Grove and Vine co-founder and oleologist Nicholas Coleman chases the olive harvest across the world, sourcing and custom-blending premium olive oils at the peak of their freshness. His latest find hails from the wild landscape of Peelwood, New South Wales, Australia.
Here, owner Robert Armstrong of Alto Olives lives off the land, miles away from civilization. He collects rainwater, hunts rabbits, and prepares jams, chutneys, and pickles from his farm—and tends to his grove of 20,000 olive trees.
When Coleman first tasted one of Alto’s olive oils, “[it] blew me away,” he wrote via email.
For Grove and Vine’s Coleman Collection no. 11, he chose Alto’s blend of two Tuscan cultivars, 50 percent Frantoio and 50 percent Leccino, harvested just in May. “We blind tasted them, and this was the cream of the crop,” he said.
“The Leccino has a buttery mouthfeel with grass and balanced pepper, while the Frantoio adds vibrancy, bitterness, and structure with undertones of freshly ripped green leaves, mint, and rosemary,” he said. The blend has a lingering, peppery finish in the back of the throat, a sign of plentiful natural phenols, compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, found in fresh, high-quality olive oils.
When it comes to quality, “the proof is in the taste, but it starts in the grove,” Coleman said. “Excellent producers plant the right cultivar in the correct microclimate to obtain a balanced fruit during the available growing season. They work with nature without trying to redirect it—it’s aikido, not boxing.”
Alto’s grove sits at an elevation of nearly 2,800 feet—hence the company’s name, from the Latin “altus,” meaning “high”—where days are warm and nights are cool, and the trees are safe from the stifling humidity common in valleys, which can dampen the oil’s flavor and vibrancy.
Armstrong works with meticulous attention to quality, Coleman said. The trees are well-spaced and carefully pruned, enabling equal parts sunlight and oxygen to reach the fruit, and Armstrong harvests each of his 15 cultivars at the peak of their ripeness, when the fruit is still mostly green and yields a more vibrant, structured, and peppery oil.
Alto’s olive oils have won international awards, but have never before been distributed throughout North America.