Olive grove with green grass growing under the trees and the logo Argali Messinia in the top center of the photo

Giovanni Bianchi is an Italian computer programmer who works in Rome. He is also the producer of Argali Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which was judged one of the best olive oils in the world for 2016. Proud to produce one of the best Greek olive oils, he says his “dream would be to return to Greece and make this great passion my job.”

Born in Thessaloniki, Greece and raised there for eleven years, Bianchi comments, “We are all Italians, but we feel a strong link with Greece.” So in 2004 Bianchi decided to buy land with two small houses and 250 olive trees in Gargalianoi, Messinia, in the western Peloponnese, Greece, for a summer home where he could take his family. Since then, Bianchi has been “dreaming and thinking about olive oil.”

Tired of his stressful computer work, he feels “the physical and spiritual need to do something to put me in harmony with nature.” While Bianchi works in Rome, his father takes care of the day to day operations in the olive grove. However, during the November harvest, the February bottling, and the pruning in April, Bianchi is always present and involved in the work.

He received an organic certification from BioHellas, took olive oil tasting classes in Italy, and joined UMAO, the Mediterranean Union of Oil Tasters, in Rome. “These people have opened my eyes to a new world. They told me about harvesting and storage techniques, but above all they explained to me the correct processing mode for the mill. Fortunately the millers, even if not convinced, agreed to work with my olives as I wanted.” The first results arrived last year—and what results they were!

Modestly hoping for a Silver medal “or maybe at best a Gold,” Bianchi was amazed and delighted when Argali won a Best in Class award at the prestigious New York International Olive Oil Competition (NYIOOC). Bianchi “knew that the quality of Argali had improved a lot thanks to the advice of Italian and Greek experts including Vasilis Kamvisis, who in the last two years have helped me so much, but to see Argali ‘Best in Class’ was a unique and unexpected emotion!”

That award followed a Gold Award at the BIOL international competition for organic extra virgin olive oils and a Best Varietal Olive Oils award at the Athena International Olive Oil Competition, and preceded a Prestige Gold at the TerraOlivo competition in Israel and designation as one of the top 25 organic olive oils in the world.

Bianchi says his awards “confirm that the path that I have undertaken is the right one” and provide a “reward for the sacrifices and the courage to change and choose a different path.” He does not plan to sit back and relax after his success; on the contrary, “I am determined and motivated to continue to improve the quality of my oil with respect for the environment and for the people working with me.”

Bianchi is serious about this. Recognizing that work in olive groves is difficult, he provides his employees with health insurance and protective glasses as well as home cooked food and a relaxed, cooperative atmosphere. He also takes good care of the trees and the land.

When he first saw his olive trees, some of them over 100 years old, Bianchi reports that he “immediately decided that I would never interfere with a balance that has lasted for centuries. In the past, trees were not irrigated and have grown by adapting to difficult conditions.” He insists on organic cultivation, manual grass cutting instead of using a tractor “in order not to harm or kill the turtles and snakes,” and “total renunciation of irrigation” out of consideration for “the already overexploited aquifers.”

Without irrigation, “the production is very limited, but the trees give the olives that they are able to give in those conditions,” and their olives “are much less vulnerable to the olive fly, since in the summer they become dry and hard.”

Woman bending over to gather olives into a plastic crate from a large pile on a net, during Argali's olive harvest in November 2015
Argali's Olive Harvest, November 2015

Aware that “perfect olives can give a poor quality oil if the crusher does not follow some simple rules,” Bianchi convinced the miller in Gargalianoi to use clean water for washing the olives as well as short malaxation times and low temperatures (for cold extraction). Milling and bottling are done in the olive mill situated alongside his olive grove, enabling Bianchi to crush the harvested olives every day.

At the end of June, Bianchi participated in an event that aimed to raise awareness about high quality olive oil in Rome. He says he “was invited as a Greek producer to show the Italians (who are notoriously skeptical) that Greece produces a good olive oil.” In the strange position of a “guest” in his own city, he noticed that “some people were intrigued by the participation of a Greek producer at an event on quality oils. In Italy, Greek oil is often associated with a decent but cheap product found in supermarkets, and never a high quality product for gourmets and olive oil lovers.”

In recent years, many Greek producers have provided good reasons to revise this view, and Bianchi believes Italians need to understand that. Bianchi added, “when I am in Italy I identify myself as a Greek, and when I am in Greece I identify as an Italian.” In the field of olive oil production, he is “trying to blend the positive aspects of the two cultures.” And his goals resemble those of many of the best Greek producers.

Bianchi explains that he “started to produce oil for my children, and I continue to do that with the same love and the same care,” selling only what his family does not need. He has no interest in producing a large quantity of olive oil; “my only goal is to produce oil with the highest possible quality,” meaning “the highest amount of polyphenols combined with a harmony of aromas and flavors.” He emphasizes, “I am not a company but only a small and passionate producer!” Passionate about extra virgin olive oil, he certainly is.