5/13/2010 2:51:00 PM Parallel planting: Alcantara Vineyards sees a future in olives
Alcantara Vineyards owner Barbara Predmore recently planted some 200 olive trees on the vineyard property at the confluence of Oak Creek and the Verde River. The six different varieties were chosen for their tolerance to cold weather and to produce both oil and eating olives.
The trees recently planted at Alcantara Vineyards will take a couple of years before they pro-duce a commercially viable crop.
CAMP VERDE - If you began at the confluence of Oak Creek and the Verde River and circumscribe a line parallel to the equator around the globe, your line would pass through the very cradle of Western civi-lization.
At approximately 34 degrees, 40 minutes north latitude, it would traverse the modern nations of Iraq and Iran, where some 6,000 to 7,000 years ago, the first cities of Mesopotamia and Samaria emerged from the desert sands.
West of there, the line would also pass through Syria and Lebanon, and skirt the Mediterranean island of Crete, where about the same time some of civilizations first cultivators began exploiting an indigenous tree with a bitter fruit that, when pressed, released a buttery and fragrant oil.
It is from Crete and the shores of Lebanon that the olive tree is believed to have begun its proliferation throughout the ancient world.
And it was in the ruins of the city-state of Elba, built on an outcrop of white limestone near the modern Syrian city of Aleppo, that the oldest accounts of olive oil production have been found.
Clay tablets found at Elba, dating from about 2400 BC, describe the king's land holdings and note that his 3,600 acres of olive trees produced 700 tons of oil.
The fact that olive trees are native to the arid climate and alkaline soils found along the 34th and 35th parallels has not been lost on at least one Verde Valley farm.
Seeing a similar parallel four years ago, Bob and Barbara Predmore planted nearly 30 acres of grapevines at the confluence of the Verde River and Oak Creek and began what is today Alcantara Vineyards.
Drawing from the success of their vines, the Predmores are now pioneering the first of what they are con-vinced will be many commercial olive orchards in the Verde Valley.
"We have every reason to believe that the Verde Valley is as conducive to olive trees as it is to wine grapes. Besides, they belong together," Barbara says.
Over the last few weeks, the Predmores have planted about 200 olive trees, of six different varieties. Over the next couple of years they plan on adding about 300 more.
Their enthusiasm for olives is not limited to the tree's compatibility to the valley's soil and climate, or to the fact that the U.S. olive oil market has exploded over the last decade.
Much like her "grow local" philosophy of wine grapes, Barbara believes a hearty forest of olive trees would satisfy local demand and provide much needed boost for the local economy.
"It is just another element of the agro-tourism that I believe is the future of the Verde Valley. Local foods are coming into their own. Olives, as oil or as eating olives, are a perfect fit for what is already going on," Barbara says.
Alcantara's collection of trees includes French and Italian varieties with resistance to cold weather. Some were chosen to produce oil, some for eating olives and some for both.
"No matter what you do with them, Olives are as much a part of the good life we are looking for, as art, music or wine," Barbara says.
Predmore says that another redeeming value of olive trees is that once established, much like her vines, they use little water.
"Like grape vines, olive trees thrive in a warm climate, in craggy, rocky, alkaline soils. They sink some very deep roots," Predmore says. "They are a sustainable crop, and depending on how they are treated and harvested they can last for a very long time."