One of the first commercial olive orchards in Texas, Sandy Oaks Orchards®, owned and operated by Saundra C. (Sandy) Winokur, lies just off of I-37, 20 minutes south of San Antonio. While best known for the olive trees, olive oil and the various olive oil and olive leaf based skin care products it produces, Sandy Oaks is also celebrated for its emphasis on hospitality and educating the public on the benefits and various uses of olive oil. Sandy frequently holds educational seminars and tastings of olive oils from olive growing regions of the world. In homage to Sandy’s ancestors who were ranchers, Sandy Oaks also produces crossbred beef cattle.
The site with its South Texas climate and deep sandy soil is ideal for olives. The main orchard itself covers a 40-acre tract of the ranch, with some 11,000 trees planted among the massive live oaks dotting the property. A nursery holds up to 10,000 or more olive seedlings and shoots at any one time. Sandy stocks the trees to expand her orchard and to sell to others who would like to join in the adventure of growing olive trees.
In The Beginning
One might say that ranching Texas land is programmed into Sandy Winokur's DNA since she's the 6th generation in her family to follow this calling. When informed of this fact by a family historian, Sandy enthusiastically responded, "No wonder I love what I'm doing so much!"
Still, it took some time before Sandy got around to putting her imprint on Texas soil. After living abroad as a young adult, and later in various US cities, Sandy finally returned to her Texas roots in 1995 to find the ideal setting to realize her dream of pioneering the growth of olives on a commercial scale in South Texas. In December 1997, she purchased the future home of Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard: 236 undeveloped acres near her birthplace of San Antonio.
Over the years Sandy added several small tracts of land that were adjacent to her property, bringing the total size of the ranch up to its current 267 acres. The beautiful rock home, which she built and furnished during the first year, now graces the central hilltop of the property. At the bottom of the hill Sandy added a beautiful outdoor kitchen and patio next to a gift shop and offices. Across from the gift shop is a huge barn that houses the Sandy Oaks manufacturing center, commercial kitchen, cooking classes and a commercial olive press, the Il Molinetto. There is also an olive tree nursery located in a beautiful setting of ancient oak trees overlooking the orchard. Its accompanying outbuildings include a guesthouse, an artist's studio, a barn, plant and equipment sheds, a well house, an office and a gift shop.
In 1998, Sandy planted her first trees, imported from Egypt and California. Later that year, she visited Spain to discuss potentially suitable olive varieties with experts from Agromillora, that country's largest commercial olive grower, which operates orchards on five continents. She ordered 1,000 trees from them, and over the years has expanded her orchard to the current 11,000 trees with plantings that now include more than two dozen varieties.
Sandy experiments with different plantings to determine the most suitable olive trees for Texas from among the hundreds of different varieties grown around the world. In addition, she experiments with planting densities, from 5' x15' "hedgerows," common in Spain's intensively managed groves, to the more traditional 20' x 20' spacing found in mature Greek and Italian orchards. Sandy emphasizes holistic management of the ranch's trees and pastures, preferring natural pest controls and organic fertilizers.