Olive Tapenade, Salad Greens and Tomato.
Served with Baked Home Fries.
– Soup and Salad
Tomato Basil Soup and Salad with Homemade Ranch Dressing and Parmesan Crisp
– Chef’s Pick
Chicken, Sundried Tomato and Feta Flat Bread. Served with Dressed Greens
– Dessert Choices
Sandy Oaks Olive Oil Ice Cream in assorted flavors / Olive Oil Brownies
Olive Oil Pumpkin Spice Cake / Salted Pecan Cranberry Pie w/ Whipped Cream

For a complete schedule of upcoming events, visit the Sandy Oaks website. Sandy Oaks is at 25195 Mathis Road, Elmendorf. 210-621-0044

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Food Revolutions Popping Up In, Around SA

Sandy Winokur (from left), Susan Jaime, Mike Behrend and Troy Knapp are part of the food revolutions occurring in SA.

On  Tuesday, a group of SA food innovators got together to discuss the ongoing growth and changes going on in the San Antonio area when it comes to what is going on our plates. Farmers, ranchers, food merchants and chefs joined for 5-Minute Food Revolutions.

The forum, with about 100 in attendance, was presented at Aldaco’s Sunset Station. The panel was selected for their unconventional and/or pioneering approach to food, be it growing gardens or crops, raising chickens and hogs or running a restaurant.

Tim McDiarmid, of Tim the Girl Catering and Special Projects Social, describes her approach to food and her pop-up dinners.

Mike Behrend, for example, was a dedicated meat eater until about seven years ago. The chef and owner of Green Vegetarian Cuisine described his changeover in restaurant terms: “What I used to think of as a pain-in-the-ass customer? I became that customer.” Green is the top go-to restaurant for vegetarians and popular with many who don’t want to eat meat at every meal, too.

Kelley Escobedo, who with her husband Mark, founded South Texas Heritage Pork, described how her farm “lets the animals have a life” while they strive to reduce their carbon footprint and move from feeding their heritage hogs peanuts instead of corn. “This is not an easy life. We do it because we have passion,” said Escobedo.

To watch a video of the 90-minute presentation, click here.

Participants included Chad Carey of The Monterey, Marianna Peeler of Peeler Farms, Sameer Siddiqui of Rickshaw Stop, Saundra Winokur of Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, Mike Behrend of Green Vegetarian Cuisine, Susan Jaime of Ferra Coffee, Tim McDiarmid of Tim the Girl/Special Projects Social pop-up events, Blair Condon of Green Spaces Alliance, Kelley Escobedo of South Texas Heritage Pork and Troy Knapp of the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort.

The event was co-sponsored by SavorSA, Plaza de Armas and NOWCastSA, who videotaped it.

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A Few Delicious Ideas for Foodie Gifts

Bean pot, a traditional item that is usally in stock at Tienda de Cocina.

From Mexican dishes, cookware and table decor to olive oil-based lotions and soaps, there are ideas aplenty in and around San Antonio to surprise the foodie on your Christmas list.  (We mean surprise in a good way!) While we hate to use that phrase “last-minute gifts,” the one-week countdown is here, and that last minute is getting closer all the time!

Diana Barrios Treviño’s popular book, “The Barrios Family Cookbook,” has been selling well and for good reason. The recipes are not complex, but the results taste like genuine San Antonio Mexican food. The book can be purchased at most bookstores or at the Los Barrios restaurants. These are Los Barrios Mexican Food at 4223 Blanco Road, or La Hacienda de los Barrios at 18747 Redland Road.

'Los Barrios Family Cookbook', plus a tortilla warmer and Corkcicle, is a basket suggestion from Diana Barrios Trevino.

Treviño suggests adding a tortilla warming pad to the basket. Place tortillas into this cloth folder, pop it into the microwave and tortillas will come out soft and warm, with not dried edges. “I use this all the time at home — you have to separate the tortillas, not just take them from the package to the warmer, but it works really, really well,” she says.

Along with the tortilla warmer and book, put another handy item into the basket — a Corksicle. This is something to keep in the freezer for those times you need to cool a bottle of wine down fast. A long plunger, with a cork on top, dips right into the bottle and brings on a good cellar temperature in just a few minutes.

