Jul 122011

We all know that Napa Valley California is best known for its vineyards and wine estates. I was there yesterday with the youngest of my young olives, hunting for local extra virgin olive oil, and we found some. Actually we found more than some but I’m going to mention just one place and that is the St. Helena Olive Oil Company in Rutherford.

At various wineries I saw lots of bottles of evoo, but I didn’t give them a second glance. Why? Because they were in clear, glass bottles, displayed in direct sunlight. Sure, I know that grapes for wine production are “the crop” in Napa and olive oil is considered a diversion by wineries (otherwise they wouldn’t have so many sad, unhealthy-looking olive trees lining their main drives), but for Pete’s sake, why sell it if you are going to spoil it.

Rutherford is a picturesque village on Highway 29 north of the city of Napa, and the St. Helena Olive Oil Company is located on the main road directly across the street from the Rubicon Estate. St. Helena’s building used to be an old tractor manufacturing company that now houses not only a large store but St. Helena’s production facility as well.

The store was beautifully laid out, with display tables of dark-bottled olive oils, wine vinegars and condiments. Each bottle had a separate, small, lidded jar with a sampling of each item inside. There were tiny, disposable, plastic spoons for transporting samples into your mouth. There was even a guy with a rag to tidy up behind messy tasters.

I got carried away. So carried away, that I forgot my mission: to find and taste extra virgin olive oils that were grown and milled locally, with the identity of the grower and the olive variety easily obtainable. I was almost all the way around the room, my white shirt stained with evoo drippings, when I spotted a flavored olive oil that, besides garlic, I was powerless to resist – jalepeno. Yes, I have given in to the lure of flavored olive oils.

I was blinded by desire. Without thinking, I dipped the little plastic spoon into the oil and put it in my mouth. At that point the jalepeno kicked me in the brain and reminded me that I had not yet made it to the main tasting bar to make a purchase – my taste buds were now useless (but happy – the jalepeno evoo was really delicious).

I straightened myself up with all the dignity a 53-year-old woman with an olive oil stained shirt can muster and walked over to the tasting bar. I introduced myself, confessed my sin (it’s a Catholic thing), and asked for help from younger taste buds.

The young man who helped me told me I had just missed meeting the owner, Peggy O’Kelly. That would have been a bonus, but the young man was very knowledgeable,  and helped me settle on two bottles of extra virgin olive oil.

I am not going to tell you the names of the oils yet, since I tasted them with a jalepenoed mouth, but I will taste them when I get back to Georgia. I’ll give you a report then on the St. Helena oils. I’ll also do a recap on all the other extra virgin olive oils I put on Visa and MasterCard. Stay tuned.

May the sun shine through your branches.