Miranda Ottewell’s family fell in love with a crumbling Portuguese quinta, uprooted their life in the US, and set upon a deliciously oily learning curve. – Interview by Katrin Deeg, Autumn 2020
“I like the story of how we found New Dawn Traders,” writes Miranda Ottewell of Quinta do Veloso, nestled in the Alentejo in eastern Portugal. “It’s a story about connections and solidarity, and about how bad luck can turn out to be good luck in the end.”
With plenty of help from teams of volunteers and expert land stewards, Miranda and her family grow the olives behind Os Tres Gatos olive oil.
NDT: How did you and your family find yourselves in eastern Portugal?
MO: My partner Kirster, our son Tor and I moved to Portugal in 2015 from a farm in the countryside outside Charlottesville, Virginia, where we gardened and trained horses. It was a beautiful place, but we could feel the country changing, and we wanted our son to grow up in Europe. We found Quinta do Veloso online and were immediately bewitched, and only more so when we visited it.
The quinta buildings were vast and crumbling, and the olive grove was badly overgrazed by sheep, overrun with brambles and scrub oak, its trees either left unpruned for decades or chopped to stubs for firewood. It was much too much for us, but we loved it unconditionally. With considerable hubris, we decided we’d learn everything we could about olives and olive oil, and somehow make the olival pay for itself.
NDT: What was your first batch of olive oil like?
MO: The first batch of olive oil we proudly made, pressed in the old style between fibre mats at a picturesque old mill an hour’s drive north, could most politely be described as excellent lamp fuel.
But two years later we’d begun to figure out how to make good olive oil.
NDT: How did this new-found love become a business?
MO: A Charlottesville acquaintance who owns a gourmet store introduced us to sommelier and distributor Jill Meyers, who also lives there though we’d never met her, and we were happy when she told us our oil was very good and she wanted to sell it in Virginia. We loved the idea, but we got tangled up in shipping complications, and it didn’t work out in the end.
We decided to focus on Europe instead, but it took us a while to earn organic certification and—even more difficult—find a suitable high-quality certified mill. We’d learned quite a bit meanwhile, and our oil was named second best Portuguese EVOO in the international competition at the ESAO in Valencia. But we still had no real connections, and we met obstacle after obstacle to selling our oil.
Then Jill [Meyers] reappeared, just at the right time; out of the blue she invited me to join a new international support group she’d founded, Women in Olive Oil. The women of WIOO have been incredibly supportive in so many ways. Best of all, I met Marije van den Boogard of Passeite there.
NDT: How did you get involved with New Dawn Traders?
MO: As soon as we saw Marije’s video about New Dawn Traders, we knew we wanted to be involved, and luckily she happened to be looking for an Alentejo oil for the ship. We had an immediate connection, and Marije even drove down from Coimbra with her family to Quinta do Veloso to help package our oil for the ship (and wander around the olive grove with us, of course).
We joined New Dawn Traders very soon before De Gallant’s last sail cargo voyage of the year, so we weren’t able to meet the ship in the UK, or even see it off in Porto. Next year we hope to meet the ship both in London, where my father lives and in Penzance, where our friend and volunteer Kieran lives. This year Kieran met the ship for us and was able to talk to Alexandra at the Ship Shop, so we’ll be satisfied with that for now. In the meantime, we’ll be cleaning up the olival in preparation for harvest, and looking forward to next year—and hopefully many years to come!
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Photograph: Quinta do Veloso
Further reading and inspiration
Quinta do Veloso website and news blog: http://www.quintadoveloso.com/
Women in Olive Oil: https://www.womeninoliveoil.org/
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