Greg Pietsch never thought he’d own and maintain a 27.44-acre ranch. Sunset Ranch, a sweeping estate in Pupukea, had been in his family since 1960, originally owned by his grandparents Charles and Fern Pietsch. The 44-year-old is a chartered financial analyst in Newport Beach, California, and, for years, was the family trustee for the estate.'
“In the whole process of managing the property over the years, I sort of fell in love with it again,” Pietsch says. So, in 2005, he purchased it. But Pietsch just wanted part of the land. His initial plan was to subdivide it into 12 plots, keeping one for the family. Then the recession hit. The depressed economy forced Pietsch to consider other alternatives for the land.
“This is where my land conservation journey begins,” Pietsch says with a laugh. He’s sitting at the ranch home’s dining table. It’s in a room with a panoramic view; from the home’s open kitchen, you can see Sunset Ranch’s lower pasture, the horses grazing lazily. They roam on the ranch today thanks to the property’s protection status.
When Pietsch couldn’t feasibly subdivide the property, he researched protection options and partnered with the city, state and community land trusts to fundraise to transform Sunset Ranch into a private conservation easement. Completed in 2010, the designation prohibits development forever.
Today, Pietsch splits his time between California and Oahu, where he was born and raised, working to make the ranch more sustainable and promote it as a platform of land conservation in Hawaii.
Part of Pietsch’s checklist to transform the estate — an ongoing process — was to return the farm to its agrarian roots. He swapped his slacks for jeans and boots to help restore the ranch’s pasture and fruit orchard, and to develop its botanical garden and aquaculture pond. He also hosts weddings and other events at the ranch.
When Pietsch decided he’d be keeping the entire property, he also decided to renovate his grandparents’ house, a single-story home on the property built in 1975. He envisions he and wife, Janina, also from Oahu, someday living in the home full time. The couple also has two teenage daughters, Ellie and Maggie.
The four-bedroom home had never been renovated, and it showed. “There was a lot of moisture in the drywall, a lot of mildew had taken over,” he says. “So we gutted everything to the studs. The ceilings were hanging.” Pietsch worked with AGT Construction in Haleiwa, owned by Greg Talboys.
“The renovation was my vision,” says Pietsch. He was hands-on during the entire one-year process, even when he was in California. Chiefly, he wanted to modernize and brighten his grandparents’ home. Once-dull rooms were illuminated by painting the dark wood walls and ambient recessed lighting replaced the harsher fluorescent lighting. Where there were once double-hung windows in the dining room, living room and master bedroom are now large picture windows and, in the living room, one floor-to-ceiling window, which also conceals a door to the veranda. “It was broken up, with a lot of verticals and horizontals,” Pietsch says of the design layout.
For the kitchen, Pietsch chose Peruvian travertine for the floors and jade-colored granite countertops. The focal point of its spacious layout is an island with a built-in, six-burner gas stove.
You feel an appreciation of the Pietsch family history immediately upon entering the home’s living room. That, and a slight Lone Star affection. The former, because Pietsch’s grandmother and mother willed him several family heirlooms, including books and figurines, and the latter owing to Pietsch’s Dallas college days at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
“This was a room I really wanted to preserve,” he says, walking up to the home’s original black-slate fireplace. Hung above it is a lustrous oil painting. It’s the room’s most striking feature, an original Herb Kane painting titled, “The Resolution at Waimea Bay.” Pietsch’s father commissioned Kane to paint it, depicting the scene after Captain James Cook was killed at Hawaii Island’s Kealakekua Bay and the ancient community in Waimea Bay received his crew when they stopped for water.
The wide room is decorated with rustic furnishings from King Ranch saddle shop, based in Dallas, Texas, including a chocolate-brown leather recliner and an ottoman, with cowhide accents, a floor lamp whose stand is made from elk horns and a white and chestnut cowhide rug (there’s a matching rug in the office). Pietsch’s college roommate is a descendent of the storied Texas ranch. “He remains one of my best friends from college,” says Pietsch. The room, now refreshingly white, originally wore a dark-brown finish. Pietsch had its original oak floors restained.
