What to do in Carmel: Holman Ranch

Holman Ranch

Holman Ranch, circa 1928

How great was it to be a movie star in the 1920s? You drove sleek, panther-like, hand-crafted limousines, sipped swank cocktails, indulged in fine food and wine and had peccadillos in well-appointed Spanish Revival estates like Holman Ranch. If you were Charlie Chaplin, it seems you did this everywhere.

Even Holman Ranch. This especially spectacular getaway and event venue (from the very beginning) was built in 1928, on a working rancho that was once part of Mexico. The property’s Carmel Stone-walled hacienda has been restored by its current owners to its original rustic elegance. Framed newspaper articles and magazine spreads from the intervening decades show that today’s Holman Ranch is just like when Charlie, Marlon, Clark and Joan were here (check out their portraits in a cool stone hallway).

Holman Ranch is perched upon 400 acres of vineyards, stables and rolling hills. A mere 12 miles inland from the coast (and the posh town of Carmel-by-the-Sea), it’s a great place for a quiet retreat– or even a festive celebration. The Ranch rents out the property (along with several plushly refurbished guest rooms) for weddings and special events. Hunter and Nick, the charming (and lucky!) proprietors are happy to supply their own estate-bottled Holman Ranch wines to enhance your experience even more.

Let’s talk wine. Holman Ranch is part of the Carmel Valley AVA (American Viticulture Area, similar to France’s AOC/AOP or Italy’s DOCG). The Ranch’s location at the northern end of the Appellation provides a great microclimate for winemaking: grapes respond well to the contrast between the warmth of the valley and the cooling marine layer. Especially the finicky, delicate and delectable Pinot Noir. Other French varietals, like Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, also thrive on Holman’s thin rocky soils.

Even though the setting is magical and the ambiance delightful, I was most excited about going underground. Nick led us on an informative tour of Holman Ranch’s relatively small, definitely state-of-the-art, cave. He shared his techniques for coaxing the most flavor from the berries. White grapes are fermented stem, leaves and all in stainless steel tanks, preserving their crisp acidity and delicate aromas. The white wine varietals are aged three to four months before being bottled on site.

Black grapes are de-stemmed, gently pressed then fermented in open stainless tanks by the traditional Old World method of punching down the cap of the must by hand. This can get pretty hot, the temperature of the fermenting juice can range from 80 up to 95 degrees! After a couple of weeks, the juice is racked off to new French oak barrels to age for a year or more. The very special Hunters Cuvee Pinot Noir, from prime south-facing hillside vines, is aged for two years.

Nick ended the tour with a treat– a taste of Hunters Cuvee direct from the barrel. Yes it was 10:30 in the morning, and yes the wine will develop more complexity down the road, but I felt like a movie star. KEN

Holman Ranch is not a hotel. It’s a working ranch, with horse facilities, a winery and an olive grove. Its guest quarters can accommodate groups of 10 to 12 people overnight, and up to 500 for weddings, retreats and special events (corporate or otherwise). Ken and I were invited to spend the night and enjoy the ranch, its wine and to join the family in a casual al fresco meal served under the grape arbor. The decision to write about our experience was our own. I hope you’ll check out the video we put together. It appears after the jump and below the photo grid. GREG

Holman Ranch

Some photos featured in this video were provided by Holman Ranch and appear courtesy of Elle Jay, John Kaemmerling and Mike Steelman.