Holman Ranch: Historic Charm, Fine Wines and Memorable Food

by Beth Graham

I recently spent a couple of days at the Holman Ranch, Central California’s version of an adult playground. The ranch covers 400 acres of sheer beauty in the Carmel Valley, the perfect place to unplug and get lost in your thoughts.

The ranch, originally owned by the Mexican government, changed hands a number of times before its purchase by the Holman Family in 1940. The Holmans purchased the estate to honor the rich heritage and natural beauty of the region, restoring it to its glory and establishing it as the first “resort’ in Carmel Valley. (Rumor has it that the first swimming pool built in Carmel is the current one on the Holman property.) Hollywood celebrities like Clark Gable, Vincent Price, Joan Crawford and Marlon Brando found respite here. Many of their photos adorn the walls today. Today’s owners, Thomas and Jarman Lowder, purchased Holman Ranch in 2006. Their daughter Hunter and her husband, Nick, both hospitality professionals, manage the farm and its many successful businesses including the winery, Wills Fargo restaurant, and special event venues.

Our visit started on the main road running through the Carmel Valley which is dotted with tasting rooms. The Holman Ranch tasting room feels a bit like you stepped into an old Western saloon but it’s quite charming. Here, we enjoyed an afternoon tasting of the estate wines of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Rosé of Pinot Noir.

After the tasting, it was time to see first hand where the grapes are grown and processed. All of the processing – destemming, pressing, fermenting and aging – takes place underground in a 3,000 square foot wine cave where the temperature and humidity are naturally controlled by the earth’s core. Holman Ranch is proud of its Sustainability in Practice (SIP) designation.

We enjoyed a number of barrel tastings as Nick proudly explained his philosophy and pride in producing unfined wines. The wine cave holds four 750 gallon tanks, four 1,200 gallon tanks, and four open top tanks that can hold two tons of wine each. An extended fermentation takes place in 100 French oak barrels.

We were taking a bit of backward process in Holman Ranch wine production so we ended with a stroll through the 21 acres of vineyards. Nick explained how the unique microclimate lets the grapes really shine in the wines produced. There is also a 100 tree olive grove with six different varieties of olives.   

Holman Ranch also produces a small lot of Jarman Wines, named after Hunter’s mom who passed away of early onset Alzheimers. The Jarman label includes the best of the estate’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. One dollar from each bottle sold goes to the Alzheimers Drug Discovery Foundation.

The Holman Ranch is probably best recognized as a wedding and event venue. There’s a beautiful outdoor grass veranda overlooking the entire Carmel Valley where vows are exchanged.  The original 1928 hacienda with its stone walls, terracotta roof and oak furnishings has been beautifully restored where guests can gather indoors or outside in the spacious courtyard.

There are ten spacious guest suites artfully decorated in country chic with wood features and beautifully tiled bathrooms.

Our adventurous day in the country culminated in a lovely dinner at Wills Fargo, the Holman Ranch’s landmark steakhouse built in the 1920s. Executive Chef Hector Berumen features local foods and served a decadent and extensive tasting menu that started with a plethora of appetizers including beef and chicken skewers, calamari and crab cakes. An over-the-top presentation of main courses included chicken Marsala, shrimp scampi, and tasting portions of New York strip steak, ribeye and filet mignon. Wine pairings included Holman Ranch ’12 Virgin Chardonnay, ’13 Kelly’s Press Pinot Noir, ’14 Jarman Chardonnay and ’11 Hunter’s Cuvée Pinot Noir. Dessert was a sampling of decadent chocolate and sweet selections (the tiramisu was to die for!). This was truly one of the most memorable meals of my life.

If you’re looking for a great getaway with amazing views, sumptuous wines and memorable food, I highly recommend unwinding at the Holman Ranch.

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