The first signs of olive growing in La Rioja date back to Roman times. Although placed in a border area of cultivation, La Rioja is a region with a long tradition of olive growing. For centuries, the municipalities located in areas of La Rioja Baja and Rioja Media have developed an olive oil with characteristics determined by the soil and climatic conditions of the region.
The type of press used until XIX century, with Roman tradition, and remains found in towns like Alfaro and Murillo de Río Leza reveal that, in Roman times, and oil was produced in La Rioja. In the region of Cervera del Río Alhama, the elderly recalled that “the olive trees came with the Moors”. Most copies are so old that it is not possible to know when they are from.
The first reliable data about olive trees in La Rioja is from XVIII century, with the ‘Catastro del Marqués de la Ensenada’. Since then, it appears that the period of the greatest heyday of La Rioja olive sector is in the middle of the XX century. In 1942, the region had 5.780 hectares of olive groves and, in 1953, there were 81olive presses, the largest number there have ever been, and probably will ever be, in La Rioja.
In the late 60s, after reaching a maximum area of 7.000 hectares, the decline of olive trees in La Rioja began and was replaced by other more profitable crops at that time. In 1993, the surface of olive reached its minimum of 2.373 hectares. Its real recovery did not start until 2000, when the private sector decided to invest in an emerging culture in the international market.
The sector experienced a significant recovery. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Environment of the Government of La Rioja, the area of olive groves increased in the region from 2.945 hectares in 2000 to 5.597 in 2012. Also, a high percentage of the production was extra virgin oil. In recognition of product quality, on October 8th 2004 the Protected Designation of Origin Aceite de La Rioja was approved.