A Visit to Holman Ranch
In our backyard
In late summer, the Carmel Valley Highlands are mixed colors of gold, green and brilliant blues. In the spring when the rain-gods have been generous they burst into luxuriant greens with islands of sour grass (Bermuda buttercup) and dandelions; their bright yellow heads bobbing in the coastal breezes.
Carmel Valley is an easy amble from Highway 1 that leaves the bustling chic and foggy enclaves that are Carmel, Pebble Beach, and Monterey and returns the visitor to a time of Old California — rancheros, haciendas, and cowboys. Live oaks and pasture lands line this river valley that is nestled within the Santa Lucia Mountains providing early settlers with rich resources and modern day vintners with an appellation like no other.
While attending 22nd Annual Monterey County Winemaker’s Celebration I had a taste of Holman Ranch Rosé of Pinot Noir, a perfect choice for that warm and sunny day. Pouring was Nick Elliott, Holman’s Guest Services Manager, a natural storyteller and wine enthusiast. After our chat, I was intrigued both by the history of the ranch and the Lowder family’s dream investment of owning a vineyard and winery. The ranch itself is just a short four minute drive from the rows of tasting rooms and eateries of Carmel Valley Village. Monterey County legends; Talbott, Bernardus, and Boekenoogen combine with seventeen others, including relative newcomer Holman Ranch Winery. Lowder’s passion in growing their dream while preserving and celebrating the past has created not only a one of a kind event space, but a youthful winery quickly coming of age.
Ranch history goes back to the Spanish land grant and missionary days of Father Junipero Sierra. Originally part of the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, significant acreage was granted to Don Jose Borrando christening it Los Laureles Rancho. During those early times cattle was king and that tradition echoes through the walls of the limestone hacienda, Casa Escondita (Hidden House.) In 1882 600 of the 6,000 acres of Los Laureles was purchased by Gordon Armsby from the Pacific Improvements, Company. This would be the basis of the modern ranch which would include guest bungalows and annual fiestas. Even then the “gentlemen’s ranch” attracted the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Theda Bara.
The ranch began it’s next chapter continuing as a Hollywood Hideaway and venue for the elite when Clarence Holman purchased the property in the 1940’s. Renovations to the site included modernizing guest rooms and adding a swimming pool. His gracious wife Vivien, as hostess, enticed notable stars like Joan Crawford, Marlon Brando, Vincent Price, and Clark Gable to seek respite from the glare of celebrity within the quiet highland escape while still welcoming neighbors and friends to the hacienda. There is a gallery within the hacienda that reads like a “who’s who” of Hollywood legends. Viviane Holman continued to command great influence at the ranch as the mistress of ceremony and herder of cattle until her passing in 1981.
The ranch again changed hands in 1989 when Dorothy McEwen transformed into a historic estate and event center. She also founded the stables and planted the first vineyard in 2000 calling it the Millenium with a hodge-podge of clones grafted onto Pinot Noir vines. She had dreams of a 25,000-case winery.
The ranch again became available in 2006 and the Lowder family ensconced themselves as contemporary stewards of the property and creators of the Holman Ranch Winery, planting 17 acres of vines and building first-class wine caves while embarking on extensive landscape re-design, restoration and facility modernization.
Holman Ranch Vineyards and onsite caves produce not only appellation favorite Pinot Noir, but also Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé of Pinot Noir which have received a variety of awards. Their grapes are organically grown and the vineyard operations have been SIP (Sustainability in Practice) certified since 2013. This accreditation is one more measure of the Lowder leadership in the area by embracing the principals of SIP, which promote “sustainable vineyards and wines is about great wines, healthy vineyards and the well being of workers (in every aspect.)” This includes old fashioned pest control in the way of Owl and Bat roosts to minimize vermin. In 2007 they moved nearly 100 mature olive trees to create their own grove (a “daunting task” according to Elliott,) and began producing estate bottled olive oils from a variety of cultivars representing Tuscany, France and Spain in their organically certified mill.
So, how do newcomers make friends in the neighborhood? Well, start by creating your own community — for those that join their wine clubs a special treat is in store in what is a most unusual offering. Depending on club level you get either a two-night stay at the ranch or tickets to the annual Fiesta de los Amigos (a tradition for over 86 years) in addition to the standard wine club fare. The ranch is not run as hotel; booking overnight accommodations, but rather event space where the bungalows may be included in your retreat, wedding, or other special occasion. That means access is extremely limited and very special.
A logical next step is become part of the local community by hosting events, offering space for classes and pairing with chef’s to create tasting experiences. Holman Ranch is part of the 4th Annual Edible Monterey Bay “In Your Backyard” year-long series featuring tasting classes from nose-to-tail, sustainable fish, tastes of Spain, and show-stopping desserts from area chefs including; Brad Briske, La Balena, Ted and Cindy Walter, Passionfish, Brandon Miller, Mundaka, John Cox, Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch, Ron Mendoza, Aubergine and Ken MacDonald, Edgars at Quail Lodge. These events are held in their Carmel Valley tasting room and provide an intimate affair with unusual access to these chefs.
We have many treasures on the Central Coast, hidden in plain sight. I hope you have enjoyed this tour of Holman Ranch and please check out the links below to learn more about Monterey County wines and Carmel Valley.
To enjoy more images from my visit click on the slide presentation below.
Holman Ranch Photo Gallery
- Holman Ranch
- Wild Thyme Deli and Catering
- Carmel Valley
- Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association
- Edible Monterey, In Your Back Yard
- SIP Sustainable in Practice Certification
I was invited to visit Holman Ranch with several other bloggers and event planners as part of a familiarization tour. This included an overnight stay, tour of the grounds and wine caves. Dinner was served by Wild Thyme Deli and Catering paired with estate wines. I received no other compensation and my opinions are my own. My thanks to Hunter Lowder, Directory of Hospitality and Nick Elliott, Guest Services Manager for sharing their wealth of information about the ranch and hospitality during my stay.