Entering the New Zealand Extra Virgin Olive Oil Awards for the first time paid off for Anita and Alan Blakemore.

The couple picked up a silver medal in the commercial mild blends section at the awards dinner in Masterton recently.

''We're over the moon,'' Mr Blakemore says.

''We're the only grove in South Canterbury regularly producing olive oil, since this is a marginal growing area.


We're producing very, very good oil.''

The Blakemores started growing olives more than 10 years ago.

''We were arable farming in Opihi Valley and looking for something different.''

After selling their farm and looking at properties around the South Island, they decided to stay put in South Canterbury, buying a property in Longview Rd just outside Pleasant Point. Their home has a stunning elevated view towards the Southern Alps.

They raised beef calves, then moved into growing olives.

''We were told there were olive trees up for tender in Nelson,'' Mrs Blakemore says.

''We won the tender and had to take possession of 220 trees. They were in black pots, about 1m tall.''

The process of planting them over 1.2ha of land was laborious, Mr Blakemore digging the holes and Mrs Blakemore planting the trees.


''We put in a triple irrigation system and collected rainwater,'' Mr Blakemore says. ''We watered them four times the first year, two times the second, and nothing after that.''

Mrs Blakemore says they could have had their first harvest in 2006 but there was a big snowstorm and hungry birds helped themselves to the olives.

''Our first harvest was in 2008, which we hand-picked, about 25 litres of oil.

''We got excited and so planted another 200 trees.''

Harvesting the olives begins in mid-June or July and runs over eight to 10 days.

''This year it was in August. The Lions club came from Point to help us with the harvest.''

Between 700 and 800 kilos were taken to a press at Waipara.

''We're the last to get it pressed each season at Waipara.''

The oil returns in 50-litre stainless steel containers which the Blakemores let settle for three or so weeks. Then they start blending it, and bottling it in 250ml and 500ml bottles.

Their oil olive is sold in businesses around the region and they travel to many market days as well.

The judges who awarded them the silver medal said Longview Olives had a delicate flavour on the palate and a rounded finish.

''We won't get rich producing it,'' Mr Blakemore says.

''It's the satisfaction trying to produce really good oil from an area where no-one else produces.''

But they are not resting on their laurels. Their aim is to get better.

''Our goal is to win the competition,'' Mrs Blakemore says smiling.

''We're not likely to do that because we blend all our oil together - others blend to their taste and are more likely to do better.

''But a former New Zealand judge said our oil was as good as anything he'd tasted.''

-By Chris Tobin