At Hacienda Guzman, Promoting Olive Culture by Celebrating its Diversity

Juan Ramón Guillén began bringing back saplings of different varieties of olive trees from his travels. Now, his 'Olivotheque' is among the largest collections of olive cultivars in the world.

Walking along the lines of olive trees of the Olivotheque at the Hacienda Guzman, one can travel around the olive oil world without moving from this estate in Seville.

This sort of botanical garden with 150 varieties of olive trees from 13 countries is a world map of the diversity of the Olea Europea.

Some 30 years ago, Juan Ramón Guillén, a long-time olive oil producer and businessman, began bringing back saplings of different varieties of olive trees from his travels.

Now, his collection is among the largest collections of cultivars of olive trees in the world.

It is one of the main projects of the Juan Ramon Foundation, an organization intended to promote olive oil culture: what started out of passion and pleasure took then a new scientific and educational turn.

We meet Ana Sánchez, general coordinator of the foundation, at the entrance of Haciencia Guzmán.

“This is a living olive trees museum. Our aim is to study and analyze the properties of each cultivar. Every harvest, every year, we analyze the performance and the properties of every variety: their level of polyphenols, their level of antioxidants…” she told Olive Oil Times.

This sixteenth-century estate just 15 km away from Seville was once was managed by Hernando Colombus, the son of Christopher Colombus, and played a relevant role in the first exports of olive oil to the Americas.

It still is a place devoted to olive oil: from the recently restored mill to the modern facilities where Hacienda Guzmán extra virgin olive oil (a commercial project that runs in parallel to the foundation) is produced.

The Olivotheque — an orchard-like olive tree arboretum — lies in front of the white and red Andalusian style mansion.

A visitor can observe the different shapes and colors of the leaves and compare the bunches of tiny Arbequinas from Catalonia with the egg-sized Italian Uovo di Pichone olives, the Portuguese Cobrancosa, the Syrian Chami or the Turkish Kan Celebi.

Some of these cultivars — such as the Greek Koroneikis or the Nabali from Israel — are exalted for their oil in their countries of origin.

Others, like the big Gordal olives are mainly table olives with very little oil interest. Some are simply ornamental, as the Zarza, a variety whose brain-shaped fruits seem to suffer some kind of malformation. 

“This is what interests us: to see how each cultivar reacts to this soil, to this region, and to this climate. Because we may be surprised and there may be a variety from a different country which works very well here,” Sánchez pointed out. More