The oil essentials

Enterprise: Rio Vista Olives

What they offer: The family business takes a root-to-bottle approach to olive oil production, to showcase the unique qualities of each of its single-variety oils.

Rio Vista Olives was founded in 1996 by the Lorenzetti family, who poured passion into their grove, creating award-winning extra virgin olive oils. When Augusto and Helen Lorenzetti were ready to pass the torch in 1996, it was picked up by passionate food lovers the Bettio family. That entire family threw itself into the venture, from parents Lui and Tracie Bettio to their children: Jared – Rio Vista’s master miller – and his wife Jacqueline; Leon and his spouse Imogen; and Sarah, who is the company’s olive oil sommelier.

“Coming from a background in construction, the approach to an olive business was a different one to the norm,” Sarah says. “Craftsmanship and the pursuit of the best quality oil has always been at the fore of what we do.”

“Our farm consists of olive trees, cows, sheep, goats and chickens that for the most part co-exist and work together for mutual benefit.”

The family takes a root-to-bottle approach, believing that the entire process – from healthy soil to the extraction method – is vital in creating a premium product. “The olives are harvested at an ideal time for each particular variety and plant,” Sarah explains. “There is no mass production line, instead we treat the olive harvest as an art form – the oxygen, temperature, crushing time and extraction elements combine to make it an artisan product.

“We love to showcase the differences between types of olives through our single-variety releases,” Sarah adds. “Just as wine grapes differ significantly between a shiraz, grenache or merlot, each olive has its own unique profile and structure.”

The family did not just dive straight into production when they took over the business. The learning process involved journeys to Spain and Italy to observe those producers’ traditional methods, as well as their innovations developed on the back of thousands of years of olive oil production. “We also wanted to learn New World methods and have visited the USA to see their processes,” Sarah says. “We have also studied as much as we can, from master miller to olive sommelier courses, to ensure each part of our process is covered.”

Understanding that the process they use to extract the oil is paramount to the quality of their product, Rio Vista purchased state-of-the-art machinery from Italy to ensure that it can control oxygen, temperature and extraction as closely as possible.

Quality is not the only ‘line in the sand’ for the team, Rio Vista also made a conscious decision to adopt biodynamic farming principles to reduce its footprint and create optimal health, soil up, for olive groves, which translate into a sustainable and healthy end product. “Our farm consists of olive trees, cows, sheep, goats and chickens that for the most part co-exist and work together for mutual benefit,” Sarah enthuses. “We feel strongly about our groves being safe for our children and future generations, so keeping farming sustainable is very important to us.”

The family turns the production by-product olive husk into compost and re-uses it in the grove to cultivate the olive trees. Many mills just dump their olive husk but because it is high in phenols and phytotoxic, it damages groundwater, affects soil pH levels and contributes to air pollution in the form of ammonia. Rio Vista’s bioremediation method – involving combining the olive husk waste with their chickens’ manure, straw, prunings and a microbial mix – turns the phytotoxic waste into a ‘super compost’ containing many of the essential elements for olive growth. The compost also improves drought resistance by maintaining moisture levels in soil.

Rio Vista plans to continue refining production and craft and experimenting with different varieties of olives. “We are also excited to venture into the export market,” Sarah enthuses. “And we are planning to work with schools and chefs to educate them about the farming principles behind our ingredients.”

This article first appeared in issue 36 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine