Holman Ranch: An Angle of Absolute Repose


Wallace Stegner wrote a vivid novel with an equally compelling title: Angle of Repose. That title came to mind when I visited historic Holman Ranch, the 400-acre property in Carmel Valley, California. The ranch grounds themselves are in a lovely little valley of their own, sitting in an agreeable angle of repose among the oak-studded hills.

Entrance to Holman Ranch

Relaxing at Holman Ranch

Views at Holman Ranch

Gate at Holman Ranch

Sit a spell. Holman Ranch

There’s such a sweet appeal in a setting like this, with its rambling gardens, winding paths, and stalwart stone hacienda—at a glance you can see why it’s a popular place for weddings, of which the property hosts 50 a year. The owners know how to treat guests well, and there’s a legacy of that: the ranch has been a guest resort since it was first built in 1928, one of the first commercial buildings in Carmel Valley. Luminaries like Clark Gable, Vincent Price, Joan Crawford and Marlon Brando have frolicked on its charming grounds. Holman was a particular favorite of Charlie Chaplin, and his photograph hangs here among many of the stars that found favor with the ranch’s laid-back appeal.

Historic documents at Holman Ranch

Stairs in the sun, Holman Ranch

Would you go in? Holman Ranch

Art at Holman Ranch

At Holman Ranch

Estate Wines to Match the Estate Beauty

Besides giving respite to stars and brides, the ranch also hosts events like family reunions and corporate retreats. They don’t have to travel far to quench guests’ thirst for premium wines: Holman is a low-yield, boutique winery, with 100% estate-grown wines from their 21 acres; pinot is a specialty. The vines are organically certified, and the ranch practices rigorous sustainability, particularly in water and power conservation. They’ve just bottled a pinot for their new premium label, Jarman, which will sadly have to rest 2–3 years in the bottle, but ranch guests have many other heady Holman vintages to choose from.

Wine at Holman Ranch

Touring the captivating Spanish colonial hacienda building is a treat: it’s filled with period-style furniture, has a dramatic open-beam great room, and a beautiful inner courtyard called the Rose Patio, for its fragrant roses. There’s also lots of local artwork, with some eye-catching western-themed paintings and sculptures. There are fun ranch touches in the comfortable guest rooms, like tables with big cowboy-boot bases. But nothing is kitschy: there are nice tiled floors, heavy wood tables, and the kind of agreeable touches—like fluffy towels and good coffee̵—that make for an inviting stay.

Sunny repose at Holman Ranch

Western art at Holman Ranch

Our room at Holman Ranch

Holman Ranch

A game of cards? Art at Holman Ranch

History on the Plate as Well

The new owners have held the property for 8.5 years, and did a great deal of refurbishing of the grounds and buildings from 2006–2009, and their care in keeping the historical flavor of the ranch is evident. The family also recently bought the historic Will’s Fargo restaurant, also among the first commercial buildings in Carmel Valley, and any refreshing of its homey furnishings they do will retain the original charm. Having a classically trained French chef doesn’t hurt either: we had a rousing dinner at Will’s, starting with a chestnut and mushroom soup with truffle oil that was dizzyingly good, and culminating in a warm molten chocolate cake with olive-oil ice cream—using the ranch’s own olive oil. Yes!

Will's Fargo dining, at Holman Ranch

Soup at Will's Fargo, Holman Ranch

Ravioli at Will's Fargo, Holman Ranch

Our ranch stay could have included a dip in the pool, with its bright antique tile work, perhaps after a stint at its companion fitness center, but we preferred to stroll the gardens and laze around the grounds. There’s also a nice equestrian center run by the ranch a bit down the hill, where the boarding horses get treated to lots of sunshine and big-time valley views.

Pool  with a view at Holman Ranch

Scenery at Holman Ranch

Roping Cattle, art at Holman Ranch

Holman Ranch

Staying at Holman Ranch

Though undoubtedly the wedding scenes have lots of bold toasts and festive music, I felt pretty satisfied lounging in the big chairs on the deck outside our quiet guest room, and watching the morning sun slant down on the ranch grounds. It’s a perfect angle of repose.

At Holman Ranch




Afternoon sun at Holman Ranch


Tom Bentley is still trying to figure out what flavor of writer he is, but so far he’s a short story writer, novelist, essayist, travel writer, journalist, and business copywriter. He edits all that stuff too. His singing has been known to frighten the horses. See his lurid website confessions and blog at www.tombentley.com


All photos courtesy and copyright Alice Bourget


Note: Our stay was courtesy of Holman Ranch, all opinions are my own.