Frantoio Franci


quality with no compromises
The Story

The story of Frantoio Franci, the company, began in 1958, when brothers Fernando and Franco Franci purchased an old barn and converted it to an olive oil mill. However, the story of Frantoio Franci, creators of the world’s most esteemed extra virgin olive oils, began in 1995, when Fernando’s son, Giorgio, joined the family business. Giorgio’s dedication to his family helped build a new foundation that would allow the company to become a leader in this modern era of quality olive oil.

The Franci mill is located in Montenero D’Orcia in southern Tuscany, in the municipality of Castel del Piano in the province of Grosseto, not far from the southern border of the province of Siena. The town was built in the heart of the rolling countryside, around an ancient village situated on a hilltop overlooking the final part of the Orcia River valley. Often noted as one of the most photographed areas in the world, the valley was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites in 2004. Etruscan ruins date the area’s occupation back to the 2nd or 3rd century BCE. Due to its strategic location above the Orcia, the hilltop became fortified in the middle ages, likely to protect the ruling families from would-be Arab conquerors. The lands changed hands between wealthy families for most of the next two centuries, until the 1950s agrarian reform ended the latifundia system in the region and allowed the local workers to take ownership of the land for the first time.

Around the time of these reforms, the Franci brothers were employed in earth-moving operations. But with local farmers gaining control over the land, the brothers recognized an opportunity to provide a needed resource. In addition to building the town’s oil mill, they also purchased an olive grove called Villa Magra. Soon they were pressing both their own olives, as well as the olives collected by local families. Fernando had a passion for farming and mechanical devices, and enjoyed great satisfaction in hard work. Even after a severe cold spell in 1985 destroyed many of the aged trees of the Villa Magra grove, Fernando did not give up. Instead he replanted the grove with hundreds of new trees that still grow today.

When Giorgio joined the family business, the commitment and resilience of his father inspired him to face the challenge of crafting the best olive oil possible. Giorgio Franci dedicated the first oil he produced to the rebirth of the family grove, naming the product Villa Magra. He soon recognized, however, that in order to continue his growth as an oil producer, a major reorganization of the company would be necessary.

This process of growth, starting from very little commercial knowledge and an unknown brand to becoming a point of reference for quality production worldwide, has been my personal imprint to Frantoio Franci.

Giorgio soon found replacing the previous generation to be as great a challenge as producing a quality oil. With his father and uncle’s decades of experience, and Giorgio still needing to prove himself, the first few years were particularly difficult, as arguments and disagreements occurred frequently. Once they learned how to overcome doubt, gain trust, and work together, they still faced the challenge of transitioning to a new distribution model. For decades Frantoio Franci had sold their oil in bulk, so they lacked commercial experience, name recognition, and a business structure that would allow competitive pricing. Giorgio strongly believed that focusing on quality would be the only way to forge an identity on the market. To make this endeavor a success, he soon realized that producing oil would "become my life, the essence of every day, my motivation, my passion."

While studying on how to best improve the quality of their oils, Giorgio also began working on bottle and label designs, and gathering information about international events and competitions to help promote their Villa Magra brand. Their first breakthrough occurred at the “Sol” International Fair in Verona. Though Giorgio had focused on the oil’s quality, packaging, and promotion, he had given little thought to his production costs, selling strategies, and price lists. So when the first inquiry about purchasing the oil arrived, he had to come up with a number on the spot. The client found the price much too high, but having great appreciation for the oil and understanding Giorgio’s inexperience, he made the first order and to this day still remains a Frantoio Franci client.

The intense fruity Villa Magra would soon surprise and please many more judges, tasters, and connoisseurs with its powerfully aromatic flavor and spicy finish. Responding to the requests of their customers, and motivated to replicate the success of Villa Magra, over the following years Frantoio Franci developed several new product lines with different flavor profiles and intensities. Today, over 20 years later, Frantoio Franci has become one of the most awarded producers, with their collection of oils winning nearly 450 prizes worldwide.

