A few days ago, I met Bill Hey from Masterton. He installs and maintains olive presses. Here in Nelson, he has been doing that for Redwoods Valley based, Kakariki Olives. We stock their olive oil.
Kakariki Olives was established in 2000 by John and Helen Dunlop. That was a time when, along with grapes, Olives were the ground cover of choice for Kiwis who wanted their properties to look like Tuscany. Enthusiasts were swept along by the belief that Olives would be an easy-care alternative to sheep.
John Dunlop, a farmer from Tapawera, was more realistic. He planted olives for sound financial reasons. He was an A grade tennis player well into his sixties. His legendary strength and stamina served him well, both on the tennis court and on his Olive grove.
While John was tending his trees, Ray Gregory was building up a trucking business, with his wife, Brenda, shouldered most of the responsibility of raising their two children.
By the spring of 2017, Ray and Brenda had spent twenty-three years in the trucking business, and Ray was in a mid-life crisis.
Trucking was profitable, but exacted a toll. The more trucks, the more staff, the more they needed staff, the more chances there were for things to go wrong. The stress was mounting.
The Children had both left home, and Brenda, too, was seeking new direction.
Gregory Trucking had reached a size and complexity, that required Ray and Brenda to either take the next step to corporate style management, stagnate, or try something completely different. They sought the latter.
Working the land was not on Ray’s radar screen, but entered consideration when a friend pointed out an advertisement for the Kakariki Olives business. The cure for Ray’s mid-life crisis was at hand.
His first visit to the property, was to be transformational.
On the eleven hectare property, at the head of Redwoods Valley, John and Helen had built an enterprise that enhanced their environment, provided challenge, and provided a living. Fit and well, Ray was excited by the prospect of picking up the baton from John.
The real estate agent could see that what Ray sought, and what John Dunlop sought to pass on, was a perfect match, and he booked an on-site meeting for the two men.
In each other, both found new direction. John, needing to retire and wanting the assurance that Kakariki was in good hands. Ray, was seeking a new career for the second half of his working life.
Within a week, an agreement was struck.
It turned out that Ray and Brenda’s home in Tahuna, was just what John and Helen needed; so on moving day the two couples swapped houses.
Over the next year, John was spent much of his time back at Kakariki, helping Ray.
Ray says, he doesn’t know how he would have coped without his help and advice.
Initially, he thought that he would continue with the trucking business, but after six months, he and Brenda decided to make a clean break, and sell off the trucks.
Untended trees can produce impressive yields of small fruit. But harvesting a bumper crop of small olives is fraught.
If your labour force doesn’t stage a walkout, and you have enough fruit to justify a press, it will blight you with bothersome amounts of trash per litre of oil. That’s because so much of small olives is either stone or skin.
It’s true, that Olives require only a tiny fraction of the cossetting of apples or Kiwifruit, but it is wrong to say they require no care.
In particular they need pruning. The trees want to become big. They need to be pruned to control their height, let in light, and (if you’re really serious) to create a branch-free trunk that can be grabbed and shaken by a tractor mounted shaker.
Ray and Brenda have 3000 trees, but manage a further 7000 trees on other properties. Ten thousand trees justify investment in good equipment. The right gear, sound advice and a work ethic, has enabled Kakariki Olives to be the sound business that it is.
So why would you buy Kakariki olive oil, when the supermarket shelves are packed with cheaper imports?
What you mainly see in the supermarket is not virgin oil. Its oil extracted from the residue from the first pressing. If the imported product truly is virgin, local oil still has the edge, because the foreign product is shipped across the equator, and gets warm, if not hot.
Finally, our local oil is high quality to begin with. Kakariki’s Mediterranean Blend won a gold medal at the 2020 World Olive Oil Competition in New York.
Nelson’s sunny days, and cool nights, that produce high quality apples, also does wonders for the flavour of olive oil.
The 2023 harvest had just finished when I arrived at Kakariki to interview Ray and Brenda. An added bonus, was that Bill Hey, whom I’d met in the shop, was there also. He stayed for the harvest and press to make sure that all went well with Ray and Brenda’s brand-new Italian-made press.
Ray and Brenda Gregory
of Kakariki Olives
Ray and Brenda have done a wonderful job of transitioning from trucks to olives. Local lovers of high-quality olive oil are better off, for it.
You can, of course, buy Kakariki Olive Oil at Eyebright. And, yes, we do have the Mediterranean Blend. Not the 2020 oil that won in New York, but the 2022 oil, that won gold at the New Zealand Olive Oil Awards.