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APRORA (Association that is maintained mainly thanks to the agreements and support of the Basque Government and the Provincial Council of Álava) was born with the aim of divulging the history of the olive tree and of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil produced in the Rioja Alavesa, a Spanish region located in the south of the Basque Country.
Appreciated throughout the world for its fine wines, Rioja Alavesa is known for an equally ancient and valuable oil tradition.
Generous territory and human care are just some of the peculiarities that make the Extra Virgin Olive Oil of Rioja Alavesa unique in its kind.
Jorge Martínez, Manager of Aprora, talks about the characteristics of a magical land in this interview.
What are the peculiarities of the territory and of the Rioja Alavesa extra virgin olive oil?
Olive cultivation in Rioja Alavesa dates back more than 2,000 years. With the arrival of the Romans, its establishment and development took place in the area, which has been maintained up to the present day. Although an all-time high of 1,100 hectares was reached at the beginning of the last century, the surface area was smaller and now cultivation is beginning to recover. The need to produce wood for heating after the Spanish Civil War, the development of the wine sector, the small size of the plots, the climate and the orography of the land add to the harshness of its cultivation and harvesting.
The orography and climate of our region mean that they are small plots or even just part of some plots, especially on their borders. In many places, we are known as “The Olive Trees of the North” because olive tree cultivation no longer occurs in the higher latitudes. This is also a limiting factor in terms of olive tree development and productivity in our region.
How many olive farms are there in the area and what type of extra virgin olive oil is produced?
Currently, more than 300 hectares are maintained, more by family tradition and love for the land than by economic viability, which is why from APRORA we are encouraging technical knowledge with personalized advice to our partners so that the olive grove in our region is profitable.
Our ancestors made the natural selection of the best olive trees. They knew how to identify which were the best olive trees, the ones that resisted our extreme climate, finally obtaining the variety we know today as Arróniz.
For centuries, the olive tree has been cultivated in association with others such as: cereals, vineyards and vegetables. Diversity that has conditioned its form of pruning and maintenance, which in the area is called “Afrailado”.
It is a variety that soon enters an acceptable production, of medium and constant production, of low resistance to detachment, which facilitates its mechanization, although most of it is harvested by hand. It has a high fat content (22% or more), is resistant to drought and winter cold, resistant to Repilo and susceptible to flies and tuberculosis. It has medium flowering and late maturing, medium vigour, open habit and medium canopy density.
Rioja Alavesa oil is, in general, an oil of character, with bitter and spicy notes due to the large amount of polyphenols it contains. According to studies carried out, they have a high level of polyphenols, > 280 ppm, a high level of oleic acid, 77%, high in total unsaturated fat, 86% and low in saturated fat, 13%.
A typical organoleptic (tasting) description could be:
With the oil poured into a glass, bring the nose closer and inhale gently but continuously to retain the maximum of aromas. Thus, memories of green apple, Claudia plum, freshly cut herbs and tomato plants with green tomatoes emerge in our memory. Then we take a sip, let it fill our mouth feeling it on the tongue, gums, palate and swallow slowly. Here the memories of leaves, intense herbaceous, of artichokes take root which are combined with a bitterness in the back of the tongue and a slight spicy in the throat that allow a range of sensations. In short, all the freshness and personality of the Arróniz variety of olives converted into extra virgin oily juice.
It should also be taken into account that thanks to the impetus of the HAZI sector it has been possible for the oil to become part of the quality products covered by the Euskolabel quality label and that it is more demanding than the general regulation for differentiated quality oils .
APRORA was born in 2018 but it was in the summer of 2020, with the hiring of our Director – Manager, that we started working effectively, we started with 8 partners and we are currently 55 among Olive Growers, Oil Mills (3) and Brands. On our website www.aprora.eus you will find all of us who are part of this family. The services we offer range from the field to the final product, with personalized advice to olive growers on cultivation, from sowing, pests, diseases, maintenance, up to recommending the best time for harvesting, always based on the search for the best quality over quantity. We work side by side with partner mills with visits during the processing campaign with proposals on settings, temperatures, etc. and we end up with the brands that support the diffusion and also with advice on the image, the design, if they ask us to do it.
We also have a person (Mónica López Dávalos) who manages the communication part and keeps our social networks active: Instagram, YouTube, etc.
We are also in direct contact with the Basque government and the provincial council of Alava to obtain aid for olive growers and improvements throughout the sector which translates into subsidies for harvesting plantations and olive harvesters or the promotion of the oil tourism sector.
What services/activities do you use to promote your olive growing region?
In addition to what has already been mentioned above, we collaborate with entities such as the Rioja Alavesa Wine Route, the Rioja Alavesa Association, the Tourism Department, as well as hospitality schools, etc. We carry out promotional campaigns in restaurants or entities of interest such as the one carried out from September 2022 to January 2023 in collaboration with BAKH de Vitoria.
Why is Rioja Alavesa extra virgin olive oil so special?
The climate, the orography, being the oil from the north and the variety that our ancestors have left us, mark the character of our oils. And the passion of our olive growers, the manual work, throughout the cultivation and harvesting, differentiate it from large monoculture companies.
Our olive grove being different, contributing to the biodiversity and environmental respect of the area where, on the other hand, although not all the olive trees the olive groves are covered by organic production, but in fact they can be considered as such because all the products used are authorized in this production system.