Liquid Gold

New varietals, production innovation, and the rise of the farmers' market are changing the olive oil industry in California. Will homegrown soon replace the favorite imports on tables around the West?

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The new approach at California Olive Ranch has earned the respect of another modern olive oil pioneer, Ridgely Evers, proprietor of DaVero oils in Sonoma County. He and Nan McEvoy, at McEvoy Ranch in Marin County, gained recognition in the 1990s for their Tuscan-style oils.

 Evers uses four Italian varietals: Frantoio, Leccino, Maurino, and Pendolino. The result is characterized by a peppery finish much like that found in Tuscan oils. His oils have earned international awards and graced the tables of famed American restaurants.

But Evers's story inspires a question: Is there room on American grocery shelves for so many premium olive oils? In his case, after several years of trying to build national distribution through wholesalers and retailers, and learning how profits evaporate along the way, Evers sells his oils in a relatively small number of specialty-foods stores. He's also opened a mini farmers' market, Plaza Farms, on the square in the Sonoma County town of Healdsburg.




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