The vineyards and orchards of 450-acre Round Pond Estate are a labor of love for co-owner Ryan MacDonnell and her family. When they decided to expand into olive oil production, Emilio Alvarez, a veteran of the estate since the ‘90s, was a natural choice for mill master. He has steered the growth of the estate’s award-winning oils since 2003 and still gets excited when he starts to see the color in the olives each year.
“It’s a new season: you start in the morning and don’t know when you’re going home,” says Emilio. “It’s fun, it’s challenging, and it’s something really unique here in the Napa Valley.”
Emilio enjoys sharing the process with visitors, including the benefits of using a single press to extract the oil from the paste and capture all the polyphenols and the freshness and pungency. It’s a calling inspired partially by his mother, who would cook everything with olive oil. “I wanted to learn about how olive oil influences health and what makes it really special,” he says.
Rutherford in California's Napa Valley is certainly the place to learn, as its rich soil and mild climate make ideal growing conditions. Emilio encourages people to experience the harvest in November, when you can see the mill in action and its freshly pressed oil glows a vibrant green.
Ryan adds that, in autumn, visitors also have the opportunity to get their oil blended and bottled on demand. It’s the blending that really brings in the artistry. “We have to taste, we have to decide ‘do we think it’s ready, do we not,’” she says.
From one harvest to the next, Ryan and Emilio have weathered those creative judgment calls along with equipment breakdowns and lost-in-translation moments when a mill master visited from Italy. The reward is in the results: a quality homegrown product that captures the essence of the Napa Valley. It’s a place they describe as almost too good to be true—where everyone knows each other’s kids and you’re bound to encounter friends while shopping at markets or hiking along scenic trails.
“What inspires me about the Napa Valley is really the beauty, and it’s not just the physical beauty, but it’s building this business together with my family and working with people like Emilio who are so passionate and inspired by what they do,” reflects Ryan. “Having our kids grow up here and understand that they can work the land and create something beautiful from it; I feel lucky to be here.”