Cinematographer Leon Narbey, sells his award-winning olive oil at the market on Sunday mornings.
How did you get into growing olives?
I grew up on a dairy farm in Helensville and was always drawn to the idea of returning to live in the country. I did some work on a Nike TVC in Andalusia, Spain, and that got me into thinking about olives.
Where is your olive grove?
On the hills inland from Waipu, overlooking Bream Bay. The olive grove is surrounded by giant Tōtara and other natives squeezed between bus-sized boulders that remind me of Henry Moore sculptures.
How many olive trees are there in your grove?
About 400 trees, principally Italian varieties planted in concentric arcs that follow the land contour.
Are the varieties an important part of why your oil wins so many awards?
I think they are important, but it is also about your handling of the fruit and the oil. I do all my own pressing, decanting and bottling. A one man operation. Also use no herbicide or pesticide sprays just seaweed and molasses on the trees and soil. Dominant varieties are the Frantoio and J5 which have fruity flavours with a slight pepper at the end which notes the presence of beneficial polyphenols.
J5 – that sounds like new variety
Its been in Northland since the 1890s, no one knows its true variety, a DNA/ genetic test has yet to be done. The J stands for a Mr Johnson who ran a nursery in Kaikohe and who had been asked to propagate a number of cuttings for the government in the early 1960s. The mother tree is in Whangape Harbour still and this variety is favoured in Northland because as it does so well there and everyone loves the flavour.
Did you plant all the trees yourself?
Anita and I planted them in 1996. We fed them all with a mixture of diluted molasses and other goodies around their roots then spraying it all over the tree as well. Next morning we found the neighbour's horse had eaten one olive tree right down to the ground as it loved the taste of molasses so much. The tree survived and was adopted by Anita - it became her favourite tree.
Olive growing is a big change from your previous life making movies
Yes, the olives anchor me because film productions are very intense and yet so fleeting. You are amongst a family of creative people for long periods of time always trying to capture the mood for that brief moment where the cast can blossom and give their best. And then the film finishes, wraps, and suddenly this family has gone, but I have the olives to return to. The seasons are always coming at you, there is always work to be done on the grove.
What are the films that you are most proud of?
Illustrious Energy, Whale Rider, Desperate Remedies, The Price of Milk, No.2, The Orator and One Thousand Ropes, and with documentaries Flip and Two Twisters, and Bastion Point Day 507.
And recently you have been doing some more film work
Yes the cinematography on the film entitled “Whina” . A wonderful opportunity to revisit my brief past with Dame Whina Cooper as I shot the 1975 documentary, Te Matakite o Aotearoa - The Māori Land March. This new feature Whina is a dramatization of her life and will be released soon.
As published in Ponsonby News : March 2021