Holman Ranch: A Pinot Paradise and an All-Year Wedding Destination
By Emma Krasov
In the month of love, why not talk about a wedding? Um, not mine; that happened an incredibly long time ago. My piece of good advice is for those who are in the beginning stages of wedding planning. I know, good advice usually goes unappreciated, but the place I want to tell you about is too good and underappreciated to remain undiscovered by the marrying public.
Holman Ranch—a magical place, a historical place—serves as an ideal gathering ground for all kinds of events, but very few people are aware of its physical proximity and poetical remoteness. Existing since the Spanish era and maintaining its time-honored character alongside its modern comfort, this place was once called Casa Escondida (hidden house). It should not remain hidden any longer!
Thinking about Holman Ranch a month after my visit I still can’t understand how I could have missed this landmark of the Monterey Peninsula on my many trips to Carmel-by-the-Sea and Carmel Valley. It has always been there, at the top of a hill, just a winding mountain road away from the well-known bustling tourist destinations.
Its outpost in Carmel Valley Village is the Holman Ranch tasting room. There, my husband and I tried some estate Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot gris, and Pinot noir—grown on thin, rocky, mountainous soil, ripened under the hot sun and blanketed in marine layer coming from the Pacific to ultimate grape perfection—before we continued uphill to the stone hacienda surrounded by oak groves where we were booked for the night.
We spent a fair amount of time at the tasting room enjoying the wines that are distributed exclusively through the wine club membership and the Holman Ranch website. Approximately 19 acres of Holman Ranch vineyards yield a limited amount of the estate-grown true varietals, especially for wine enthusiasts who know their Pinots.
While I enjoyed a taste of crisp 2011 Sauvignon blanc with aromas of lime, kiwi, and green apple, I liked the ruby-hinted reds even more: 2011 Pinot Noir “Heather’s Hill,” with flavors of marionberry and black cherry, that comes from the highest part of the mountain; 2010 Pinot Noir composed of four different clones, aged for 12 months in French oak, and redolent of sour cherry and blackberry; and full-bodied, energetic 2010 Pinot Noir “Hunter’s Cuvee” with pronounced taste of blueberry and raspberry jam and named after the eldest daughter of the estate’s current owners.
Leaving the tasting room we picked up an old-fashioned, cast-iron key to our cottage and soon ascended to the top of the hill where we were greeted first by a small herd of deer unfazed by our arrival.
Hunter and Nick Lowder—respectively director and manager of guest services at Holman Ranch—met us at the hacienda for a delightful tour of the premises and a historical overview. At the time, when California was still a part of Mexico, the land belonged to the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmello, then to one of the first ranchers in Carmel Valley, Don Jose Manuel Boronda.
After the beautiful green acres at the top of the hill had passed through several hands, the Spanish-style hacienda was constructed in 1928, serving as a celebrity hideaway for Charlie Chaplin, Theda Bara, and other stars of the silent film era.
In the 1940s, Clarence Holman of the Holman’s Department Store family acquired the estate and expanded it by adding guest rooms and a swimming pool, turning it into a lively resort used for “Who’s Who” parties and community events. The next generation of Hollywood stars continued to frequent the new center of Carmel social life. Among them, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, and Marlon Brando.
Decades later, in 1989, Dorothy McEwen purchased the ranch, planted vineyards, built stables, and continued to use the hacienda for various celebrations and events.
The current owners, Thomas and Jarman Lowder and their family started an elaborate restoration project in 2006, which brought Holman Ranch to its current splendor. Refurbished, refreshed, and updated, the place now looks like a dreamlike retreat from the everyday with its sunny lawns, flowerbeds, and chirping birds far above the valley and surrounded by the blue ridges of Santa Lucia Mountains.
On the 400 acres of Holman Ranch there is enough space for everything, from stables and vineyards to elegant wedding celebrations. The ceremony lawn’s focal point is the veranda with 360-degree views. The Great Room is perfect for a dinner reception, while a charming inner courtyard leads to a cheerfully decorated chapel and bride’s room with a full-length mirror, a large table, and massive chairs. This also serves as a conference room.
Across the rose patio, which is lined by rose bushes and lemon trees, there is groom’s room that doubles as the game room (but of course!) and a cozy bar with adjacent preparation and catering areas.
By the main plaza in the center of the estate there is an arbor that leads to the swimming pool, carriage house, and charming cottages with guest rooms.
During our visit to Holman Ranch, between the booked weekend weddings, we fully enjoyed the serenity of the “hidden house.” The silence of the hills was audible, and the blue of the sky above was endless. The place looked gorgeous in winter, and I can only imagine how amazing it must be in the spring and summer when all its flowerbeds are in bloom. I must hope to one day come back again—maybe, as a wedding guest.
Holman Ranch tasting room is located at 19 E. Carmel Valley Road in Camel Valley, California. Call (831) 659-2640 for more information.