Anyone who has gone into Melissa Guerra’s Tienda de Cocina, in the Full Goods building at the Pearl Brewery,  knows that it’s easier to walk in than it is to leave. The array of colorful dishware, traditional and contemporary cookware, books, tablecloths, embroidered purses, glassware and so much more is fascinating, and a great way to spend part of an afternoon.

We’d suggest an earthenware bean pot, a package of organic beans sold at the store, near the cookbook section, and one of Guerra’s cookbooks as a good place to start.  Then, tuck a colorful cooking utensil, such as a stirring spoon or garlic press into the package as well.

Dishes with olive motifs, olive wood cheese boards, rolling pins and more at Sandy Oaks.

If you have time, take a pretty drive south of town on I-37 to Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard.  Along the way the trees are shades of bronze, muted orange and sometimes bright yellow. It doesn’t take long to get to this peaceful and lovely working olive plantation — less than 30 minutes from downtown, in fact. (Take the Hardy Road exit, turn east and follow the signs, turning left on Mathis Road.)

The property has an orchard of more than 11,000 olive trees, as well as a large barn, housing meeting areas, two kitchens and the commercial olive press. There is a spacious gift shop in a new, two-story building next to the barn. Here, you’ll find a kitchen bar area where visitors are invited to sample olive oils, balsamic vinegars, granola made on premises and more.  During these cool days there will be a fire in the fireplace and a pretty view into a large nursery that houses quite a few varieties of olive trees.

It's easy to fill up your own basket with gift items, such as mine, above, but Sandy Oaks will also put together pretty gift baskets for you.

Sandy Oaks offers a number of different gift basket ideas, but you’re also welcome to choose your own ‘ingredients” from the many items on sale. Excellent skin lotions, healing salve and soaps, all made with olive oil, are fragrant and gentle on the skin. The healing salve ($10) is good for cuts and scratches, minor burns and insect bites. Olive leaf tea, aroma oil made from olive oil, olivewood cheese boards and beautiful French pottery with an olive motif, are just a few more ideas.

I put together a basket for a chef (my brother) that has the healing salve for kitchen scrapes and burns, a Chef’s Cinnamon scrub soap, and a bottle of Sandy Oaks Extra Virgin Olive Oil, that makes a very good finishing oil. A similar basket for another friend will contain the same items, with the addition of a potholder with an olive design, and a bag of fair trade organic coffee. Visit Sandy Oaks on the web by clicking here.

Interior at Sandy Oaks new gift shop is spacious and fragrant, with a working fireplace and a kitchen area for olive oil tasting and more. It's also a unique place to shop for gifts.

Here are just a few more thoughts on  gifts that will entertain or educate your favorite food aficionado.

• Cooking classes: Central Market, the Culinary Institute of America and Sandy Oaks have classes with a wide range of appeal and cost.

• Buy a basket, a pretty Christmas-themed towel (or whatever is appropriate) and fill it with artisan cheeses, a package of good crackers and a mixture of olives. This is something we’ve found appeals to guys as much as, or more so, than our female friends.

• Choose a cookbook (there are many lists on the Internet now naming the “best of” 2011).  We like John Besh’s newest book, “My Family Table,” and Anne Burrell’s “Cook Like a Rock Star.” Find a recipe that has some unusual ingredients in it, then put those into the gift bag with the book.

Happy shopping!



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Saturday Sundaes: Try the Olive Oil Ice Cream at Sandy Oaks

A new taste sensation: Sandy Oaks' Olive Oil Ice Cream

Deliciously confusing? Perhaps at first glance, but after one bite of an ice cream sundae, built to your specifications — you won’t care what day of the week it is.

Sandy Oaks has developed a signature Olive Oil Ice Cream, which makes this creamy treat different from other ice creams. You decide how to  gild the lily. Choose from fresh peaches with basil, balsamic strawberries, toasted almonds, Sandy Oaks dark chocolate sauce or their crunchy Gourmet Granola, developed by Sandy Oaks chef Cathy Tarasovic.  This is one Saturday you’re sure to remember for its sundae!

Saturday Sundaes at Sandy Oaks are Sept. 3 and 17, from noon – 2 p.m. $7.50 per person. Contact Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, in Elmendorf, at 210-621-0044. The olive orchard, gift shop, olive tree nursery and much more are at 25195 Mathis Road. Check here for more information.


