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Life at Historic Holman Guest Ranch in Carmel Valley, California

A long, curving driveway through the middle of ranch country led us to what was going to become a charming and serene couple of days full of natural beauty at Holman Ranch.

Each of us gathered our belongings and opened the door to our private rooms off the ranch-style patio complete with rocking chairs and artwork. Once inside, we found a hacienda-styled room with leather chairs around the dining table. To add to the ambience, the Western-style comforters were topped with suede-covered pillows. Rustic luxury would be a good word to describe the room, but there was every amenity needed for today’s traveler. There is room for 38 guests to stay here. By the way, the cottages are dog friendly.


Once we had unpacked, we learned from our gracious host, Nick Elliott, that Holman Ranch started when California was part of Mexico and with the founding of the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo. In 1928, Gordon Armsby purchased 600 acres and hired an architect to create a home made from stone on the property and built with old-world charm. In the 1940’s, the Holmans purchased the property and created Holman’s Guest Ranch, a place where stars like Clark Gable, Marlon Brando and Joan Crawford came to visit.


In 2006, Thomas and Jarman Lowder purchased the property and pursued their dream of planting vineyards and olive trees to make estate-grown wine and olive oil. The ranch is 400 acres with 20 acres of grapes that are certified organic and certified sustainable. In 2009, the Lowders carefully restored the property, including the hacienda to its original beauty, but added modern conveniences. Even the original tiles on the roof of the hacienda were carefully removed and replaced after a new subroof was added. Hunter Lowder, Thomas and Jarman’s daughter, and her husband, Nick Elliott, are now the managing partners of Holman Ranch and continue the warmth and hospitality of a gracious hacienda and ranch.


Nick led us to the barrel room on the property, past the stables and swimming pool (which was the first in Carmel Valley in 1931) to let us sample wines directly from the barrel, some as young as a couple of months. The samples were cloudy because the yeast had not yet settled, and the experience was fun to learn what wine tastes like at its beginning. After a few of these samples, we tasted the finished product which was delightful. Holman Ranch produces 3500 cases of wine a year of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.  The climate, soil, and elevation are perfect for Burgundy varietals. We also drank a few more samples inside a barn that is now used for weddings and meetings. Such a lovely property!

We were then invited to carry our wine as we explored the immaculately restored hacienda. So much charm fills the main room with leather sofas, antique armoires and tables, sculptures and paintings evoking another era but providing comfort and luxury we enjoy today. Off the main room we found a game room with a pool table, perfect for entertaining all ages of guests staying on the property. 


We were off to Jarman Lounge and Patio in Carmel Valley to enjoy the special wines named after Hunter’s mother whose passion for fine wines was the impetus for winemaking by the family.  All wines are made in the French winemaking techniques and aged in French oak.  The Jarman wines are a little bigger and bolder and more round and meaty in the California style. All of the Jarman lots are 200 cases or less.  In addition to selling the wines online, they sell to New Leaf and Whole Foods because they are organic wines.


Dinner was served outside at Will’s Fargo Restaurant and Bar in Carmel Valley, also owned by the family. The name comes from Will Fay who established the restaurant in 1959 in a building that was constructed in the 1920’s to be a tea room and road house. (Fargo is a name given to a way station or road house.) It has what is known as a “dressed up saloon” interior full of antiques from the Victorian times as well as Western amenities.


Our dinner was served family-style on a long table in their beautifully lit patio area. I can attest to the quality of the food, in large part due to Nick’s culinary and hospitality background. The first appetizer of chicken and beef skewers was displayed atop a pineapple head. Then plates arrived of calamari and crab cakes. Salads were very fresh and crispy. Chickenmarsala, shrimp scampi, New Yorkstrip, ribeye, and filetmignon were our delicious main courses served with fresh asparagus, au gratin cauliflower, mixed seasonal vegetables, au gratin potatoes, and stuffed potatoes.  Desserts were chocolatelava cake, cheesecake with raspberries, and crème brûlée. Of course, everything was offered with some of those perfect estate wines of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.


The next morning it was time to say goodbye to Holman Ranch. Holman Ranch is used as the perfect wedding venue, but it is booked out for two years at this time on the weekends. It would also be the ideal location for a corporate event such as team building or possibly for a family reunion.  Other programs available are: Summer Camp for Adults, with billiards, archery, and dance classes as well as s’mores; Ranch Experience with massages and nature hikes; Proposal Package with wine and food pairings and private picnics; and Fitness Camp with cooking demonstrations, hikes on the trails, yoga, and swimming.


As we drove out along vistas of grapes and rolling hills filled with oaks, we tried to figure out what event we could book so we could return again.

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