It was olives that bridged the gap between olive oil the high tech haven of Palo Alto and the Texas Hill Country heaven of Wimberley for Jack Dougherty. Mr. Dougherty had a distinguished career in the high tech industry and at one point supervised well over 1,000 employees. But his heart was always in the fruit groves and nut bearing groves near his boyhood Palo Alto home.
In Jack’s case, it seems you just can’t take the country out of the boy and he made his way to Texas and Wimberley as soon as he could. He still travels the world in search of information and technology, and techniques on olives, but his home and his heart are now at Bella Vista Ranch near Wimberley, Texas.
We took a tour of Bella Vista Ranch a few weeks ago and sat in amazement as he explained the story of olives to us and a few others gathered under some live oak trees sitting on picnic tables right smack in the middle of one of the premier olive groves in Texas and the USA. We had no idea we had stumbled upon one of the premier experts of the olive world right there in Wimberley.
As he told the history of olives, he related that the first person who ever tasted an olive was probably not impressed. Raw olives contain an alkaloid that makes them very bitter and unedible. Some ancient civilization discovered that soaking them in brine removes the bad taste.
Olives have been around for centuries, but until recently they were just a condiment you served with your meals or at a party as an appetizer. It was in the 19902s that health organizations took notice of the health benefits, specifically our heart health. With this discovery, new diets emerged using Olive Oil in their recipes.
Olive farming originated in the Mediterranean, but as the economy changed so did the use of the land that olives were grown. In the United States, California is our major grower of both green and black olives, but due to the high prices of land, the olive growing is also shrinking. So now Olive farmers are looking for less expensive land to grow olives to produce the olive oil to meet the increasing demand.
It is apparent that Mr. Dougherty has spent a lot of time researching olives. There is a report written by George Ray McEachern and Larry A. Stein, Extension Horticulturists from Texas A & M University titled ‘Growing Olives in Texas Gardens’, where they talk about growing Olives in Texas. They talk about where the climate is good in Texas, and all about what olive trees need to survive. They limited the areas to East, Central, and South Texas. But that was about it. Mr. Dougherty kept on with his research and settled in on the Wimberley area as being ideal. He did have some concerns about the weather, but the soil conditions seemed to be similar to ideal olive growing locations in other parts of the world. Not too many olives are grown in Texas north of San Antonio.
The Bella Vista Ranch fits all the criteria for being able to grow olives. The soil has a lot of caliche which makes for great drainage and the temperature doesn’t dip to freezing very often or for long periods of time. There are over 1,000 Olive trees on the ranch today.
There are 16 different varieties of olive trees grown at the grove, with the California Mission Olive as the tree of choice which is primarily grown at the Bella Vista Ranch.