olive groves in the foreground, snowy mountains in the background with cloud covered tops, the Sparta Groves logo in the lower right corner

A few years ago, Dimitris Tsarpalis convinced a group of Greek olive oil producers near Sparta to form a union focused on exporting their extra virgin olive oil throughout the world. This group created Spartan Union and Sparta Groves, combining traditional knowledge with modern technology to produce some of the finest olive oil in Greece—and on earth.

Dimitris explains that he “produces olive oil for my personal consumption and for selected buyers.” This was not always the case. Like many Greeks, he grew up eating food drenched in oil from his family’s olive trees—in his case, trees in the Peloponnese peninsula, some very close to the Palace of Nestor. During his youth, his family simply pressed their olives and used their oil at home, as they had for six generations. “We were always using a lot of olive oil, but I really knew nothing about it.”

That changed when Dimitris was inspired “to aim for quality.” He decided it was time for Greek olive oils to earn the global distinction their unique flavors deserved, rather than having their special taste lost in blends from various countries. He studied extensively and attended many seminars, then joined forces with open minded farmers to put his education to good use. “After talking endless hours, they were convinced” to take measures to produce the highest quality extra virgin olive oil. Now, they don’t use linen sacks, but transport their olives to the mill in special baskets; they don’t leave the olives until the next day, but “no matter how tired they are, they go to the mill” with their olives the day they harvest them.

As a result of this special care, Sparta Groves Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) has very low acidity--between 0.15% and 0.3%, far less than the standard for extra virgin olive oil, 0.8%. Moreover, their EVOO’s fine organoleptic characteristics have earned Sparta Groves 29 awards in international olive oil competitions in just the past two years, “encouraging us to continue our hard work with love and care,” according to company representative Natasha Mangou.

Sparta Groves EVOO now reaches both small gourmet shops and the outlets of large global retailers in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. It comes from the area around Sparta in Laconia, Peloponnese, and from the scenic southern island of Crete—two of the most famous, and most successful, olive oil producing regions in Greece. The Tsarpalis family owns more than 2500 olive trees, while the Spartan Union's farms cultivate 30,000 olive trees, producing approximately 200 metric tons of olive oil each year.

This includes ultra premium and organic extra virgin olive oils, as well as EVOOs aromatized with natural fruit extracts such as wasabi and chili; EVOOs seasoned with lemon juice or handpicked herbs, including oregano, thyme, and garlic; and EVOOs flavored with natural extracts such as blood orange, truffle, basil, and chocolate. Dimitris points out that their “olive oil with blood orange or chocolate is great on ice cream,” and all their products add distinctive touches to a variety of recipes.

“Always seeking to learn new things and create unique products of premium quality to satisfy all our customers,” as Natasha says, Sparta Groves has also created a range of products that includes natural Himalayan salts, flavored balsamic creams, and raw, unfiltered Greek honey.

The company’s flagship product is their First Green Gold Early Harvest, Handpicked Extra Virgin Olive Oil. For this distinctive olive oil, unripe green Athinoelia olives are handpicked in late September or early October. Then they are hand sorted, with crushed and defective olives rejected. Selected olives are carefully transported to the best mill in the area for cold extraction.

several people hand sorting green olives at a table in an olive grove

The First Green Gold EVOO is bottled the next day, rather than being stored in tanks, to give consumers only the freshest olive oil from the current harvest. Each bottle is hand wrapped in recycled paper, with the harvest, pressing, and bottling dates noted on the numbered limited edition bottles--providing a highly unusual amount of information about the oil’s precise level of freshness. The bottles are stored at carefully controlled temperatures below 20 degrees Celsius to maintain the oil’s quality and impressive health benefits.        

The resulting healthy phenolic content--especially the oleocanthal and oleacein concentrations—in this First Green Gold are far higher than in the average olive oil. The importance of this has been recognized by European Union Regulation 432/2012, which allows a health claim on such olive oils that states “Olive oil polyphenols contribute to the protection of blood lipids from oxidative stress.” Oleocanthal and oleacein do even more than that; scientific studies provide evidence that oleocanthal has effects similar to ibuprofen, and these compounds have been associated with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, cardioprotective, and neuroprotective activity.   

This is remarkable for a natural product without any side effects. Of course, the ancient Greeks were aware of olive oil’s health benefits long ago. And today many older Greeks in olive oil producing regions start their day with a soup spoon of raw olive oil, like their ancestors.

The Sparta Groves team feels a proud affection for the ancient olive trees growing in their groves. They call their oldest olive tree “Grea,” the word ancient Greeks used for an elderly lady or a grandmother. Its exact age cannot be ascertained, since that would require cutting it down to count the rings showing yearly development, but the tree’s diameter suggests that it is 1200-1500 years old.

That makes Grea an eyewitness to local history over the centuries: wars, invasions, and the changing dominion of Spartans, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Ottomans, and finally modern Greeks. This long-lived Grea still manages to produce approximately 150 kilograms of olives and 35 kilograms of wonderful extra virgin olive oil every year.

The ancient olive trees of Greece live on, continuing to contribute to the land they have nurtured over the millennia. Conscientious olive farmers such as the Spartan Union members nurture them and their younger counterparts, treasuring the fresh olive juice they now share with the world.