VIDEO: Swiss engineering in Boort

Swiss couple Peter and Marlies Eicher talk about their life-changing move to Boort. VIDEO: Leigh Sharp

It's hard to imagine a starker contrast between far away snow-peaked Switzerland and flat, dry Boort, an hour north of Bendigo.

And yet Swiss couple Peter and Marlies Eicher haven't looked back since they bought their property in Boort.

Originally both engineers near Zurich, Switzerland they are the owners and operators of the successful olive brand, Salute Oliva.

Their olives and extra virgin olive oil have won gold and silver medals at The Royal Melbourne Show Fine Food Awards two years in row and they're aiming for a hat-trick this year.

The pair arrived in Melbourne in 1988 and planned to stay for two years.

But opportunities at work came and two years became 17.

During that time weekends away were often spent hang gliding and Boort became a favourite destination.

In 2000 they bought 31 acres just outside Boort and spent the next few years splitting their time between demanding engineering careers in Melbourne and establishing their new home and olive grove.

A few years later, they cut the "umbilical cord", as Marlies described it, and moved permanently to Boort with their children Simon and Anya.

It's now been 25 years and they can't imagine leaving Australia.

Peter said they "stumbled" across olives but that is perhaps the only element of their journey which could be attributed to chance.

The stereotypical characteristics of Swiss as organised, innovative and efficient can be fully applied here.

"We like things to be methodical," said Peter.

Peter's detailed explanation of the machinery used to process olive oil makes it clear he has a full understanding of how every piece works.

But Peter and Marlies attribute their success to a combination of the best of both countries.

"We are the lucky people in a way because we have both sides of the world - we have the sort of opportunity we can grab in Australia which the country provides,  plus the weather and the climate, but then that's combined with our upbringing - the more regulated, regimented, structured way of setting up a business," Peter said.

The couple have turned heads with impressive returns on a comparatively tiny block of land.

Peter remembers local farmers saying they thought it impossible he would make a profit from the 20 acres of trees they had planted.

"They reckoned that wouldn't work, you would need 2000 acres minimum to make an income but we have actually shown them that you can actually do it on a small scale."

Peter explained the olive grove is not flood irrigated as are other crops in the region, it's drip irrigated.

"We use only half the water allocation needed to grow a bit of grass but now we have 10 times more turnover with half the water."

"The water price is incidental to us. It doesn't matter if the water price goes up by 50 per cent, its still viable to run this business."

Their products are organic, they use left over oil to make soap and they have tried to create a non-waste business.

"We make our own compost and then fertiliser which gets spread under the trees," Peter said.

These efforts were rewarded in 2010 when they won the Environmental Sustainability Award in the Loddon Powercor Business and Tourism Awards.

Of their recent success at the Melbourne Show, Marlies said she couldn't wipe the smile of her face.

She said winning awards had helped them become a 'somebody' in the increasingly competitive extra virgin olive oil market.

"If you can put that sticker with the medal on it and you can go and promote it a bit, it gives you a bit of kudos," she said.

Their success is impressive considering the larger farms and businesses they have been up against.

"People who see your product in the shop must not recognise that you are a small grower. You have to look professional," Peter said.

Amazingly, they do everything themselves - grove maintenance, harvesting, processing, packaging, delivering, selling and marketing.

"We sometimes laugh about this - we don't actually grow olives, we engineer them," Marlies said.

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