A Story of Olive Oil, Wine and a How We Got Here

We named our olive farm & vineyard

Life Elements

Mar 14, 2024

From Medicine to Farming: A Journey of Grit and Sustainability

Over the course of our 19 years living and working in Atascadero, California, we have met so many people who have helped support our vision for the best handcrafted, nature-based products available. Every single person here has a story. Many of these stories relate to some sort of transformation from a previous life (aka corporate job) to “farmer” (remember that winemakers are also grape farmers!) We have many friends who have long-standing family relationships that kept them here and in a lot of cases these stories always include a heavy dose of grit and perseverance to bring their vision to life.
This particular story of the Al Pie Del Cielo (At the Foot of Heaven) farm features our wonderful friends, Jeannette and Christopher, whose mutual interests in serving people as traveling doctors, their love of music, world travel, and learning more about the importance of sharing their talent, humanity and grace with everyone they meet.

How did you two first meet Martha?

Chris: “I am always seeking ways to live more sustainably. When I saw the Life Elements Shampoo Bars at the Paso Robles General Store, I purchased some and LOVED them! I was so surprised to find that kind of sustainable work going on in our own backyard.”
Jeannette: “At the same time, I was looking for someone to collaborate in the development of some bath products using our olive oil. The wonderful women of the General Store pointed us to Martha & Curt, which led us to a new friendship and some very fun collaborations.


Sustainable, regenerative practices and deep knowledge are the secret ingredients behind the high-quality extra virgin olive oil from Al Pie Del Cielo in Creston, California

When did you realize you wanted to move to this area and what were your motivations?

We were married in 2009 and went overseas on a year-long sabbatical in 2012. During this time we held a marriage retreat to actively contemplate and discuss our mutual goals for the future.  When we returned to the United States, we developed a common vision about a more rural outdoor and creative lifestyle. We were particularly interested in growing wine grapes as we love wine and wanted to farm, so when we turned our sights to the Central Coast, we found this amazing property, which was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made!

You both have a history of world travel…Did you bring any inspirations from those travels into your practices for the Al Pie Del Cielo farm?

Because of the geography and climate of Creston, we made visits to the Rhone in France and the two wine regions in Spain to learn about some of their methods and philosophies. In Priorat, we met a scientist who returned to his family’s vineyard, employing his passion for biodiversity. This inspired us to have herbs and flowers planted around our vineyard. He also introduced us to surrounding our vines with plants that have much surface area, to invite insects as natural defenders. Hence our planting of California buckwheat (also loved by bees) at the end posts of each row of vines.
In Argentina, we learned how grapes may benefit from temperature amplitude (the difference between the minimum and maximum temperature that occurs within a specific time period), which translates beautifully to the conditions at the highest point of our property, where our vines are located. But most of all, our work and travels have taught us about the reverence all people have towards the preparations of their food. Whether serving a Beyaynetu in Ethiopia, preparing a Kaiseki in Japan, or creating a Michelin Star tasting-menu in Copenhagen, the same ingredients always prevail: Love and respect toward the animal, the produce, the farmer, ourselves and the diner.

Beautiful Lavender from the best olive oil farm in Creston, California: Al Pie Del Cielo

Have you derived any benefits from the local community that helped you better understand your vineyard/orchard?

Yes, and how!!! First, everyone has been so willing to teach and encourage. Just mentioning an interest, like cheese making, in casual conversation, will inspire a stranger to say, “oh, I can teach you!” Or, “allow me to introduce you to so and so”…We have had so many lovely, intelligent, caring people who have helped guide us in our work and care-taking of this very special property we now live on.

We found the ideal place to develop our vineyard. We named our farm "Al Pie del Cielo" or "At the foot of the Heavens," as it sits perched on a vast hilltop and is enveloped by the sky. Our attention was drawn toward preparation of the higher slopes of the property and the selection of appropriate root stock.

Do you have a funny story about being a “newbie” farmer?

As we really started to understand the magnitude of all the various dimensions of our farm, we realized that it's like peeling an onion…whenever we thought we learned something new, what we really found out, is that there are many more layers of knowledge left to gain. This has been a really humbling experience.
Here's one story that was kind of funny. We had a terrible winter the second year after planting our grapes. It was the period of a longstanding California drought with almost no rain. Our good friend asked if we were irrigating our vines. That had never occurred to me, and I responded with: “…but they're dormant!” He pointed out to Chris that “…they are dormant, but they aren't dead - YET!” [Immediate irrigation soon followed.]  

What is your ultimate vision for the property?

We hired a holistic agricultural consultant when we first bought the farm. We laid out our goals and he spent two days on the property. We ended up with a 150-page document expressing our ideas to live on the land productively and sustainably. We are a long way from achieving our goals but we do have a direction and it helps keep us grounded.

Do you have a current inventory of olive oil? (and do you ship or is it only available locally?)

We just had our largest harvest to date! This allowed us to separate the cultivars, so for this year we are offering individual containers of Frantoio, Coratina and, as in the past, Pendolino. We will be racking soon, so the inventory will be ready early this Spring. We ship our oil too. Our most distant clients are in Australia to the west, New England and Florida to the east and Panama to the south. You can order right from our website here!