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Thundering Herd Ranch produces award-winning citrus olive oils

By: Kathy Maynard, Loomis News Correspondent
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THUNDERING HERD RANCH

What: Family farm makes and sells mandarin olive oil, Meyer lemon olive oil, aged balsamic vinegar, gourmet orange liqueur and cabernet chocolate sauces, fresh mandarins, Meyer lemons, hachiya and fuyu persimmons

Where: 2500 Penryn Road, Penryn

Hours: 9 a.m..- 4 p.m.. weekends; weekdays by appointment, 672-7451

Sold at: Blue Goose Produce, Newcastle Produce, Ikeda’s in Auburn

Information: 663-1050 or www.mandarinoliveoil.com

Three generations of a Penryn family work together to produce award-winning citrus-flavored olive oils enjoyed around the world.

Rich and Nancy Colwell started planting mandarin trees on the property they purchased from Rich’s parents as a fun hobby to share with their children in the early 1980s.

Every year, they planted a few more trees around their home just because they all loved doing it, said Rich Colwell, a retired Placer County government employee. The orchard expanded along with their family as they added Meyer lemons, hachiya and fuyu persimmons and other fruit trees.

Today, their Colwell Thundering Herd Ranch ships their award-winning mandarin and Meyer lemon olive oils, specialty products and fresh fruit across the country. Many customers purchase their products to send abroad. 

“We’ve been working 25 years to become an overnight success,” said Rich Colwell.

The family hobby gradually turned into a business. The name came about early one Saturday morning when all five kids jumped on their parents’ bed together to welcome their daddy home from a week-long business trip.

“I looked at Nancy and said, ‘What is this, a thundering herd?’ That became the kids’ nickname, then we named the ranch after them. Those five kids who helped clear the land, plant the trees and do all the mowing and picking by hand continue to be an integral part of the business,” he said.

The kids attended Del Oro High School like their parents, who both graduated in 1974. Katinka (Chaddock) graduated from D.O. in 1995, Michael in 1997, Suzy (O’Rourke) in 2001, Nancy (Masterson) in 2002 and Kristin in 2005.

After Kristin left for college, their mother decided to return to school herself.

“In 2006, I took a math class at Sierra College from a teacher who was always getting sick, so I’d take her mandarins. She took them home to her husband, who grew olives in Corning. He wanted to try making mandarin olive oil so he came by and we picked a bunch. The oil he made by crushing our mandarins with his olives turned out great and he sold every drop,” said Nancy Colwell.

Four years ago, the family broke away to produce flavored oils under their own Thundering Herd Ranch label by partnering with another olive grower. They also tested about 50 balsamic vinegars before selecting the one they now import from Italy to complement their oils and found a Napa chocolatier to produce gourmet orange liqueur and cabernet chocolate sauces.

Their sales gradually increased 25 to 30 percent a year until last November, when an area newspaper published an online article about and their market suddenly expanded to 44 states. Though they doubled production this year to meet the growing demand, they still may sell out by Christmas.

This year, their 2011 Mandarin and lemon olive oils won best of class and best of division awards as well as gold, silver and bronze medals in both international and California olive oil competitions. They even received orders to ship fresh persimmons back east, after Hurricane Sandy disrupted distribution of persimmons grown in upper New York State.

Yet, their commercial success is secondary to what the business has done to bring them all together as a family, said Rich Colwell.

“We work together, pick together, sell together, market together. Now the next generation is already helping.Our grandsons come here after school, go on deliveries, assemble gift packs and offer to sweep up. We’ve never been closer,” he said.

For more information or to order products, call 663-1050 or visit www.mandarinoliveoil.com.