Monday, February 11, 2008
Healdsburg, California: Olive harvest 2006
This is a long overdue posting. Actually, this trip was taken well before the start of my blog so I do have an excuse. I hope when you read this blog you are left with a feeling of tranquility through viewing the pictures. Because that is what I feel whenever I visit our friends' estate in Healdsburg, California.
First, a little history. While Richard was an analyst at Gartner (which is where he was working when I met him) he met a guy by the name of Ridgely Evers. Ridgely was, at the time, CEO of a company that Richard covered as an analyst. (And also, you might have heard of QuickBooks. Ridgely was the 'father' of that brainstorm. Now he's taking it to the 'cloud.' He has a new product, NetBooks which is bookkeeping as a service.) Richard and Ridgely became friends along with developing a solid business relationship.
On the personal side, Ridgely owns an estate in Healdsburg, California, which is about an hour or more north of San Francisco off Hwy 101. It is a very scenic area, rich in organic beauty. He is married to a lovely chef, Colleen McGlynn. Together they host an annual olive harvest; they grow olive trees on their farm. They bottle their own olive oil; you can find their products here. I know Colleen was into making her own soap; I'm not sure if she's still doing that.
For the harvest, they invite friends and family to come pick olives in the morning and by early afternoon Colleen and her sou chefs have prepared a delicious meal with olives highlighted in many dishes.
We've attended the olive harvest 3 times, 2006 being the last. It's always held in November and the weather can be unpredictable. In 2006 we had sun but it had been raining earlier which made the hillside where the olive trees grow pretty muddy and slick. I think I slipped a couple of times!
This event is quite a production! You're instructed to arrive in the morning. Their driveway is shared a bit by the neighbor way at the top of the hill. Here is a video of the drive in to Ridgely's and Colleen's estate. Please keep in mind that even though I am calling it an estate, it does not present itself as a stuffy, uncomfortable place to be. As a matter of fact, it is quite the opposite. The house is very homey and comfortable with hardwood floors and personal touches that add quite a lot of charm.
Ridgely is in the red shirt greeting guests and helping them get set up to pick olives.
When you get the car parked, your 'outdoor' shoes on, and your 'hellos' out of the way, you begin picking olives from the olive tree orchard which begins right across the driveway from the house.
Here's a bit of a silly video of Richard and me getting started. Notice the buckets worn around your neck. The technique that produces the best results, I found, was to position the bucket under the tree and with both hands begin plucking the olives free and letting them fall into the bucket. If you bother to pick them one at a time you would never get your bucket full. Sorry for the quality of this one video but it gives you a feel for what we're up to.
Here are a couple pictures of Richard and me amongst the olive trees.
It sure is a beautiful sight to look down into your bucket!.
Just a few olives on this tree.
After picking for a while the bucket gets pretty heavy. Ridgely sets up large bins that everyone dumps their olives into. The first year that we attended this event back in 2002, I believe, there were 3 of these big bins put out and filled up. In 2006 only one bin was filled. Not sure what happened to everyone's enthusiasm; Richard and I continued to enjoy the experience.
Watch these beauties as they're added.
And these, too!
Various olive-picking pails after their job was complete.
After picking olives there is a bit of time to relax before sitting down to the feast. This is the ultimate place to chill.
Ridgely and Colleen own about 22 acres that they farm. This is a picture of part of their yard surrounding the house.
Need they say more?
While everyone is picking olives or relaxing, Ridgely, Colleen, and all their help is busy setting the tables and cooking for about 100 people.
They serve their own DaVero wine and olive oil. Everything here looks ready to go!
If I recall correctly, the bread that was served was cooked in the brick oven, behind these chefs. This was the outdoor cooking station.
Dishes for an army!
Just to give you a feel for how much is put into this event, here is a video of the porch as it awaits guests.
Introducing Chef Colleen!
Now we're all seated and enjoying the meal. What a perfect day with the sunshine and warm air. There was fresh chicken on the menu, freshly plucked the night before. They also served up some venison sausage along with various veggie dishes that made creative use of their olive oil. And don't forget the brick oven bread to dip in the oil! Yum!
Ridgely talking to the guests.
The two on the left are Lace and Sam, a couple we met at the first harvest we attended. They are an extremely friendly couple who also live in California, Sam retired from Visa. Sam's father actually lives in Detroit so we had something to chat about.
I couldn't eat another bite!
If I could, I would live in California. This area north of San Francisco is beautiful. It is so hard to describe the difference between California and Michigan to people here in Michigan that have never been. It's more than just the scenery. It's a feeling of calm, peace, and time standing still that overcomes me when I'm out there. The ability to be near ocean or mountains or desert or rich earth whenever you fancy is the main pull for me, I think. Now if I only had enough money to buy something out there...