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Sandy Oaks a Picturesque Setting for Mezze Treats

Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard chef Cathryn Tarasovic has taken the tapas concept to a delicious new level with her plate of Mediterranean-influenced appetizers called “mezze.”

Really, both “mezze” and”tapas” small plates, or little snacks, are similar. “Mezze” is a Middle Eastern or Arabic term; “tapas” is Spanish.

Mezze at Sandy Oaks include hummus, a red-pepper muhammara and the lively flavors of Spanish Chorizo and Chicken in a Sherry Cider Vinaigrette.

But it’s not about words when you go out for a pleasant Saturday afternoon at this working ranch near Elmendorf. It’s about the flavors, and we were treated to a palate-pleasing array of them.

Sandy Oaks is owned by Saundra Winokur, who is one of the state’s pioneering olive tree growers. The orchard, which comprises some 11,000 trees planted on a 40-acre tract, supplies oil and olives that go into products sold at the ranch.

Ranch artisans also make lotions, herbal salves and other skin care products based on the rich healthful oil.  These, along with olive leaf tea, aroma oils, olive wood cookware, gift baskets, books and growing manuals and more are offered at the orchard gift shop. Some of Sandy Oaks’ products also are offered at the Pearl Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Those who are interested in seeing how this relatively new Texas agricultural product is grown also can take a Saturday tour regularly scheduled at 11 a.m., or make arrangements for private tours. The orchard is holistically managed, with an emphasis on organic fertilizers and natural pest control.

These days, the sounds of construction are commonplace as well, as a new, two-story building that will house the gift shop and office space nears completion. Separate kitchens for the cooking and catering operation, and the product-making activity, are housed in a spacious barn across the parking lot from the current gift shop and office.

The food program at Sandy Oaks also includes classes, as well as an upcoming new series of international dinners, the first being a Passport Adventure to Italy, June 24.

On Father’s Day, June 18, there will be tours as well as complimentary tapas. (Check these out at

Cathryn Tarasovic is executive chef at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard.

Tarsovic holds the Diplome Superieur from L’Ecole de Cuisine Française Sabine de Mirbeck and is a member of the culinary professional organization Les Dames d’Escoffier International.

Mezze Day Delights, which is occasionally added to the schedule (check the Sandy Oaks’ website for these) features chef-made artisan breads accompanying an array of appealing snacks.

The dried Fruit and Pecan-crusted Goat Cheese combined the suppleness of the creamy cheese with tart dried cherries and crunchy nuts. Pine nuts gave the crunch to the silky Kalamata Olive Hummus, while red peppers formed the base for the Mediterannean spread called Muhammara.

Among our favorites on this colorful mezze plate was  the chef’s Spanish Chorizo and Chicken in a Sherry Cider Vinaigrette.  The title doesn’t mention the dish’s cool, sweet surprise of green grapes — a perfect contrast to the tangy sherry sauce and spicy chorizo. The chorizo, too is an artisanal product from Boerne, produced by Leslie Horne under the brand name, Aurelia’s Chorizo.

Diners enjoy the shaded patio that overlooks the nursery at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard in Elmendorf.

Every bit of the mid-afternoon lunch, under umbrellas on the breezy patio, accompanied by George Gaytan playing Spanish guitar, was, as promised, a delight. A glass of icy sangria gave the meal a perfect Spanish accent.

Mezze Day Delights is also nicely priced, at $10 per person. The next Mezze event will be 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. July 9. Sandy Oaks is at 25195 Mathis Road, near Elmendorf.  210-621-0044.

Recipe: Spanish Chorizo and Chicken in a Sherry Cider Vinaigrette

Photographs by Bonnie Walker

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Saturday is Mezze (Tapas) Day at Sandy Oaks

A glimpse of the new construction at Sandy Oaks, tour of the ranch and a spread of wine and mezze are in store on Saturday.

Take a drive down to Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard Saturday to enjoy the Mezze Day Delights, an afternoon of relaxing on the patio at the ranch with a glass of wine and a plate of chef-prepared mezze. Mezze are Mediterranean-style appetizers, like tapas. The hours are noon-3 p.m.

Chef Cathy Tarasovic will put on a spread of treats that will, of course, include olives and olive oil-garnished dishes. The patio area is a nice place to enjoy the peaceful country ambiance, while the gift shop offers everything from olive oil, herbal salves, lotions and handmade olive oil soaps. Dishes, Provençal-design tablecloths and aprons, olive wood serving- and cookware,  books on olives and olive tree growing, flavored balsamic vinegars and other food items prepared by the chef are also for sale.

