The Region of Messinia
As you travel South of Athens on the mainland of Greece, into the Peloponnese on E65, passing through the Arcadian highlands, you will find a welcoming valley tucked in the Southwest corner: Messinia, a fertile land.
Colorful and diverse, it has kept it’s authenticity throughout the ages. With it’s majestic mountains, canyons, abundant spring waters and bathed in the prolific Mediterranean sunlight, it has been inhabited since prehistoric times.
Characterized by it’s endless olive groves, and it’s small villages with the traditional stone houses and terraces dressed in vines and flowers. A walk in the Messinian country will awake your senses. The whole region exudes the aroma of wild mountainous herbs asymmetrically sprinkled on the hillsides.
Τhanks to the region’s distinctive micro-climates, Messinia has been gifted by nature to withhold a thriving agricultural economy. Thus, it comes as no surprise that it produces about 50,000 tonnes of olive oil, with 95% of the production being classified as the best category of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Here, in Western Messinia, near the town of Filiatra, is the place where our family’s olive grooves are located.
The Olive Tree
The olive tree is one of the longest standing and most robust trees and as such it is a symbol of our long cultural heritage. During the first 6-7 years of its life after planting, it needs special care, even though it doesn’t produce any fruit. It is the time for grafting the olive tree, an important process in its future growth and fruiting. From ages 7 to 15 years, the tree begins to bear fruit, while it reaches its full growth between 30 to 70 years. The olive tree’s life expectancy can easily expand over 150 years. With the right conditions and care it is often seen to reach a 1000 years or even more!
It has a large root system, again a symbol of deep rooted tradition, so it has low water needs. The olive tree’s height and fruit size are depend on the tree’s variety. The leaves are lance-shaped, having a thin fluffy layer on one side to retain water, while the leaves on the branches develop in opposite directions so that they do not obscure each other.
The olive tree blooms between the months of April and May. Pollination is by wind. The flowers come out a lot together and do not emit any special perfume. They come from last year’s buds. The rim looks like a small egg and has a lot of turned stamens. The tree fruits begin to ripen in October, while the harvest starts in November.
The fruit is divided into three parts: the peel, the fruit pulp, which also contains the olive oil and the hard core (kernel).
During the cultivation cycle, the necessary work to be done includes plowing, fertilization of the soil and pruning, where the way we do it can determine the quality. This is our art which remains unchanged for thousands of years, giving us one of earths most important commodity: The Olive Oil.
The Koroneiki olive variety (olea europea)
Koroneiki is a purely Greek olive tree variety that we encounter from time immemorial. The name is derived from a small village in South Western Messinia, Koroni. It seems that at some point in time, it was introduced in the region of Messinia in its wild form, and was domesticated. Ever since, it has been cultivated systematically not only in our region but also in other parts of Greece and the world. It is reasonable to say that the Messinian land and microclimate is the ideal for this variety as it first appeared in our region. Even though it does not require particular territorial and climatic conditions, the way of cultivation, practiced as our legacy that developed through thousands of years, makes the olive oil produced here in Messinia special. It evolved through vegetative propagation and the spread of clonal mutations rather than sexual contact.
It is cultivated exclusively for the production of olive oil and not for edible olives. It is considered highly resistant to drought and its fruit is small in size. The olive oil yield is considered very high wherein each kernel may contain 15% to 20% olive oil. It blooms in the second half of April and it’s fruits mature from October to December.
The pruning of the olive tree is also very important for a stable fruition each year. It is something which is included in the way of cultivation. Koroneiki is considered the Queen of olive varieties. It offers not only the most qualitative olive oil in terms of aromas and flavors, but also many scientific studies have proven that it can develop all the antioxidant substances of olive oil, which are responsible for the protection of cardiovascular functions in the human body.
The Olive Tree and our region, Messinia
The olive tree is a synonym of human existence and survival in our region. Natural equilibrium configured endlessly through time, gave us the olive tree and its fruits. The parallel co-existence with humans for thousands of years created a relationship of interdependence.
Our region is considered one of the first in the world to systematically cultivate the olive tree in accordance with the archaeological findings of Linear B tablets near Pylos (Pilos), Messinia. This demonstrates again the role played by the olive tree in the shaping of our local culture. It classifies it not just as a tree, or its fruits as a food, but as a symbol. A symbol to spread everything of the authentic magic the olive tree has conveyed to us, like thousands of years ago.
The rich History
The region of Messinia has a long history, having been inhabited since prehistoric times due to its fertile plains. There is a continuation of findings from the Neolithic period, while significant are also the findings from the Mycenaean civilization with the Palace of Nestor (near Pilos), known from the Homeric epics of The Iliad & The Odyssey. Later on, Messinia was conquered by the Spartans just for its fertile soils that it provided. The Spartans were followed by the Romans and their subsequent Christian Hellenization became the Byzantine era. After 1204 A.D, the Franks invaded the region and were later followed by the Venetians and finally the Turks. To get to the catalytic contribution our region played with the launch of the revolution and struggle for the liberation and national independence of Greece.