Pit Crew

Farm family turns its talents to olive oil

By Gabrielle Myers
February 2024

Our region is perfect for olive trees. Drive from Sacramento in any direction and you encounter olive groves unfolding away from the roadside, their branches reaching for the sun, standing tall in orchards.

Each year, local olive ranchers practice harvest preservation by curing olives or pressing them into gold-green oil. As a devotee of extra-virgin olive oil, I’m always searching for the area’s best orchards and olive mills.

For several years, I’ve headed south on Interstate 5 and driven to the tight and trimmed rows of the Coldani family Calivirgin Winery and Olive Mill on North Thornton Road.

On a recent visit to the ranch, tasting room and gift shop, I met Julie Coldani and learned the history of her husband’s family.

The Coldanis came from Italy’s Piedmont and farmed row crops around Lodi for more than 85 years. They cultivated alfalfa, corn and tomatoes, and raised cattle. The newest generation decided to concentrate on olives and wine grapes.

With innovative practices, such as planting olive trees in tight rows and keeping them trimmed for mechanical harvesting, the Coldani olive ranch grew from its first planting in 2005. The Calivirgin brand was formed in 2007 as a way to sell olive oil from robust harvests.

The family mechanically harvests Arbequina and Koroneiki olives at peak with speed and efficiency. Olives are pressed within hours of leaving the trees. This is important because olives degrade quickly after harvest.

Calivirgin’s Olio Nuovo, with its buttery, herbaceous tongue-coat and vibrant flavor, showcases the preservation of the olive more than any other oil I’ve tasted in our region. With tiny olive fragments at the bottom, this unfiltered oil captures the soil’s true Delta fertility.

The Coldanis conserve water with drip irrigation. After milling, olive pits and pastes are spread in orchard rows and turned over to help next season’s olives grow to full potential.

The Calivirgin and Calivines brands have expanded to include multiple varieties, including infused olive oils, balsamic vinegars, cured olives and several wines.

Infused olive oils are distinguished from other flavored oils because the fruits, vegetables and herbs get pressed with olives in the last two phases of production. Local produce is mostly used in the blends, including lemons, oranges, limes, habanero and serrano peppers, garlic, basil and rosemary.

When asked what motivates the family to continue farming and production, Coldani says, “When you have a healthy product you feel good about what you’re giving to your customers. We know everything from tree to bottle, and we feel good about the product we’re providing.”

The recently expanded Calivirgin winery, tasting room and gift shop offers wine and olive oil tastings, small bites and produce from other local farmers.

“We have all grown up here in Lodi, so to work and live here, provide jobs, and give back to the community are important for us,” she says.

Calivirgin Winery and Olive Mill tasting room is open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 13950 North Thornton Road, Lodi. For information, visit calivirgin.com or phone (209) 210-3162.

Gabrielle Myers can be reached at gabriellemyers11@gmail.com. Her latest book of poetry, “Too Many Seeds,” can be ordered from fishinglinepress.com. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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