The Central Coast is renowned for its award-winning wines, but local olive oils are gaining plenty of attention as well. One of the producers bringing the spotlight to this area is Fandango Olive Oil.
Already familiar with the area when they retired and moved to Paso Robles in 2004, Jerry and Carolyn Shaffer thought they would take the leap into wine country lifestyle by planting a vineyard. However, after doing some more research and talking to a friend who had an olive orchard, they opted to go in the olive oil direction.
The first phase of their estate orchard was planted in 2007 following the Shaffers’ full commitment to growing certified organic olives. Part of that philosophy also includes the use of raptors (and a resident fox family) for rodent control, sowing cover crops for soil enhancement and erosion control, and utilizing solar power for their entire property.
“We wanted to preserve what’s here and leave something for the next generation,” Jerry said. Carolyn agreed, noting that “what you put in the soil stays there, and it has a ripple effect.”
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Whatever the Shaffers are doing seems to be good for Fandango. In just four olive oil competitions thus far in 2013 (L.A. International, Yolo County Fair, Napa Valley, Central Coast), the label has garnered some significant bling: five silver medals, six gold medals, three best of class, and two best of shows.
The three award-winning Fandango oils — all certified organic and certified extra virgin — are crafted from two olive varieties: a Spanish Arbequina and a Greek Koroneiki. According to the company website, the former “was selected for its fruitiness, sweetness, big aroma, and early ripening tendencies,” while the latter was picked for “robust peppery and fruit flavors.”
The “Valiente” oil is an early-harvest Arbequina with that grassy bite that tasters seem to either love or hate. When that same olive is harvested a little later, however, it produces a riper, milder flavor for the “Elegante.” When both the Arbequina and Koroneiki are blended together for the “Fiesta,” the oil has more complex flavors due to the marriage of the two types of olives and of the terroir of the Shaffers’ Rancho Rendezvous Farms.
The land itself lends subtle flavor differences depending on where the olive trees are planted. The property enjoys not only north- and south-facing slopes, but also two distinct soil types — a lean, calcareous and a rich, dark soil. The neatly spaced and maintained trees are all semi-dwarf varietals and are kept at about 7 feet tall so the harvesters can more easily and safely hand-pick all parts of the tree without ladders.
“We do two harvests a season with about two to three weeks in between,” explained Jerry. The first pass yields barely ripened “yellow” fruit, while the second offers riper “purple olives.” A mobile olive mill that’s brought on-site ensures immediate pressing of the fruit.
The freshly pressed oil goes into straight into stainless steel tanks that protect it from “air, light and temperature — the enemies of olive oil,” said Carolyn. As a further precaution against those factors, the Shaffers bottle their oil by hand only on an as-needed basis.
The Shaffers aren’t just hands-on when it comes to the olive oil itself. Both are and have been active in grower organizations and relish being part of the local olive community.
“All the olive growers here are so willing to help each other, and everybody just pulls together,” Carolyn said. “We’ve never looked back at our decision.”