By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer
February 12, 2013 - Tucked in the hills of Carmel Valley, Holman Ranch offers a majestic setting for couples to exchange vows.
One of the Carmel Valley’s first ranchers, Jose Manuel Boronda, was granted 6,625 acres of the Los Laureles Rancho by the Mexican government in 1839. After 1868 the land passed thru many hands until 1928, when San Francisco businessman Gordon Armsby purchased 600 acres in Los Laureles, including what is now Holman Ranch. Armsby created an exclusive gentleman’s retreat that included construction of a Spanish-style hacienda with Carmel stone walls, oak-beamed ceilings and Mexican terra cotta roofing. Nicknamed Casa Escondido, or Hidden House, it became a hideaway for famous Hollywood celebrities such as Theda Bara and Charlie Chaplin.
The Great Depression of the 1930s ultimately had a direct impact on the ranch’s ownership. Financial troubles in the 1940s eventually caused Armsby to lose the ranch, which was acquired by Clarence Holman of Holman’s Department Store and his wife, Vivian. Over the years the Holmans worked to convert it into a guest ranch. It became one of the first resorts in the valley, boasting the only rodeo arena in the area, eclectic guestrooms and one of Carmel Valley’s first swimming pools.
Continuing the tradition of hosting celebrities, Vincent Price, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and Marlon Brando are among many who enjoyed the Holmans’ hospitality.
Despite Clarence’s death in 1962, Vivian kept the ranch going with many events and community activities until her death in 1981. Then, in 1989, Dorothy McEwen made it her mission to restore the ranch’s historic past. An equestrian, McEwen founded stables, planted vineyards – specifically Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc – and outfitted the hacienda to accommodate various events, including weddings. McEwen transformed the ranch into “a stunningly successful wedding venue,” according to Nick Elliott, guest services manager at Holman Ranch.
Elliott’s father-in-law, Thomas Lowder, purchased the ranch with his wife, Jarman, in 2006. Elliott and his wife, Hunter, have been working on the ranch ever since – restoring, refurbishing and updating the property. The Lowders have refocused the business to production of estate grown wines and olive oil, while maintaining the hacienda and surrounding landscape for special events and weddings.
“For the longest time, the focus of the ranch was doing weddings,” Elliott said. “When [the Lowder family] purchased it, we were not a wine production company at the time. It was really wedding-focused. We bought the property with the idea that it would become a family business and then really capitalize on the popularity of weddings at Holman Ranch.”
Holman Ranch spans 400 acres. Of that, about 200 acres are leased to cattle ranchers and more land is dedicated to about 100 privately boarded horses. There are 19 acres designated for grape growing and that are open for tours during special events, Elliott explained. Guests may also request wine barrel tasting.
According to Elliott, the vineyards currently yield 3,000 cases of wine per year. Over the past three years, he and his family have been working on constructing a wine cave for storage and testing. The 2012 vintages of Holman Ranch wines are the first officially estate produced, where before production occurred off site, Elliott said.
While the ranch’s pursuit of wine and olive oil production for distribution is in its infancy, the top business on the property remains hosting weddings. Hunter Lowder is the ranch’s director of hospitality and acts as the wedding coordinator with anywhere from five to 10 staff members assisting with day-of activities.
The main recreation area, which includes manicured lawns and the custom built platform for ceremonies, is able to host a seated dinner for up to 375 guests. Standing capacity is 1,000, Elliott said. In renovating the hacienda, the Lowders designed the main dining room in the original Spanish style.