Patrick Merry’s mum always told him that money doesn’t grow on trees. But when he saw a productive olive grove for sale in the early 2000s, he thought his time may have come to prove her wrong.
With his background in farming and passion for all things arboricultural, Patrick was a perfect fit for Athena Olives, which is nestled in a lovely sheltered spot just out of central Waipara. As his winemaking neighbours in all directions tend to their grapes, Patrick tends to his 1500+ olive trees, nurturing, thinning, pruning and picking as the seasons progress, then extracting oil, pickling olives and packaging them for sale.
Apart from some hired help during harvesting and pruning, Patrick and his partner Sarah run things themselves on site. They sell green and black table olives as well as Extra Virgin Olive Oil and – if stocks allow – Olive Oil. The difference, Patrick explains, is time; oil starts out as Extra Virgin and after two years from pressing, it reduces to just Olive Oil. However, with Athena’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil so popular, the chances of having enough to mature for two years into Olive Oil are slim to none.
It’s the taste and quality of the Athena Olives products that see them snapped up by local wineries, visitors and previous clients after every harvest. The perfect growing conditions in the Waipara Valley and Patrick’s commitment to spray-free produce are two of the key components in turning out the much-loved products here at Athena. And luckily for those in the know, Patrick and Sarah have no plans to expand outside their existing market. “We take the product quality very seriously, but not the commercial prospects,” explains Patrick. “We mostly operate for the benefits of our local market and have no interest in supplying outside the immediate area.”