Since Stefano Particelli’s grandfather acquired the Napa Valley Olive Oil Company business from its original owner in 1960, not much has changed since its founding in 1931. The little white barn built in the 1870s remains on a residential bend on Charter Oak Street in St. Helena, and its reputation as a hidden gem continues to generate interest for Napa Valley visitors who want to taste something other than wine.
This is not a typical over-the-top Napa Valley tourist stop. A hedge of olive and orange trees frames the parking lot leading to the corner entrance of the store. Guests walk in and usually stop short in their tracks to marvel at the hundreds of business cards taped to the walls, some dating back 50 or 60 years ago.
“When my grandfather took over the business,” said Particelli, “people would come in and give him a business card and say, ‘Hey, I make salami from San Francisco.’ My grandfather would reply, ‘Great. Let me get your card,’ and he would tape it on the wall. The next guy, same thing. It caught on, and it still happens. So much so that it’s become a tradition. And people who change jobs even layer their new card over the old one.”
Beyond the business cards on the walls, sausages hang overhead, and cheeses of Italy are stacked in a nearby refrigerated shelving unit. Olive oil, however, is the showcased product, sold to locals who come in to recycle jugs of olive oil or to visitors who purchase oils and other Italian specialties for a box to fill and ship home.
If Particelli’s Great Aunt Narcisa Lucchesi is at the counter, guests are in for an authentic and nostalgic Old Italy treat. In her thick Italian-American accent, Lucchesi will lead a cheese and olive oil tasting outside at one of a handful of picnic tables.
Like a wine tasting, the experience begins with a flight of olive oils that includes the bestselling family blend and infused oils. The citrus flavor is pressed with the olives, while other ingredients are steeped in the oil after it’s been pressed.
Historically, this family business has never actually grown its own fruit. At one time, they used to source olives from all over the Napa Valley —until the valley grew and olive groves were uprooted in favor of grapevines. Today, the fruit is sourced from northern areas in the Sacramento Valley. The company’s proprietary blend uses various olive varieties to keep the oils’ taste consistent.
“We are creating that same flavor profile people have been used to over the years,” said Particelli. “People say it tastes the same as it did 50 years ago.”
Guests are encouraged to bring their favorite bottle of wine to pair with the store’s salami and cheese as they taste olive oils outside. And pick an orange on the way out.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: 835 Charter Oak, St. Helena // 707-963-4173 // www.nvoliveoilmfg.com