Nick Elliott, proprietor of Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley, calls it “the million dollar view,” and he may be underselling it.
It is a beyond-doubt spectacularly gorgeous view of the Santa Lucia Mountains, a coastal range in the Monterey Peninsula and central California. Stretching out for miles and miles are green ridges and mountains covered by live oak trees. Above is a pale blue sky with nary a cloud in sight.
“Charlie Chaplin, Marlon Brando, Vincent Price, June Allyson, all these great old Hollywood stars used to love coming to Holman Ranch,” said Elliott. “It’s always been a place to put up your feet and get away.”
So it remains to this day, hidden away in the hills just outside the town of Carmel Valley, a pleasant little village of tasting rooms, shops and restaurants about 15 minutes east of Carmel-By-The-Sea (and a little farther down the road, Monterey). Built originally in 1928, the 400-acre estate still features many of the amenities that attracted Chaplin and friends—a Western ranch-style atmosphere, vineyards, stables, pool, modest but comfortable guest cottages, and of course, that million-dollar view.
Elliott and his wife Hunter Lowder, whose family owns the ranch, are busy managing and promoting it as a getaway spot for corporate retreats and weddings. This year Holman will host 75 weddings with all the brides and grooms pledging eternal love to each other while standing on that romantic promontory with the Santa Lucias quietly observing in the background.
Elliott and Lowder are also promoting another aspect of the ranch, of which they’re proud: They’re making wine on the property. About 3,500 cases a year, mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, all sourced from grapes grown on 19 acres of hillside vineyards that are about 1,000 feet in elevation. On a recent overnight stay at the ranch we had a chance to tour a vineyard and do a barrel tasting in its small winery and caves, built within the past few years.
Dressed with style in sunglasses, a motoring cap, and a striped shirt and tie with a blue sweater, the goateed Elliott conducted the tour, taking us around the grounds and telling us its long and restful history. One highlight was La Casa Escondido, a lovely, refurbished Spanish Colonial building that dates from the founding era of the ranch. It has a courtyard with its original rooftop terracotta tiles still in place and a parlor that adjoins the bedroom where Charlie Chaplin liked to stay.
“Chaplin loved coming to Holman,” Elliott reassured us, although the door to the room was shut and off limits to us. “He came here a ton.”
So did Brando, Price, June Allyson, Clark Gable, William Holden, and other stars whose pictures hang in the hallway next to the bedroom. From there we moved across another courtyard into a gaming room with a pool table, jukebox and bar.
Holman Ranch belongs to the Carmel Valley wine appellation, and it is only one of many Carmel Valley and Monterey County wineries that have tasting rooms in town. In fact Holman has two; they are a couple of blocks from each other. One showcases its less expensive Holman Ranch label and the other pours its premier Jarman brand. The latter tasting room is next door to Will’s Fargo, a venerable Carmel Valley steakhouse that the Lowder family also owns and operates. After a renovation the restaurant reopened in March under new chef Greg Karjala.
At our tasting outside on the Jarman patio, we tried two of its estate-grown wines, the pinot and chard, both 2013 vintage. The chardonnay features a soft finish and a pleasant muskiness, while the pinot also has some earthiness to it with a taste of cherry. We enjoyed them both.
While we mingled on the patio with the other guests someone noticed that Hunter Lowder, who was behind the table pouring wine for her guests, was not drinking wine, however. Her glass contained a different adult beverage.
Elliott, who was standing next to her, smiled at his wife affectionately. “Hunter is a bourbon girl herself,” he explained.
This article also appeared on Kevin Nelson’s blog, WineTravelAdventure.