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Fans of olives gather for blessings in Sonoma

  • Father Michael Kelly of St. Francis Solano Church, blesses two-year-old Olive Jane Anderson with holy water while she is held by her grandmother Cena Jane Hartley, during the Blessing of the Olives at Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma in Sonoma, Calif., on January 4, 2014. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat) Blessing of the OlivesAlvin Jornada

A small crowd gathered inside the chapel of Sonoma's historic downtown mission Saturday to pay tribute to the olive, Sonoma County's stalwart but lesser known fruit crop.

A priest presiding over the ceremony to kick off an annual two-month celebration of all things olive even paired it with the region's dominant wine grape, calling them both "ancient fruits of the earth."

"Sometimes we look at the olive and think it's a lowly fruit," said the Rev. Michael Kelly of St. Francis Solano Catholic Church. "Really, it is a very noble and very high fruit."

Blessing of the Olives

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The morning ceremony marked the start of the Sonoma Valley Olive Season, a string of events stretching into mid-February that includes olive-curing workshops, oil tastings, a martini competition and olive-themed menus prepared by local chefs.

Now in its 13th year, the festival has been used by tourism promoters to bolster wintertime business in what are typically the slowest months of the year for the area's restaurants and hotels.

The celebration has coincided with what is normally the completion of the olive harvest around the end of the calender year.

"This is part of our way of honoring what happens right here in our community and sharing it with the rest of the world," said Wendy Peterson, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, which organizes the series of events.

For olive aficionados, the celebration shines a spotlight on the area's extensive heritage in olive production, stretching back to the days of Spanish missions in California.

Custom olive oil producers have spurred a revival of late, with new tasting and milling spots boosting the area covered by olive orchards in the county by more than 20 percent since 2011, to more than 700 acres.

That won't displace wine grapes, which dominate local farming, spanning more than 58,000 acres. Apples rank in second place above olives, covering about 2,200 acres in the county.


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