Lesvos is an olive grove
According to various archaeological finds including a Bronze Age olive mill dating back to 2800 BC, olive trees have been on the island since the 3rd century BC. Along with its derivative, soap, olive oil has always played an important part in the island’s economy. In essence, Lesvos is a large olive tree forest composed of 11 million olive trees ―thousands of them supercentenarian― in innumerable olive groves, many growing on terraces or “setia,” as the locals call them.
The island’s olive groves start by the sea and ascend up to where black pines and other high-altitude trees start to grow, at about 800 meters above sea level. Today the island produces 15.000 to 20.000 metric tons of olive oil yearly and its EVOOs bear the appellation “PGI Lesvos” (Protected Geographical Indication). Olive trees replaced the island’s vineyards following the appearance, at the beginning of the 20th century, of the plant lice phylloxera which completely destroyed viticulture in Lesvos.
It is believed that the island’s volcanic rock significantly contributes to the organoleptic characteristics of its olive oil. Optimal conditions for the production of high quality olive oil are also guaranteed by the exceptional microclimate, plentiful sunshine and beneficial sea breezes. The two main olive tree varietals, Kolovi and Adramytini, produce medium-sized olives; Kolovi is also known as Mytilinia or Valanolia (because of the shape of the fruit, which resembles an acorn, or “velanidi” in Greek).
The Adramytini or Aivaliotiki variety comes from the Ayvalik (Aivali in Greek) region on the coast of Asia Minor. The Kolovi variety accounts for 90% of the island’s olive cultivation and is mainly found in the southern and southwestern parts of the island as a monoculture. The Adramytini variety (about 10% of the total) is mainly located in the Mytilene area and in the northern and northeastern parts of the island, overlooking Adramytino Bay. Very small amounts of two other varieties are also scattered around the island: Throumba or Thasitiki and Agrielia.
Why in Lesvos
Lesvos has a significant history of olive οil production
After the Peloponnese and Crete, Lesvos is Greece’s 3rd most important olive oil producing region, accounting for about 20% of the country’s total production. Lesvos (or, in English, Lesbos), is Greece’s third largest island and is located in the northeastern part of the Aegean Sea, at the inlet of Adramytino Bay across from Turkey. Its capital is Mytilene. Lesvos has a significant history in the cultivation of the olive tree and in industrial production of olive oil. Its olive oil is produced from two lesser-known indigenous varietals, Kolovi and Adramytini, and has pronounced organoleptic characteristics that easily sets it apart.
Nobel Prize-winning poet Odysseus Elytis (who was a descendant of the Alepoudelis, an old olive oil industrial family from Lesvos), called Lesvos a “plane tree leaf in the middle of the sea” because of the island’s shape and beauty. It remains an unspoiled, authentic place, ideal for hosting Athena competition’s international jury.
The natural beauties of Lesvos are famous: the bays of Geras and Kalloni, the island’s wetlands, and the petrified forest are part of the Natura 2000 network. The island also belongs to the UNESCO Global Geoparks Network. It has been a cultural center from ancient times to the present and rightly boasts of its 14 museums, three of them dedicated to olives and olive oil, while the island’s numerous beautiful mansions bear witness to its rich social life. A place of agricultural production, it is also known for its ouzo, sardines, cheeses and herbs.
In Greece Lesvos is known as the “garden of the Aegean” and “the island with the bays of olive groves” because of its rich flora, including olive trees, which cover a quarter of its total surface. The vibrant ecosystem of Lesvos, its climate, and its unique landforms and geology contribute to the creation of a distinctive extra virgin olive oil with its own special flavour.
Kolovi and Adramytini
Most branded olive oils from Lesvos are either blends of Kolovi with Adramytini or 100% Kolovi. Kolovi, by the way, is not grown anywhere else in Greece.
Kolovi olive oils immediately stand out for their vivid golden color and delicate texture, setting them apart from the ubiquitous viscous green olive oils.
The color difference is due to a low chlorophyll content and high levels of carotenoids, while the finer texture derives from the higher level of unsaturated fatty acids, which also help maintain the quality characteristics of the olive oil for a long time. In terms of flavour, olive oils from Lesvos are notable for their intense fruitiness on the nose and a generally perfectly balanced mouth with the distinctive presence of bitterness and a pronounced taste of spiciness. What makes them particularly pleasant is the overall complexity of their aromas, their main characteristic being those of green tomatoes and tomato leaves, artichoke and eucalyptus, framed by fresh aromatic herbs, freshly cut grass and green fruit. The usually have a long-lasting aftertaste reminiscent of freshly cut tomatoes.
Olive oils made exclusively from the Adramytini cultivar are extremely rare; this varietal is invariably used as an enhancer in blends with Kolovi, where it contributes exotic fruit and floral notes and a certain sense of grace and elegance to the final blend.