Technology and Farming: How One Tech CEO’s Passion for Sonoma County Land Bloomed into Award Winning Olive Oil
Article and photos by Rachel LaFranchi
Published November 1, 2016
|Ridgely Evers and his wife Colleen McGlynn, the owners of DaVero. DaVero has more than 5,000 olive trees in Healdsburg and won awards around the world for thier olive oil. The husband and wife duo also have a passion for Italian wine and grow several rare varietals.|
Ridgely Evers was born in Cleveland, Ohio and moved to Palo Alto, Calif. as a teenager. He has spent the last 49 years writing code in the Silicon Valley, often known as “the guy who created QuickBooks”. Now, Evers is also the driving force behind DaVero, known around the world for their high-quality olive oil and Italian wines.
Evers was living in San Francisco in the early 80’s, and while he didn’t want to move to the suburbs, he wanted his children “to know what green was.” He looked for property for over a year before he fell in love with a piece of property on Westside Road in Healdsburg at first sight.
He purchased that piece of property in 1982 and started coming up for the weekend, but he quickly found it shifting to going to the city for the week and coming home to Healdsburg. He was joined on the property by his wife Colleen McGlynn, a professional chef who shares his love for Italy and agriculture, in 1993.
After buying the property, Evers decided he should grow something, but he didn’t want to grow grapes. What about olives, Evers had asked himself, how hard can that be?
Evers was the first to import olive trees from Italy to the US in the 20th century, and he took the cuttings from trees more than 800 years old in the Italian countryside. He planted the olive trees on his property and produced his first olive oil in 1994. Since that year, Evers said DaVero’s Olive Oil has won every award possible, although they no longer enter it in competitions.
Evers said he expected growing olives and producing oil would be hard, but quickly learned that the process “couldn’t be easier.” Evers said the most important decision when growing olives was where to plant the trees. Olive trees have a long cycle, taking 25 years to reach full production. Evers described olives as a marginal crop taking a long time to mature and producing a low yield, especially compared to grapes.
Evers said the next most important decision after deciding where to plant was what variety to plant. There are more than 900 varieties of olives to choose from. DaVero’s trees are from an ancient olive grove in the Tuscany region of Italy and a blend of 50% Leccino, 25% Frantoio, 15% Maurino, and 10% Pendolino.
The third decision Evers makes is what day to pick the olives. Unlike grapes, olives can’t be tasted for flavor and Evers has to decide when to pick by looking at the olives.
From there, the process of making oil is mechanical. With ripe olives and a clean press, Evers has found producing an extra virgin olive oil to be easy.
Evers said the biggest issue with US consumers is old oil; it’s never better than the day it’s made. However, to a consumer oil will taste fresh for a couple years unless you are tasting it alongside something freshly pressed.
“There’s nothing like just pressed olive oil,” said Evers.
DaVero now has more than 5,000 olive trees, the oldest of which are just reaching maturity.
While Evers has found producing olive oil to be relatively easy, farming itself hasn’t always been easy. In 2001, a late rain damaged his olive crop, and that year his olive oil return was about four percent of normal. Evers has also hired a full time “soilkeeper” to restore the soil’s organic matter, a challenge he said he’s still working on.
Evers began growing grapes in the early 2000’s, producing his first viable grape crop in 2008. He found the grapes to be more of a challenge than olives but said the knowledge gained from growing olives helped.
Alongside his Italian olives, Evers planted Italian grapes. He planted Sagrantino, a rare Italian varietal after he tried a wine which blew him away. DaVero also planted Sangiovese and several other varieties of Italian wines.
In addition to his love for Italy, Evers is passionate about growing Italian because he believes the climate in Sonoma County best matches that of Italy. Based on the Köppen Climate map, Evers said the climate of the Italian peninsula better matches Sonoma County than France. He said Europeans have been searching for the vines that best suited their climate for centuries, and it makes sense a variety which thrive in one climate would grow well in a similar one.
“The Italian varieties love it here. We just let them grow and then harvest by flavor instead of chemistry,” said Evers. “It’s all part of the idea of growing what belongs here. We are working with nature instead of against it.”
Juan Valladares has been DaVero’s farm manager for the past 34 years, working with Evers to produce top quality wine and olive oil.
DaVero is certified Biodynamic, and in addition to growing grapes and olives, the property is home to sheep, chickens and hogs, which all visitors to the tasting room have the opportunity to meet. In addition to livestock, the farm also has a biodynamic garden. Evers enjoys the opportunity to share agriculture with the general public and feels it’s important for people to know where their food comes from.
The DaVero wine club is a cross between a traditional wine club and a CSA. Members who join will get a shipment of six or 12 bottles three times a year. However, in addition to wine, the shipment includes olive oil, vinegars, jams and other products produced by the farm.
DaVero hosts several events throughout the year, including one they call TDAT, short for The Day After Thanksgiving. TDAT, held on the day traditionally known as Black Friday, is aimed at encouraging people to do something other than go to the mall. Evers said TDAT is not about sales, rather it’s about family and hanging out.
“We don’t care if someone buys something,” said Evers, “but it’s important to leave here having learned something.”
Evers has been the CEO of six different tech companies and is the current CEO of TrustPipe. He said the tech industry has influenced how he farms, but much more than that, farming has influenced how he approaches the technology world. Farming has taught him patience and to focus on the important things.
Evers said he’s grateful that he’s been able to be at the leading edge of technology as well as farming. However, he said there’s no way he could be where he is today if he’d had a successful tech career then switched to farming.
He feels that if he’d come into farming post-tech career he wouldn’t have been as successful – it would have made him “on the land, not of the land.” He said he wouldn’t have had the passion nor the knowledge. However, today, he’s passionate about farming. He said he has, at one point, completed all the jobs around the farm, and while he might do them poorly, he still has the knowledge to do them all.
“Farming is hard, but it’s fun and ultimately it’s extremely rewarding,” said Evers.
Evers said his favorite quote is a Chinese proverb: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
For more information visit davero.com.