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Nena Talcott and Bonnie Storm had been friends for years before they started a business together in 2009. Both longtime olive growers and olive oil producers, they teamed up to create Grove 45, a robust, fruity olive oil named after the year they were born.
Tell us the story behind Grove 45. How did you team up?
Bonnie & Nena: Over lunch one day in 2009 we decided to join forces to create a new extra-virgin olive oil brand using the olives from the groves at Storm Olive Ranch (aka Grove 45). Bonnie was tired of working by herself and Nena missed farming after retiring from 30 years in the vineyard and winery business. Joining forces seemed like a practical and fun idea.
You both have years of farming experience . What did you do in your former lives?
Bonnie: I grew up riding horses through the vineyards of Sonoma Valley and always dreamed of having a ranch. After graduation from high school, my horse and I went to UC Davis. In 1992, I found my new ranch in a wild and woolly corner of the Napa Valley, which I share with five horses, cattle, dogs, cats and olive groves.
Nena: I was born and raised in Mercer Island, Washington. After graduation from high school I moved to southern California, where I was an airline stewardess for several years until I married. From there I moved to San Francisco, where I went to college, majoring in Art and Art History. In 1974, I moved to St. Helena, planted my first vineyard in 1975, had two children, planted more vineyards and built a winery. In 2006, I sold everything and moved into town and thought retirement sounded pretty good, until I tried it for a couple of years.
When did you first start growing olives?
Bonnie: I imported Italian-variety bare root olive trees from Tuscany in 1994. They overwintered in my greenhouse and were planted in the groves in 1995. In 2005, I planted an additional 200 Sicilian varieties in a separate grove on my property.
Nena: In 1995, Bonnie gave me 500 cuttings off of the 1,000 trees she had imported from Italy the previous year. I planted them around all of my vineyards and anywhere else I could find a spot for them.
Bonnie & Nena: Frantoio, Leccino, Maurino, Pendolino and Nocellara de Belice, because the olives from these varieties produce the robust style of oil we like.
Why olives? What do you love about them?
Bonnie: Coming from my love of things Italian, olives represented a quality of longevity and family I admired. The trees are a beautiful and enduring legacy, and the oil is so good. The olive groves are my office and I am happiest when working among the trees.
Nena: I planted olives around all of my vineyards because they are very compatible with grapes. They also ripen a month or two after the grapes, allowing a longer employment period for the workers. Once I had a crop on the olive trees and made my first oil, I was hooked. I love the hands-on aspect of making olive oil.
Tell us about how your oils are made.
Bonnie & Nena: Harvest takes place in early- to mid-November over a week’s period of time. Each day’s yield is hauled to the olive mill and pressed that same day. This year we pressed 80% of our crop on a blade mill and 20% on a traditional stone mill in Petaluma, CA. The combination of the two milling processes gives our extra-virgin olive oil the taste profile and character we desire.
Bonnie & Nena: We knew that metal of some kind would be the best choice for our product since it does not allow sunlight to damage the oil. We also wanted a package that was different than anything else on the shelf, something that would make you want to touch it and take it home. The rest was dumb luck!
You label every bottle by hand; tell us about your process.
Bonnie & Nena: Labeling is when we can really get into quality control. Our distinctive embossed pewter label cannot go through a bottling line, so we must hand apply each one. After bringing the cases home from the bottling line we open each one, remove every bottle and place it in a cradle and apply the labels. We do our best to get them on straight. This allows us to inspect each bottle for dents or dings.
What about the flavor of your oil. How would you characterize it?
Bonnie & Nena: This year our oil is medium robust with bright fruitiness and a peppery finish, which you would expect from an Italian field blend that is predominantly Tuscan. Some years the oil is more robust than others. After all, it is farming and Mother Nature has a say in it.
What are your favorite ways to use your olive oil? Any go-to dishes?
Bonnie & Nena: Every dish is our favorite to use Grove 45 EVOO, but we are prejudiced. Some of our go-to dishes are air-popped popcorn drizzled with our oil and sprinkled with sea salt; and dark chocolate gelato with a tablespoon of Grove 45 over it, and some sea salt will make you crazy for more. And of course, the obvious: salads, grilled vegetables and meats of all kinds, as well as bruschetta, pizza, soups and stews. Drizzle it on everything to enhance and complement the flavors of the food.
See more photos of Bonnie and Nena’s groves: