Séka Hills Olive Mill and Tasting Room
Séka Hills Olive Mill is nestled between Cache Creek and the ridges of the blue hills of the beautiful Capay Valley in Yolo County, California. This land is home to the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, a tribal nation, whose name means “home by the spring water.” The name, Séka Hills, means “blue hills” and comes from the native Patwin language of the tribal nation. The blue hills are named for the blue oaks that cover them, whose nuts are used to make acorn soup. As the story goes, when the sun hits the hills just right, it casts a blue hue giving glowing color to this gorgeous valley.
Yocha Dehe Wintun Tribal History
The Capay Valley once had a thriving community of Native Americans who called this land home. It wasn’t until the missionaries, trappers, and explorers arrived in California that changed the lives of the Native people. Many became ill from disease and died, dramatically declining the Yocha Dehe population to near extinction. Some became slaves and were forced to work at the mission in Sonoma or on local ranches. Then they were forced from their settled village to live on a rancheria in Rumsey.
The Yocha Dehe people had lived sustainably in Capay Valley villages until they were forced by the US Government to move to hilly land that was not irrigated. They struggled to survive, becoming dependent upon the US government. It wasn’t until the 1980s that they were able to acquire land, once occupied by the ancestors of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, and use it for housing and development.
At this time, the federal government enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act for the purpose of giving tribes an opportunity to become self-sufficient once again. By allowing gaming on their land, it provided a means for the Yocha Dehe to pursue economic growth and stability. In 1985, Bingo Hall opened and with the tribe’s hard work and determination, has grown to the Cache Creek Casino and Resort, becoming the largest private employer in Yolo County.
Reclaiming The Land
With the income-producing casino in place, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation expanded their farming operations, cultivating their land with more than a dozen different crops, including 82 acres of super high density olive groves. The tribe takes pride in their sustainable farming practices and continues to build their homeland for future generations.
The Creation of Séka Hills
In 2011, the Séka Hills brand was born. Wine, olive oil, and honey hit the marketplace with great success, with Séka Hills Extra Virgin Olive Oil becoming a favorite amongst chefs and food critics nationwide. Séka Hills has quickly grown into one of California’s top olive oil producers, creating premium single varietal extra virgin olive oil from their estate grown Arbequina olives.
Séka Hills Olive Mill and Tasting Room
Our tour of the beautiful new state-of-the-art olive mill is stunning. Upon entering the 14,000 square foot facility that looks like an old barn, we are surprised to see the beautiful decor inside. Even though the mill is quite large, you feel warmly welcomed to wander. The sun streams through the windows lighting up the room, showcasing a beautiful photographic mural of the land that surrounds us. Glass walls let us peer into the fascinating production of olive oil. Displays are highlighted throughout the tasting showroom to entice us to engage in a little retail therapy. Olive oil, balsamic vinegars, honey, wines, olive oil soap and lotions, kitchen accessories and cookbooks are beckoning to come home with us. Educational videos are playing for you to view how olive oil is produced. But, nothing beats the tour that takes you behind the scenes of Séka Hills. Lead by Jim Etters, Director of Land Management who has been a guiding force behind the Séka Hills brand, we are taken from the olive groves where it all starts, to the mill where olive oil is milled, bottled, labeled, and boxed for shipment.
Once inside the olive mill, we grasp the Tribe’s work ethic and pride. We are fortunate to witness the mill in action. We see the olives traveling along pristine conveyor belts leading to meet busy workers who meticulously remove stems and leaves by hand before the olives are washed and head on to the mill. The olives are crushed into a thick paste that goes through a malaxation process where the oil is separated from the water. Then the oil is transferred to a decanter where all solids are removed from the oil. This pomace, which contains the ground up pits and skins of the olives, is used in cattle feed for local farmers so it doesn’t go to waste. Finally, the oil is moved to a separator that spins the oil at very high speeds to remove any final traces of water before it is stored in huge stainless steel tanks. Capped off with nitrogen, the oil is protected from heat, light, and oxygen. The oil is stored in these tanks at a cool 65 degrees until it is ready to be bottled. This guarantees that the oil will be the freshest it can possibly be by the time it reaches you. Séka Hills delivers a certified premium extra virgin olive oil and proudly displays the extra virgin certification seal from the California Olive Oil Council on each bottle.
The Future of Séka Hills
The Yocha Dehe have planted other varieties of olive trees to expand on the Séka Hills line of premium olive oils. Next year’s harvest will include the milling of Picual, Frantoio, and Taggiasca olives. The addition of these single varietal extra virgin olive oils will give more options for the discriminating chefs who wish to add depth and dimension to their culinary creations and to the loyal following of consumers who want to explore the unique flavors that each variety brings to their tables.
The Séka Hills Tasting Room is now open and awaiting your visit. Enjoy tasting a variety of Séka Hills award winning olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and wildflower honey. Wine tastings will also be available in January 2015. After your tasting, you can grab a bite to eat from a selection of artisanal culinary foods from the region. Sit outside on the patio amongst the olive trees and the blue hills that were the inspiration behind the Séka Hills name. Relax for a moment in the peaceful surroundings that the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation call home and feel the spirit of the Tribe’s essence.
We recommend seeing Séka Hills Olive Mill and Tasting Room so you can experience a little bit of history and hope for the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation’s future. Marshall McKay, chairman of the Tribe, says “If you take care of this land, this land will take care of you.” We’re sure the ancestors of the Yocha Dehe would be proud of what their people have accomplished today.
For more information and to plan your visit, go to: www.sekahills.com
Photographs taken by The Grove & Co. at Séka Hills Olive Mill in Brooks, CA.