Michalis Tzortzis

The centennial olive grove paves the way to the new era

We began our journey at dawn, crossing the eastern side of Lesvos island, from the southeast to the northeast, to meet Michalis Tzortzis, successor to the long family tradition of olive growers.

With an imposing presence yet soft-spoken and calm in his movements, he welcomed us in the 1000m2 modern facilities of the company, in the village of Pigi, where the two-phase Pieralisi olive mill, with a capacity of about 2.5 tons of fruit per hour, the bottling and the storage areas are housed.

Michalis is the 4th generation of olive growers. His great-grandfather first created and cultivated the 350 acres olive grove, situated at a 300-meter altitude, and then his grandfather took over, who after finishing school which was still rare at that time, assumed the management of the three private olive mills that were operating at that time in Pigi. Back then that is, between the two wars but also earlier on, olive cultivation was almost the only occupation of the islanders.

In 1935, grandfather Tzortzis won the 1st prize for his olive oil at the Thessaloniki International Fair, which to this day hangs proudly in his grandson’s and successor’s office. Father Tzortzis, whom we were fortunate to have with us on the day of the visit, as Michalis says “he remains more active than me”, comes as the 3rd generation. He studies to be a captain but he will never practice his profession. Instead he follows the family tradition and expands into rabbit breeding, creating the current facilities, until 1981, when the country’s entry into the EEC creates new market conditions. From 1982 to 2005, the facilities remain closed.

“Our family olive grove is the link to our roots and our legacy to the future generations” 

Michalis, for his part, decides to draw his own path and studies Mechanical Engineering at the Technological Educational Institute of Chalkida, having had a particular inclination to all kinds of mechanical equipment from an early age. After a short stay in Athens, he returns to Lesvos and in the autumn of 2004, he decides to turn to the cultivation of the family olive grove and the standardization of olive oil, working for about a year on his father’s dreams and reviving the family facilities in 2005. In the beginning, trading the product in the domestic market proved to be difficult and unprofitable as it is very competitive and operates with unfavorable commercial conditions for the producers, a fact that drives Michalis to seek new markets abroad. His products take part in international competitions and gain significant awards recognizing their high quality, which opens the door to the international markets mainly in Europe and soon in the US. The capacity of the company reaches today 350 tons, of which about 150 tons involve standardized product while the continuous increase in demand, offers the prospect of an increase in production.

The company is certified with ISO 22000:2005 for the extraction of olives and production of organic olive oil as well as for the processing, packaging, storage and trading of organic products by the DIO organization. It is also certified according to the Demeter standard for biodynamic cultivation and for the storage and standardization of olive oil based on the standard, FSSC 22000, by the certification body TUV Austria Hellas.

The olive grove contains in a ratio of 70-30 the indigenous varieties of Adramytini and Kolovi while Olvia Green Organic EVOO is an early harvest blend of both varieties, with Adramytini being the dominant one, in a dark glass bottle of 250ml, which is decorated with a carved pewter label and the cap made of natural cork wood.

“The individual promotional activities of a family business and the excellent quality of olive oil are not enough for its products to reach new markets”

With pride but also with a sense of responsibility for the heavy legacy he carries, Michalis is well aware that in today’s world, science and technology contribute greatly in the success and distinction of a business. Towards this end, in collaboration with the Region of the Northern Aegean, the Department of Rural Development of Lesvos and the Agricultural University of Athens (AUA), a team was created and led by Mr. Antonis Tsagkarakis, Professor of the Laboratory of Agricultural Zoology & Entomology at the AUA, for developing and applying a bait spray system by drone as a reinforcing method to the classical one in addressing the olive fruit fly. The spraying is carried out with an organic formula and results are excellent so far as the reduction of fly populations is achieved substantially without affecting other insect populations and the economic benefit is equally important.

In the context of organic farming, according to a study by the Hellenic Agricultural Organization – DIMITRA and the Italian legislation, in the last five years the irrigation of 60 acres of the olive grove is carried out with the “katsigaros” (the vegetable waters of the olive that result during the milling) in an experimental stage, as a natural fertilizer. The results show a clear improvement of specific soil components such as phosphorus and potassium, while the flora of the olive grove has not experienced any deterioration and at the same time there is a difference of 15-20% higher concentration of phenols in the olive oil. Finally, in the last three years he actively participates in a program implemented by the Region of the Northern Aegean with Mr. Nikos Thomaidis, Professor of Analytical Chemistry at the University of Athens as scientific coordinator, entitled “Mapping the gene profile of the Lesvos olive”, which concerns equally the two indigenous varieties of the island. The results of the research that are expected in the near future, will be valuable knowledge for the proper cultivation of these varieties, the good practices for the milling of the fruit, the proper management of the olive oil produced and its bioactive content, namely which olive oil components and how they contribute to the health of the human body.