Gallery: Central Coast: Holman Ranch, Carmel Valley [5 Images] Click any image to expand.
Central Coast: Holman Ranch, Carmel Valley
by Mallory Soares
When Hunter Lowder attended a wedding at a remote ranch overlooking Carmel Valley in 2005, she had other things on her mind in addition to matrimony. She sat at a rustic picnic table surrounded by breathtaking views of the valley and Big Sur and thought, This could be it.
The “it” was property her father had been searching for to fulfill his dream of owning a vineyard. She phoned her dad, Thomas Lowder, to tell him about the 400-acre ranch that was for sale.
“He laughed and said, ‘I was thinking more like five acres and maybe making six barrels of wine for me and my friends,’” Hunter Lowder says, recalling the conversation.
She convinced her parents to visit the property and, as soon as they saw the views, they were sold. Holman Ranch was theirs.
Holman Ranch has a storied past. The Spanish-style hacienda was built in the 1920s and hosted the likes of silent film stars Charlie Chaplin and Theda Bara. The Holman family purchased the property in the 1940s and the ranch became a gathering place for Hollywood celebrities including Clark Gable, Vincent Price and Joan Crawford. It changed hands again in 1989 when it became an event venue and winery.
When the Lowders took it over in 2006, they decided to keep the original Holman Ranch name to preserve as much history as possible.
“We wanted to preserve the property and preserve the community,” says Lowder, director of hospitality at Holman Ranch. “It’s not about us. We’re more the caretakers of the property, not the spearheaders.”
Holman Ranch was no ordinary dream for the family. Jarman Lowder, Hunter’s mother and Thomas’ wife, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease about 10 years ago. Thomas retired from the company he had been running for more than 30 years and bought Holman Ranch. Hunter Lowder said he wanted to “fulfill this wish before my mom couldn’t remember who she was, let alone that they were making wine.”
They saw it as a business their family could run to fulfill their passions—wine and olive oil making, hosting events and continuing the family tradition of giving back. They restored the ranch, renovated the landscaping and planted 17 acres of Pinot Noir grapes. In addition to the historic hacienda and horse stables, the property features lush suites, several barns and a 3,000-square-foot wine cave.
“Failure was never an option,” Lowder says. “It was hard, it was difficult, there were some rough moments and it was stressful—but it had to be done. It had to be finished.”
Eight years later, their vision has come together. Now their wines are winning top awards. In July, their 2011 Chardonnay won a gold medal and their 2010 Pinot earned a silver medal in Sunset Magazine’s International Wine Competition. They host close to 80 weddings a year and 30 to 40 other events including retreats, family reunions and vow renewals. And they are staunch supporters of the Alzheimer’s Association and other charities including Wish Upon a Wedding.
During a recent press preview, Lowder and her husband Nick Elliott proudly showed off the grounds. Guests traveled up a long, winding driveway that runs alongside pastures, stables and a lake and were greeted by Elliott and a glass of Holman Ranch wine.
“We produce all of our wine in a cave,” Elliott told the visitors, explaining how serious Holman Ranch is about sustainability. “Because we’re all underground, the cave doesn’t require heating or air conditioning. So we save on electricity and power every year just by digging a hole in the ground.”
Lowder and Elliott treated guests to a dinner buffet prepared by Wild Thyme Catering and a stay in the ranch’s guest cottages. The intimate group of 15 gathered in the Carriage House and dined on caprese salad, roasted breast of chicken, ratatouille over herbed polenta and eggplant cannelloni. Dessert was a peach and berry crisp that melted in your mouth—a small sampling of the possibilities for those planning an event at Holman Ranch.
Lowder says she does her best to accommodate any bride and groom, no matter what the budget or type of wedding.
“You can spend $100,000 here, but can you also spend $20,000,” Lowder laughs. But, she says, at Holman Ranch, a bride isn’t just a number—everything is personal.
Allison Silber, 26, couldn’t agree more. She says she looked at 87 wedding venues in Northern California before she chose Holman Ranch—or Holman Ranch chose her—for her 2011 wedding. Silber had blogged that she wanted her wedding there but couldn’t afford it. Lowder saw the blog and quickly replied, offering to work with her. They were able to plan a beautiful wedding within Silber’s budget.
“The most memorable part of my wedding was, well, the rain,” Silber says. “The clouds parted, the sun came out and we had a beautiful ceremony. Ten minutes after the ceremony ended it started pouring again.”
But, Silber says, everything went smoothly, even with the rain. She now works as a wedding planner and guides many of her clients to Holman Ranch.
Lowder says she particularly enjoys hosting cultural weddings at Holman Ranch.
“We’ll have an Indian bride and a Jewish groom and we’ll incorporate both cultures,” she says. “Those are really fantastic to see and are very touching because they are really trying to be respectful to their families, and it’s just a great way to start off a marriage.”
Holman Ranch hosts same-sex marriages, as well.
“People will ask, ‘Do you allow gay weddings?’ and I say, ‘I’m so sorry you even had to ask that question,’” Lowder says. “Whether it’s an Indian wedding, a gay wedding, vow renewals, or whatever, we try to be very respectful to people and their time.”
A portion of the proceeds from many of the events held at Holman Ranch benefits Alzheimer’s research. In July, Lowder and Elliott celebrated the ranch’s 86th birthday with its annual Fiesta de los Amigos, donating $5 from each ticket to the Alzheimer’s Association. Lowder’s goal is to help people create memories while also helping preserve the memories of Alzheimer’s patients.
“My mother was always really happy out here,” Lowder says. “I don’t think she really comprehended what was going on by any means, but I think she really enjoyed the location and the property and the fact that we were all here.”
Jarman Lowder died three years ago at the age of 60, but her spirit lives on at Holman Ranch, making it forever a special place.
Mallory Soares is a student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nutrition.