Tuscan Downs, North Canterbury Story

Tuscan Downs is a 12 hectare property situated in Ashley Downs, North Canterbury, 40 km north of Christchurch city. Tuscan Down’s produces Frantoio olives, a varietal which  originated in Tuscany, Italy and are well suited to the North Canterbury climate and soil. Frantoio Olive Oil is one of the most highly acclaimed oil varieties in the world because of its fruity flavour with a slightly bitter aftertaste and a clear final spiciness.

The North Canterbury area is similar both geographically and climatically to Tuscany, which produces some of the world’s best olive oils in terms of richness, complexity of flavour, higher oxidative stability and freshness. The dry stony soil is ideal for olive trees, however, the growing season is short due to the cooler climate and risk of frosts. This means fruit has to be picked relatively unripe resulting in a strong tasting oil similar to those pressed in Tuscany.

The 400 olive tree grove was planted by the original owners for the sole purpose of demonstrating an income source to obtain planning permission for subdivision and building. For the next 25 years subsequent owners neglected the trees until in 2019, Ian Warren and his partner Karen acquired the property for another business. By this time the grove was in a terrible state of neglect with most of the trees covered in a fungi called anthracnose or peacock’s spots and many ring barked by heavily-stocked sheep grazing underneath them. Many of the trees were dead or dying and neighbours told the couple they had never seen them fruit in all the years the trees had been there.

Having heard that the more olive trees struggle, the better the oil produced by their fruit, and that olive trees only reach their prime fruit-bearing stage when they are 30-100 years old, Ian thought it was a pity to let so many olive trees go to waste. He decided to experiment to see if it was possible to harvest fruit from the trees by selecting just one row to prune, fertilise and water. In just a few short months, the trees sprang back into life bearing an abundance of fruit. It was then that Ian thought, that with the right care and attention, the grove could be a viable option for producing olive oil.

Since then, it has been a labour of love with Ian spending many hours nursing the grove back to life. Ian has now lovingly tended all the trees and is working towards the grove becoming certified as organic. This olive harvest will begin in June 2020 with the oil being extracted within 24 hours of picking in order to retain the purity and integrity of the oil.