This amazing quality is primarily the result of Giorgio Franci’s incredible dedication to his oils. When meeting him person, the generosity and gentleness of his soul becomes immediately apparent, and it’s clear he attends to his work in the same way. The time he spends tasting oils, revisiting oils previously tasted, understanding their nuance and how the oils evolve each year, even the lengths taken to preserve his oils -- this work defines him in many ways. And this character reveals itself in the oils. The Frantoio Franci product lines span from the sublime Villa Magra Gran Cru to products like Franci Bio; while considered an everyday oil, the company’s quality standards make Franci Bio superior to 99% of the oils on the market today. Each year this quest for greatness inspires Giorgio’s love and he embraces the challenge, fascinated by the subtleties of products forged by rigorous tasting and an absolute commitment to quality.

The People Behind Frantoio Franci

The People
Giorgio Franci

Giorgio Franci was born and raised in Montenero D’Orcia, a tiny Tuscan hamlet with less than 250 residents. He still resides there today, working at the mill his father built. Giorgio began spending time at the mill during his childhood, where he would seek to help as much as possible. While the decision by his father and uncle to open the mill had proven to be a solid one, Giorgio decided to leave home after high school to study architecture at Florence University. The coursework met his interests at the time, but in 1995, with his father not feeling well and his uncle ready to quit the business, Giorgio took some time off to help at the mill.

It was during this period of living the frantoio experience - engaging with mill business, doing farmwork in the groves, and updating the company’s business practices - that Giorgio had a vision of the company’s future. Foreseeing the transition from bulk producer to selling quality bottled products, Giorgio soon joined - and transformed - the family company, where he would work alongside his father for the next 20 years until his passing in 2018. Today Giorgio works together with his sisters, Lucia and Laura, who are both involved in the operations of the frantoio and are part of the company’s oil tasting panel.

Somewhere deep inside of me, I have always known that this would be my life.

Giorgio Franci with his sister Lucia at their mill in Montenero d'Orcia

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Production
The Land & Trees

The unspoiled nature of Val d’Orcia undoubtedly helps create the stunning flavors of Frantoio Franci oils. The clean air and temperate weather work together with lands that have grown olive trees for centuries, and the oil itself preserves the scent of wildflowers that live amongst the olive trees. Frantoio Franci works with local farmers who, even as they implement new techniques and technologies, maintain a great respect for those who tended the land before them. Many of the olive trees in the region date back more than 1000 years, with Franci’s oldest trees being of the Olivastra Seggianese cultivar. This variety performs well in Tuscany, although periodically a very cold winter will reduce its output of fruit.

All told, Frantoio Franci manages over 15,000 olive trees growing across many different groves at a variety of elevations. Almost half of the land, about 75 acres, is dedicated to the Frantoio cultivar. The company also manages about 25 acres of Leccino trees, 18 acres of Olivastra Seggianese, 10 acres of Moraiolo, and another 30-40 acres of mixed groves. Giorgio Franci notes that planting an olive tree does not take much work, and that the trees are quite adaptable. However, improving its growth, while protecting the quality and integrity of the fruits, requires great dedication. The secret to the company’s success, he says, is “absolutely attention, periodical checks, and most of all love, patience and care.”

As long as there is olive, there is hope.

Giorgio Franci inspects olives that his mill will crush for a local producer.

I always have to renew my mind and my life to try to do my best and never be repetitive. The main challenge is probably to reinvent myself every harvest, in the respect of a nature that is ever changing.

Giorgio smells the fresh oil as Lucia and OOL's Joanne Lacina look on.

Harvest

Harvest begins in the Frantoio Franci olive groves in the beginning of October. All olives are picked green, and the work is performed manually with hand combs or pneumatic rakes. While most of the laborers working on the olive trees are locals, the company prizes a trusting relationship with their pickers far more than their place of origin.

Though the life of the workers mostly remains consistent, the ever-changing climate creates most of the challenges, forcing producers like Giorgio Franci to reinvent their work. In 2018 a very cold winter inhibited the growth of the Olivastra Seggianese trees and reduced their output of olives, yet that same spring the alternation of cold and rain resulted in some of the most flavorful Moraiolo oil Frantoio Franci has ever created. In 2003 a scorching summer placed most of the trees in Italy under serious hydric stress, causing a very difficult year for many olive oil producers. In contrast, near perfect conditions lasted all year long in 2016. Regarding that year’s harvest, Giorgio Franci said, “there were olives everywhere and not common olives but green, with wonderful smells and colors… It really was a pleasure!”