Also, check out the new construction at the ranch, near Elmendorf, by taking the 11 a.m. tour of the orchard, ranch grounds and nursery. Many varieties of olive trees are offered for sale as well.

The price is $10 per person. Sandy Oaks is at 25195 Mathis Road, in Elmendorf. Call for more information at 210-621-0044 or click here for a map and calendar of upcoming events.


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Harvest Under Way, Oil Flowing at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard

Saturday morning at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, south of San Antonio near Elmendorf, marked the first day of pressing the 2010 olive harvest.

About 500 pounds of olives were poured through a metal grid into the hopper (at right) as processing began in the barn at the orchard.

This is just the second year that the Italian olive press was put to work. As the green oil finally started flowing, at about 10:30 a.m., workers clapped and cheered, took photos and grabbed spoons for quick samples of brand new olive oil.

“It tastes amazing,” said Saundra Winokur, Sandy Oaks owner. The fresh-tasting new oil, smooth in flavor and bright green in color, flows from the nozzle of the mill into clean glass gallon jars (below right).

The jars are taken immediately to a cool room where the jar tops will go on and paper bags will cover each jar. The oil needs to settle in the cool, dark environment for awhile before bottling begins.

Most of the first olives picked this week were green.  As the harvesting continues early this coming week, pickers will be bringing in the rosy-colored olives. Finally, the ripe black olives will make it to the barn floor to cool on tarps, be separated from the leaves and then put into the mill.

“That way we can adjust the blend the way we want it for the oil,” said Winokur. Sandy Oaks will sell “limited edition” bottles of the new oil, or oglio nuovo, and put the rest into the blend for the regular bottles. Sandy Oaks also sells the dried olive leaves for tea.

Sandy Oaks’ orchard has more than 11,000 trees of many varieties, including arbequina, mission, manzanilla, arbosana, picual, frantoio, leccino and koroneiki. Visit the website for more information, as well as directions to the orchard and tree nursery, visiting and tour hours.

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The New Green Gold of Texas Olive Oil

OliveRanch6Stomping grapes for winemaking is fun, but watching a stream of glistening, dark-green olive oil pouring out of a brand new Italian press is downright exciting, as we discovered last week at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard near Elmendorf.

The large machine, with a nameplate that says “Il Molinetto” (or “mill”) requires both electrical and plumbing connections to do its job. For this year’s pressing, four representatives from the Pieralisi Group, the machine’s manufacturer, came to Texas to facilitate its maiden run.

They arrived at night, Aug. 31, three of the men from Italy and one from the company’s United States division in Cincinnati. They appeared at the orchard the next morning – and it was not a moment too soon. The fruit was ripening by the hour and harvesters were already out among the trees, picking by hand.

A large tarp, spread on the floor in an air-conditioned room next to the pressing room, was covered with olives, creating a fascinating mosaic. The thousands of small, ovoid shapes spanned a rainbow of colors that olives show as they ripen, from bright green to rose, dark brown to almost black.

While wineries and wine-grape growing are burgeoning in Texas, it has only been in the past 15 years or so that Texas really began looking toward growing olive trees. Olive trees like a Mediterranean climate, so the state’s colder areas aren’t suitable for growing. Further south, however, the trees thrive.

OliveRanch5In 1994, according to the Texas Olive Council, there were only 20,000 olive trees in Texas in four orchards. As of 2007, there were nearly 97,000 trees, with many more to be planted. Some in the industry say that by 2010 there will be 500,000 trees in the state.

Saundra C. Winokur founded Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, a working, 258-acre ranch, about 11 years ago. More than 40 acres are planted to olive trees. While she has a family history going back six generations in Texas ranching, Winokur is a pioneer in the olive-growing business. At her ranch, about 20 miles south of San Antonio, she has experimented with varieties of olive trees, soil mixes, irrigating and other growing techniques, to get to the point that she is today.

She now has more than 10,000 trees in her orchard, including many of the lovely Spanish arbequina olive trees that she was the first in the nation to import. Her nursery supplies potted olive trees to those who want to plant a crop to those who just want a beautiful, as well as useful tree in their backyard. Winokur shares her expertise with her customers, of course, but is also called upon to speak to a wide range of interested groups and to give seminars to growers.

