Woodstock Entrepreneur Imports Olive Oil From Family Groves in Greece

  • Honey produced from bees in Greece are displayed on a table during a tasting for The Olive Table products at the Woodstock Farmers' Market in Woodstock, Vt., on Oct. 24, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Courtesy photograph

  • Diane Hinaris, of Woodstock, Vt., founder of The Olive Table, speaks to customers during a tasting for her olive oil and honey at the Woodstock Farmers' Market in Woodstock, Vt., on Oct. 23, 2016 while . (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Sarah Priestap

  • Patrons try two different varieties of olive oil during a tasting for The Olive Table products at the Woodstock Farmers' Market in Woodstock, Vt., on Oct. 23, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Olive Table, which is based in Woodstock, imports olive oil from Hinaris family groves in Messenia, Greece, to sell to individuals and retail stores in the U.S.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/25/2016 9:00:15 PM
Modified: 10/26/2016 12:25:23 AM

For years, part-time Woodstock residents Takis Hinaris, who is originally from Greece, and his wife, Dianne, received an annual gift of olive oil made from olives grown on the Hinaris family’s land in Messenia.

One year in a fluke, instead of one 20-liter tin, or about 5.3 gallons, the Hinarises ended up with twice as much. To manage the overflow, they began giving away small bottles to friends.

The strong flavor — distinct from most brands available commercially in the U.S. — appealed to their friends, who encouraged them to sell the olive oil. At the time, both Hinarises were working full-time, so they shelved the idea.

But, in 2011, Dianne Hinaris had a break between consulting assignments in the financial services industry, and she took time to investigate what it would take to bring the oil to market. By the end of the year, Hinaris had founded the Woodstock-based company known as The Olive Table, and by mid-2012 she was selling her first product, a private estate oil from her husband’s family groves in Kyparissia in Messenia, Peloponnese, Greece.

“It was like the birth of a baby,” Hinaris said in an interview earlier this month at the couple’s Woodstock home.

They spend weekends in Woodstock — they also own a home in Westchester County, N.Y. — and eventually plan to retire there. Takis Hinaris will be 65 in November and plans to step away from his position as an executive in a software company within the next couple of years. Dianne Hinaris is seven years his junior.

As a “one-woman show,” Dianne Hinaris started small, shipping the oil to the U.S. in the same 5.3-gallon tins her mother-in-law had used. By the next year, she began importing 55-gallon drums of oil. This year, she sold out of the two types of oil she sells, private estate and early harvest oils — a total of more than 800 gallons — and plans to import more next year.

A Vermont-based olive oil company is unusual. While the oil is not produced in the Green Mountains — olive trees might grow in this climate, but could not produce fruit, Hinaris said — the Hinaris’ family connection to the olive groves in Greece gives customers an uncommon link to Mediterranean flavors.

Takis Hinaris, who moved to the U.S. in 1976 for graduate school and has lived here ever since, grew up in Kyparissa — a town on the Ionian Sea with a population of about 6,000, which grows to 10,000 in the summer. Hinaris spent summers on the farm and the olive harvest and refining were big parts of his childhood, he said in an email.

“I still remember the times that there were not automatic separation of the olives and the leaves that are mixed during harvesting,” he said. “We had to wait for the sundown when a light breeze would start and the strongest man or woman would use a shovel and throw the ‘mix’ as high up as possible.”

The leaves and olives would land in distinct piles, separated by the breeze, he said.

Hinaris’ father, Themistocles Hinaris, would toast “the best bread” and bring it to the olive oil extraction, which happened late at night. They soaked the toast in the fresh oil, his father saying, “there is no better taste than fresh oil out of the press,” Hinaris recalled.

“And he was right,” he said. “We would finish the whole loaf during the night.”

Olive oil is an important part of Greek life, used in cooking and soap, and even seen as a source of longevity.

“Our area produces some of the best olive oils in the world and people would come from other areas to buy our local olive oil and handle it with such care,” he said. “We never understood why, as for us it was such a part of our life, an everyday thing that when we ran out, my mother would go downstairs to the large 1,000-pound tank to get more and more.”

The Olive Table’s products are popular at the Woodstock Farmers’ Market because of their quality and the connection to the people and place where the oils are produced, said Amelia Rappaport, the store’s grocery department manager.

“This way we have our own local version (of olive oil),” she said. “(It’s a) great fit for us because we love to show off people’s handcrafted foods that we feel are great quality.”

Dianne Hinaris delivers the oil personally. She does demonstrations, offers samples, suggests uses and listens to feedback from people at the stores and events she visits.

“It’s very collaborative,” Rappaport said. “They’re always open to ideas and suggestions.”

Taking the business from concept to reality wasn’t easy, said Dianne Hinaris, who had no previous background in the retail food industry. She was naive going into the endeavor, she said. “I laugh sometimes about how little I knew.”

Initially, Hinaris thought she would be able to bottle the oil herself at home, but she soon realized that was unrealistic. Through a series of conversations with friends and acquaintances in the food industry, she found a storage facility and co-packer in Connecticut, selected bottles, worked with a graphic designer to have a label designed and figured out how to get a nutrition panel and a barcode. Takis Hinaris sorted out the details of importing the oil.

Since its founding, the company has grown to include a second product, a certified-organic early harvest oil from a grove owned by Takis Hinaris’ cousin, Spyros Kotsovolos, in their grandmother’s village in Messenia, Greece.

More recently, Hinaris has also begun importing a variety of Greek honeys from bees pollinating specific crops: chestnuts, fir of Vytina, oak, orange blossom, pine and Mediterranean heather.

The oils sell equally well, Hinaris said. The early harvest oil is even more pungent and robust than the private estate oil.

They are both “finishing oils,” intended for use on cooked foods such as pasta or on salads, or eating with bread, Hinaris said. The private reserve, which has a milder flavor, can be used for light cooking such as sauteing or roasting. They should not be used with high heat for an extended period, she said.

The honeys are good with oatmeal, yogurt, cheese, tea and crepes, she said.

She sells the oils and honeys online, through her website, theolivetable.com, and to retailers around the country, including several in the Upper Valley. Online, the private reserve sells for $17.99 and the early harvest sells for $22.99 for 16.9-fluid-ounce bottles.

Year-to-date, the Woodstock Farmers’ Market — one of Hinaris’ best customers — has sold 143 bottles of the private reserve and 150 bottles of the organic early harvest and 52 jars of assorted honeys, Rappaport said.

The olive oils can also be found at Main Street Kitchens in Hanover. Salesperson Lisa Newcity said they sell well.

“We don’t carry much food, really, but that is a great gift for someone who has everything,” she said.

She also enjoys the oil herself, just for eating, on salads or bread.

“No one in my house is allowed to use it for cooking,” Newcity said. “It definitely tastes different than what you buy in the grocery store.”

The flavor of the oil is something that has grown on Dianne Hinaris. In the years before she began the business, Hinaris wouldn’t eat the oil her mother-in-law sent. It was too strong for her taste.

“It makes me cough, it makes my throat burn,” she recalled saying to her husband.

He replied, “But that’s a good thing. That’s how it’s supposed to be,” she said.

She has since learned that there should be three components to the flavor: fruitiness, bitterness and pepperiness, she said.

“So many people have not had oil like this,” she said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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