When Pietsch isn’t outside tending to the botanical garden or showing clients around the property, he spends a fair amount of time in his office, a space in which his grandfather also conducted a lot of business. And, like the rest of the house, it, too, needed to be renovated. The office features koa-wood bookcases and koa-veneer walls. Pietsch oiled the wood, and had new windows installed. On the bookcase is Charles Pietsch’s original brokerage sign and a photo of the successful businessman. The elder Pietsch helped develop the Kahala Hilton, now the Kahala Hotel & Resort, and became the co-owner of Waimea Valley and Sea Life Park. “He was entrepreneurial,” says Pietsch. “He had a lot of success, and built a lot of wealth.”
Anytime Pietsch needs fresh air, he can duck out his office door to the home’s best feature: a 4,000-square-foot veranda that wraps around the front of the house. There, he put a porch swing and, further down, a simple, painted-white wood bench and chairs. All provide an ideal vantage from which to view the horse pasture below and, in the distance, the rolling North Shore waves.
It’s Pietsch’s favorite place on the property. “I watch the sunset from here,” he says, pointing to the pair of white adirondack chairs under the umbrella of a spindly tree fronting the veranda. In addition to the stellar view, it’s also a quiet place for Pietsch to reflect about all he’s accomplished on the property, his grandparents’ home, and to envision all that’s next.
Pietsch now says he sees a silver lining in the 2008 market crash. “It’s not about the economics anymore,” he says, looking out to the pasture. “I feel like I have a passion and I’m doing something greater than I’ve ever done before.”
MORE THAN JUST A RANCH HOME
Sunset Ranch is much more than Greg Pietsch’s Hawaii home. But even though Pietsch is the landowner, he wants to share the ranch with the community. You might be most familiar with Sunset Ranch as a rustic wedding venue; the historic horse ranch has become a popular place for weddings, as well as corporate retreats; last year, the ranch hosted about 50 events. There are two guest suites in which wedding parties can get ready. And, this year, he will start hosting farm-to-table tours and wellness tours, both of which incorporate the history of the land and its bounty.
In some ways, the ranch has returned to its agrarian roots. The lower ranch has a rolling green pasture on which 10 boarded horses graze. In the upper ranch, there’s a fruit orchard with lemon, lime, tangerine, Washington naval orange, two types of lychee, banana and avocado trees as well as a garden where tomatoes, lettuce, kale and other greens are grown. Pietsch has partnered with Jim Keener, the owner of Hawaiian Fresh Farms, who tends the orchard, farm and the ranch’s bee apiary. Pietsch estimates that soon the farm will be sourcing 80 percent of its food from the ranch grounds for its events.
“I wanted to establish (Sunset Ranch) as a platform to advance these great efforts,” he says, walking through the orchard.
Sunset Ranch also has a 14-horse stable and a 9,600-square-foot riding arena. The ranch’s 10 horses are used for therapeutic and leadership programs, including Wounded Warrior, HUGS Hawaii and the Boy Scouts.
Of all the postcard-perfect locations on the ranch—and there are many—the two most distinctive are close to Pietsch’s house, and are personal to Pietsch. They honor his grandparents Charles and Fern, and are appropriately named after them. There’s Charlie’s Pond—seen from Pietsch’s living room—an oval pond with a small fountain, which also happens to be a 50,000-gallon aquaculture pond with 700 golden tilapia. Up the way is Fern’s Botanical Garden, featuring more than 13 types of native ferns; each plant is labeled thanks to Pietsch’s partnership with Waimea Valley.
It’s been roughly 10 years since Pietsch purchased Sunset Ranch and he says it’s still a work in progress. He wants to further develop sustainability programs and position the ranch as a platform for land conservation in Hawaii. “But I feel like I’ve got the framework in place to really do something great for the long term,” he says.