In addition to growing trees, Winokur has developed a line of olive oil-based skin care products, which she produces herself in the Sandy Oaks kitchen. Local artisans make olive oil soap for her, which she also sells at her shop. When this year’s harvest is brined, the pickled olives will be sold, as will dry olive leaves for a healthful tea, and Winokur’s signature olive leaf jelly.

OliveRanch1By midday Sept. 1, Italian workers and ranch crew have the guts of the new machine strewn out on the floor of the pressing room and into the main hallway of the barn. Ranch manager Miguel Villarreal, his brother, orchard manager Roberto Villarreal, Winokur, others of her crew as well as a few onlookers might be experiencing a bit of anxiety, watching the press being dismantled. But the prominent feeling is excitement. No one doubts that the machine will be in good working order soon, up and running like a well-tuned Maserati.

When the troubleshooting is finished and the pieces put back together again on Wednesday, the big moment is at hand. Not only does the machine appear ready to roll, there are olives aplenty.

Last year, says Winokur, the harvest from her orchard wasn’t large enough to make oil. “So, we pickled olives instead,” she says. These olives, sold in jars at Winokur’s tasting room, were spiked with garlic and black pepper – and quickly sold out.

OliveRanch2The previous year, in 2007, the crew operated a press from Egypt, composed of two large millstones. This press is traditionally worked by donkey power in Egypt, but Winokur used a John Deere tractor. Olive oil made in this method comes out with a bit of sediment, which eventually settles to the bottom of its container and the cleared oil is poured off.

At last, the first of this year’s harvest is loaded into the hopper of Il Molinetto. The hopper shakes off dirt and leaves, spilling them to the floor. Then, the olives go into a crusher and mixer, which grinds the olives to a paste, called pomace. Some producers will take the pomace, reheat it and put it through another pressing. The oil from this pressing is not of high quality, however.

“All of our oil will be from the first pressing,” says Winokur. “We’ll never make oil by re-pressing the pomace.” Instead, she says, the dark, grainy paste will be used for cattle food and compost. And, if you ever think that the first pressed, extra virgin olive oil is expensive, remember that it takes 10 pounds of olives to make a quart of olive oil.

IOliveRanch4n accordance with her dedication to sustainable practices at Sandy Oaks, Winokur says the water that is used in the process goes into a graywater retention tank where it will be used for irrigating the olive plants in the plant shed and in the orchard. Winokur raises about 31 varieties of trees and sells Bonsai olive trees as well.

The machine is pounding away at a dull roar, the pomace is coming out of a tube, going into a green bucket set on the concrete floor. Onlookers fidget. We are almost holding our collective breath except for the fact that centrifuging the pomace, which eventually coaxes out the oil, takes some time.

Finally, out of a spotless, stainless steel pipe, comes a thin stream of bright green liquid, making a light ringing sound as it falls into a steel bowl below. The excitement couldn’t have been greater had the oil been molten gold. Someone comes in with a handful of clean spoons and after Winokur and her managers take first tastes, the rest of us get to sample. Our waiting was worth it, but so much more to those who had put in years of effort to get to this moment. The oil is good, we agree, with a rich, fruity character.

As the new press is put through its paces, time and again, it will settle into its function and produce a better and better product, says Winokur.  In fact, I call a couple of days later and already, she says, the oil is coming out with a slightly different, clean taste.

“I love it,” says Winokur about the press. “It’s a very sweet piece of machinery. The great thing about it is that it is running so well now, even after the Italians have gone home. It’s a real tribute to Miguel and to the machine,” Winokur says.  The ranch manager, Villarreal, is also an electrician, a trade that will come in quite handy as he will be the machine’s primary handler.

OliveRanch3Winokur is echoing the feelings of everyone who was at the ranch last week. Pressing and harvesting will continue, though this year the activity is not open to the general public since there were too many unknowns to deal with.

But, after the first week, all of us who were there know a few things: We are in love with this product, impressed with Il Molinetto and we are definitely hungry for pasta tossed in fresh, first cold-pressed Texas olive oil.

The olive ranch’s gift shop and nursery are open to the public  from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and Monday for  scheduled pickup and deliveries only.  The ranch is closed Sunday.  Saturday tours are at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and are free.  For tours during the week call (210) 621-0044. Visit for directions and more information.

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