The heart of western Sicily is home to the organic olive groves of Miceli and Sensate.
Co-founders Paolo Miceli and Sergio Sensat told Olive Oil Times that the award-winning startup is more than just a farming operation with a forward-looking philosophy regarding the environment and local community.
Our idea was to leave a mark and grow olive trees that will be strong and thriving for a very long time. We have landscaped a large area of trees that will still be there in 500 years or more.
Miceli & Sensat received two Gold Awards at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition for its Delicato brand, a blend of Biancolilla, Cerasuola and Arbequina olives, and the Nocellara del Belice single-varietal olive.
““Our company is the fruit of the love of the land passed down to us by our families,” Miceli said. “With one in Montreal, Italy and the other in Barcelona, Spain, they have been linked to olive oil production for generations.
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“In fact, Sergio still has the oil can bearing his family crest dating back to 1860.” “As we grew up in different countries and contexts, during our childhood, we were immersed in the beautiful things and sound values centered around olive oil.
When the time came, they started working in communications in their homes. At the end of the 1990s, they met in Spain, where Miceli moved shortly after from Sicily. In Barcelona, he and Sensat founded a communications company that became one of the most respected companies in the sector.
“In 2009, the owner of the olive oil company Finca La Gramanosa, one of our clients, asked me if, in addition to our communications consulting, we could also support him in running the business because he had to find a new CEO. Miceli said. “The lure of olive oil, which still lurked somewhere deep in my heart, prompted me to accept.
He was assigned to run the company for a short period. However, his tenure was long enough to achieve some challenging business goals, including making the highest quality extra virgin olive oil and opening new markets.
To achieve this goal, Miceli has assembled a team of leading international experts, mostly Italian, with whom he has worked for several years to manufacture first-class products.
“With them, I delved into what it really means to produce excellence, and it was really like doing a 10-year master’s degree in high-quality production.
““Ultimately, I was the managing director of the company until the end of 2020,” Miceli added. “For this reason we can say that a long preparatory process preceded the founding of our farm. “It’s a completely new project with a long story behind it.”
Miceli became extremely passionate, almost obsessed, with quality, Sensat said.
“It was 2015 when I started thinking that, with his enthusiastic attitude and all the experience he had gained, we could easily start a company of our own.
““It would allow us to get back in touch with nature, but more importantly, at that point in life, we felt a desire to do something really useful for society,” Sensat added. “For example, through our farm, we can provide employment while tangibly promoting sustainability.
Miceli and Sensat were looking for land to buy when Miceli’s mother and sisters offered them their property in Monreale, near Palermo in Sicily.
““It’s a beautiful, unspoiled place, with thriving forests covering the hills around Lake Garcia,” Miceli said. “We bought out my aunts’ shares and eventually recreated the estate that had belonged to my maternal grandfather.
The couple began preparing the land to plant olive trees and making improvements, which took a long time to complete as they continued to work in Barcelona in the meantime.
““Every Thursday, we got on a plane, and on Monday, we jumped on another plane,” Miceli said. ““They were difficult and intense years.”
The original plan was to create a 50-hectare property, but they eventually bought more land – and now the farm spans 260 hectares, of which 115 hectares are dedicated to olive growing.
““We started cultivation in 2016, and the first trial production was carried out in 2020,” Micheli said. “The first extra virgin olive oil to be put on the market was produced in the 2021/22 harvest when we first participated in NYIOOC.
Today, in a mountainous region between 200 and 400 meters above sea level, the two manage 48,000 trees of five varieties – Nocellara del Belles, Biancolella, Cerasola, Arbequina and Picual – that are traditionally planted.
““It was a huge, tremendous undertaking, especially since we made a specific agricultural choice,” Miceli said. “We grafted the two Spanish cultivars, Arbequina and Picual, onto wild Sicilian olive trees.
“He added: “To collect these 15,000 trees, and since this process must be completed very quickly, we chartered a private plane that transported the scions from Spain to a nursery in Sicily, where they were grafted onto wild plants.”
““We were aiming for long-lived trees,” Miceli continued. “Our idea was to leave a mark and grow olive trees that will be strong and thriving for a very long time. We have landscaped a large area of trees that will still be there in 500 years or more. Now, these olive trees are like children to us.”
He emphasized that samples of monocultures obtained from trees were submitted for judgment to specialized sensory panels, who expressed very positive opinions about their sensory properties.
“For us, this project goes beyond the production of extra virgin olive oil. “We have restored the entire area and now manage it according to organic guidelines in a sustainable way.
““We are working to renew and protect biodiversity,” he added. “In fact, we believe that the well-being of the environment and the well-being of the people living in that environment are closely linked.
Sensat said they were able to employ many local youth. Moreover, they contacted elderly farmers in the area and exchanged information and best practices with them.
““We are humbled by the reception from the local community,” Sensat said. ““I remember at first they approached cautiously to see what we were doing.”
“He added that they are now sharing their views and updates with us. “This area is mainly planted with wheat, but some of them followed us and started planting olive trees, and now they are satisfied with the results, especially in terms of income. We are also pleased that we have been able to employ many young people who now have a rewarding career.
“Sometimes I wish Sicilians could see Sicily through my eyes because I adore this region. “These human relationships are very precious to me.”
This passion has led to a great commitment and care towards the natural resources of the region.
Among various improvements, the duo built two artificial basins next to the main natural lake, providing an additional 500,000 cubic meters of water for emergency irrigation.
““We made this choice in light of the extreme temperatures we have reached in recent years,” Miceli said.
“He added: “We, together with an Israeli company, designed a complex irrigation project that allows significant energy savings.” “It also includes underground drip lines that prevent water from evaporating, greatly improving this invaluable resource.
The next important investment planned is the installation of floating solar panels on the surface of the artificial lakes to achieve better cooling and performance, in addition to saving floor space.
There is also a plan to introduce bees to boost the estate’s biodiversity – and the company will soon launch a honey production line.
““In this healthy ecosystem, soil is no exception,” Miceli said. “We analyzed them, and they proved to have excellent features for the good development of olive trees, which have an optimal width.
All of these elements contribute to the quality of our extra virgin olive oils, the production process of which is completed by the latest generation mill.
““At our age, we have entered a new chapter of life,” Miceli said.
““It took a little bit of crazy to do that,” Sensat added. “We can call it our maturity project because in our 30s it would have been completely different.
“We started it in our late 50s, with a wealth of experience and all the baggage of our lives. “That’s why it’s a very mature choice, with everything it entails, starting with the vision behind it.
The farmers pointed out that all this required a huge investment in terms of economic and human effort, but it paid off.
““We put a lot of work into this project, but it was worth it because we created something beautiful, long-lasting and valuable not only to us but also to others,” Miceli concluded. “We did so committed to the values that guide our lives.