Weddings, Wine, & Olive Oil at Holman Ranch
This year, Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley, California, celebrates 85 years as a guest ranch. The 400-acre property hosts weddings and special events, produces wine, boards horses, grows olives, and still has space left over for cattle ranching. I recently had the opportunity to visit the ranch for a tour of the property and an overnight retreat.
Holman Ranch’s slogan is, “Where the past is always present,” and I found that to be very true. In 1928, San Francisco businessman Gordon Armsby purchased 600 acres in the Los Laureles area of Carmel Valley—including what would become Holman Ranch—and tended to the land for the next 12 years. Armsby and architect Clarence Tantau (of Del Monte Hotel fame) designed a classic Spanish-style hacienda, in which Armsby would reside, made from local Carmel stone; the hacienda remains in all its glory on the Holman Ranch property today.
Clarence Holman purchased the property in the 1940s and turned it into Homan’s Guest Ranch. The family transformed the area from a gentlemen’s retreat into a cattle ranch and place for visitors to enjoy the beauty of Carmel Valley. Together with his wife, Holman hosted rodeos and built guest bungalows and one of the first pools in the area. The ranch already had a reputation as an exclusive hideaway, hosting celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin, and the tradition continued with visits from Clark Gable, Vincent Price, Joan Crawford, and Marlon Brando.
Each guestroom is now themed to reflect one celebrity who stayed at the ranch. Our room channeled Theda Bara, an American silent film and stage actress who received the nickname “The Vamp” for her femme fatale roles.
In the late 1980s, shortly after the death of Vivian Holman, Dorothy McEwan took over and is credited for restoring the hacienda, founding stables, and planting vineyards. The current owners, the Lowder family, purchased the ranch in 2006 and, while restoring and refurbishing the property, installed modern conveniences including heat, air conditioning, Wi-Fi, flat screen televisions, and indoor and outdoor electricity. They also decided to fulfill a lifelong dream to make estate-grown wine and olive oil.
I was amazed to see how the dreams of each owner lived on at the ranch. A 100-horse boarding facility greeted us as we drove up to the main property. Cows grazed in the hills, and 19 acres of vineyards waited behind the pastures for spring to come.
My colleague and I arrived at the ranch with enough time to get settled in our room before a tour of the vineyards and wine cave. The ten guestrooms on the property were spacious and decorated with a cozy, country feel. The layout of the rooms in relation to one another also gave a nice sense of privacy—perfect for a romantic retreat.
Speaking of romance, one business venture the current owners of Holman Ranch seemed eager to promote during our visit was its wedding hosting. From the ceremony to the reception, the ranch provides a gorgeous setting for saying “I do.” The exchanging of vows takes place on a semi-circle of steps backed by rolling hills, and the celebration continues with dinner in the hacienda’s Rose Patio. There is no chef on-site so couples can hire one of the ranch’s recommended caterers or go with one of their own. The ranch has also partnered with area hotels to accommodate an overflow of wedding guests.
Holman Ranch is a prime setting for corporate retreats, family reunions, and special occasions, as well. The remote location allows for an escape from the rest of the world and its many distractions. Instead, guests can retreat back to simpler times, playing bocce ball and horseshoes on the hacienda lawn and pool, cards, and darts in the game room or taking a walk to visit the horses at the boarding stables.
The Lowder family is also working to grow its wine business; the first estate-produced vintage was released last year. The recent move to grow and make wine all on-site was made possible with the creation of a wine cave, a cost-effective solution that maintains the correct temperature and humidity and helps minimize evaporation. All Holman Ranch wine is now crushed, barreled, fermented, and stored in the wine cave on the property. A tasting room in Carmel Valley Village, located just below the ranch on Carmel Valley Road, offers samples of Holman Ranch Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Pinot gris, Sauvignon blanc, and Rosé of Pinot noir.
We had the opportunity to try a few of the wines during dinner in the hacienda’s Great Room, the original living room of the home. The Chardonnay and Pinot gris were good, although I am not the biggest fan of whites in general. I did, however, greatly enjoy the Pinot noir, which was more full-bodied than a normal Pinot and paired well with the salad served for our first course.
Holman Ranch finds a balance in preserving the past and looking toward the future. Whether hosting a wedding, barreling wine, creating extra virgin olive oil, feeding cattle, or boarding horses, the ranch makes use of its land and honors the beauty of Carmel Valley.
Holman Ranch is located at 60 Holman Road in Carmel Valley, California. The tasting room can be found at 19 E. Carmel Valley Road. Call (831) 659-2640 for more information.