Olives – they grow on you

Dec. 12, 2023 | 5 Min read
A pre-retirement plan for Imre and Sue Menschelyi turned out to be a little more than they bargained for when the family purchased an old dairy farm on 40ha at Karridale in WA.

A pre-retirement plan for Imre and Sue Menschelyi turned out to be a little more than they bargained for when the family purchased an old dairy farm on 40ha at Karridale in WA.

Bought purely for the location in 2002, son Andrew said the fact it had olive trees on it was incidental – at the time.

“The farm had an old piggery half converted for accommodation, a 16-stand dairy, overgrown grass everywhere and an olive grove we knew absolutely nothing about managing,” Mr Menschelyi said.

Fast forward a couple of decades and Whirlwind Farm is now unrecognisable.

Following the regenerative path, cattle, sheep and poultry are now central to management of the olives and the property includes a bespoke farm shop, a Barigelli olive press, three sheds, a caretaker’s residence and a family home.

“The first few years we ran the property as a weekender but with 2500 olives trees that soon became impossible – once we started harvesting more oil than we could give away to family and friends we knew we had to make some changes,” he said.

Olive varieties grown on the property include Fran Toi, WA Mission and Paragon.

Harvest begins in April but the WA Mission and Paragon varieties can’t be mechanically harvested because their olives don’t fall off the tree -they are manually harvested by eight backpackers with electric rakes, and it can take up to two weeks.

“It is a very time-consuming process.”

After harvest it is straight into pruning.

They have tried quite a few different methods over time and are currently chopping down 25 per cent of the tree every year which in theory means after four years, the entire tree has been pruned. This usually takes the farm manager two months to complete.

The trees are fertilised as organically as possible by livestock and topped up with trace elements.

Flowering is in September - October and fruit set is a critical time of the year.

The grove is watered via 20km of drip line irrigation which helps with water efficiency in what is predominantly a very dry climate.

“We live in the south west part of WA which is one of the wetter parts of the state but we can still have issues and run out of water over summer, so we have to manage that very carefully.”

The driplines are also at the mercy of kangaroos who have been known to rip them up when they pass through.

Initially the family were travelling up to 200km to get their olives processed but that soon changed when they installed their own olive press 12 years ago.

The press is capable of processing 400kg of olives an hour.

The Barigelli olive press is a centrepiece in the Whirlwind production program. 

“The press has really helped us control our own destiny because we can process within 24 hours of harvest which is ideal for oil.”

When the family first started with the press, there were quite a few boutique producers in the region who got the Menschelyi’s to press their olives, but over the years that has declined by about 80 per cent.

“Small olive groves are very labor intensive and there just isn’t enough money in it anymore.”

The location of the farm on the Bussell Highway in the Margaret River region in the deep southwest of the state proved fortuitous when it came to establishing the farm store, which sells Whirlwind products, including extra virgin olive oil, fused oils with flavours grown on the farm and a variety of kalamata olives.

Some of the products created by the team. 

“Our table olives are picked by hand and cured for 9-12 months before they are packed in brine or a variety of different marinades, they are extremely popular in the store,” Mr Menschelyi said.

There is also a range of dukkah and balsamic products and farm tastings.

Customers can also purchase a one-off stainless steel can in a range of sizes from 5-30 litres that is filled with oil and can be returned to the farm and replaced.

This is now well supported by Whirlwind’s customer base.

“We found it was costing a lot to buy a glass bottle and label it, especially when customers just throw them in the bin when they are finished. The cans prevent waste and offer good value once they have been purchased.”

Mr Menschelyi said managing the farm is a big job with constant attention paid to bugs, weeds and weather – they even had a mini tornado rip through the farm this year.

“Our farm is only 400m wide and it moved down the farm in a 150m strip knocking over trees, fences and a sheep shelter. It created a nightmare and three months of repair work cutting up the fallen trees and fixing fences.”

He laughs as he said if the family knew what they were in for when they first purchased the property, they would never have bought it.

“It has been a real labor of love for us though and we are very proud with what we have achieved over the years,” he said.

Categories Olives

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