Production & Storage

From crushing to separation, to storage to bottling, all the mill machinery is state-of-the-art and has been selected to optimize both the nutritional and organoleptic properties of olive oil in order to produce the highest quality product. When the Franci mill began its operation, the original barn was used to store farming equipment. Eventually the barn was converted to a supply warehouse and today houses the large storage room for the oil. Tanks in the center of the room contain the oil produced daily, where it is held until the next tasting session. After tasting samples of that harvest, the team determines the appropriate storage destination for each oil, and the oil gets pumped into its final tank. Then the temporary tanks get cleaned so the process can start anew the next day.

The storage tanks remain constantly pressurized using nitrogen. The bottling process has multiple stages to both keep the bottles sanitary and to keep out oxygen. First the bottles get cleaned with microfiltered air, then a pump is used to create a vacuum inside the bottle as the bottle is filled with nitrogen. The bottle remains sealed as the oil enters, remaining pressurized by the nitrogen until the bottle has been completely filled with extra virgin olive oil. When asked how long the freshness and flavor of his oils will last under these conditions, Giorgio told us, “if you have good oil stored with nitrogen inside the bottle and you preserve in the correct place and temperature, I can say that after 3 years the oil is still good. If you have the same bottle and it’s stored in a bad way, a few months and it’s gone.”




Technology alone is not enough to produce an oil of excellence, certainly it is a great help, but human intervention is fundamental.

Sustainability

The company strongly believes in using sustainable practices wherever possible in their oil production. The fields get fertilized with organic products recovered from neighboring farms. Leguminous plants grow along the rows of olive trees, as their bulbs release nitrogen that simultaneously nourish the trees and oxygenate the soil. The company’s mill recycles its water to both produce energy and help fertilize their fields, while the pomace left over after the oil extraction gets sold to another producer who uses it to create lower quality oils not for human consumption.

160
acres of olive trees
5
different olive varieties
crushed by metal-toothed grinder
picked by hand
300
feet above sea level (avg)
1958
year founded
Realize #AbsoluteQuality

Process
The Oils

After creating the original Villa Magra product line, the next two oils Giorgio Franci worked on were Olivastra Seggianese, a light fruity selection, and Le Trebbiane, a medium fruity oil. This differentiation of their product lines helped elevate the company’s profile to the highest echelons of extra virgin olive oil production. As the company and its production steadily grew larger, they developed new lines for daily use that would offer the customer great value for their money. These included Franci Bio, their primary organic oil, and Toscano IGP, an oil produced under the strict Protected Geographical Indication parameters. Today the Franci line also include the monovarietal Moraiolo, and Delicato, a light-fruity oil made from Frantoio olives.

Each of these labels has a strict criteria of origin and quality standards, defined by organoleptic characteristics and chemical parameters. Oils that do not satisfy the required criteria get downgraded in order to guarantee quality to the consumer. Though the changing weather each year can affect the quantity of oils they produce, strict standards ensure that their quality can never be compromised. Remarking on his feelings about a particular oil after a long day of tasting, Giorgio suggested, "maybe the judgment of today... it’s better if I taste again tomorrow." Because of these high standards, the company’s tasting panel will often taste oils repeatedly across several days or even weeks.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of their work is that Frantoio Franci creates products that set the standard for the rest of the world. The process of highly focused, repeat tastings, allowed Giorgio Franci to develop the concept of Cru, almost a "meditation essence" with the highest peaks of complexity and elegance. This concept of "fully expressing the true essence of Tuscanity" resulted in Villa Magra Grand Cru, a selection focused on extreme quality. First produced in 2000, this line is made in limited quantity and in numbered bottles every year.

Watch this exclusive video shot on location at Frantoio Franci to learn more about the company’s oil selection process:

I really love to see my olive trees in good health. There is a connection between me and nature, and I feel complete when I can take care of all this.

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