Friday, April 19, 2013

Holman Ranch: A Lighter Shade of California

Monetery County’s Holman Ranch has been a popular destination for decades. In its heydey, Holman Ranch hosted dinners and parties for the likes of Clark Gable, Vincent Price and Marlon Brando. These days the property has stables capable of holding more than 100 horses and contains a 20-stall show barn. Nearby, olive trees soak up the warm Monterey sun.

Oh, yeah, and Holman Ranch also produces wine.

Thomas and Jarman Lowder bought Holman Ranch in 2006 with the idea of making their own wine and olive oil. The property, located in the Carmel Valley appellation, is now home to 19 acres of vines, most of which were planted in 2007 and 2008. These estate vineyards sit 12 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean at an elevation of about 1,000 feet. (Here’s a map of the vineyard plantings.)

The Lowders also wanted to continue Holman Ranch’s heritage as a kind of Monterey wine country destination, so they refurbished the property with all the bells and whistles and now market the ranch as a place for weddings and retreats. Their daughter, Hunter, coordinates the winery’s special events. (Judging from the view in these pictures, it does seem like an awesome place for a wedding.)

I’ll admit that the emphasis on Holman Ranch as an event space and tourist destination made me wonder if their wines might be a littly gimmicky. The ’90s script on the labels and the corny language in the press materials — “Where the Past is Always Present” — didn’t help my prejudices. I was expecting run-of-the-mill pinot and chardonnay without much personality. I’m happy to admit I was wrong.

Don't be scared. Tartrate crystals in a bottle usually signify
a minimalist approach to winemaking, not a faulty wine.  
These wines, like the Holman Ranch property, are old school. They display high acid and low alcohol, a combination that is far too uncommon in California these days. The wines are unfined and the whites show a significant amount of tartrate crystals in the bottle. (Tartrates are harmless, natural crystalline deposits, so don’t worry. They’re not the result of the winemaker doing something wrong.) If I had to ascribe a common theme to Holman Ranch wines it would be freshness. These wines are easy to drink and perfect for the seafood, salads and chicken dishes of summer. I have to praise the modest price points as well.
These wines were made by Greg Vito, a UC Davis graduate. Before opening his own vineyard and winemaking consultancy, he used to work for Spring Mountain Vineyards in St. Helena.  

Here are my notes on Holman Ranch’s new releases. All of these wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.
Some tartrate crystals in the glass, but no worries. Aromatically, this takes the citrus and floral road, with grapefruit, lime and honeysuckle. Really tangy on the palate with lots of acid. Ruby red grapefruit flavors all the way, along with green melon and lemon peel. Brisk as all get out and the 12.5% alcohol keeps it light. Not your typical California sauvignon blanc, and I mean that in a good way. Bring on summer. (87 points)

Aromas of oil, dried wax and sea salt — what is this, Jura? — along with some lemon-lime and honeycomb. The palate starts off with a tremendous rush of acid. It’s incredibly brisk in its approach, with flavors of mineral and oyster shell battling it out with the grapefruit and rich honey notes. This is aged three months in new French oak, but, at first, all I could taste was the acid. As the wine opened up and warmed up to near room temperature, you can start to fully taste the toasted popcorn notes. Overall, this wine is intriguing, but definitely a stylistic wine that might not be for everyone. I say open this with oysters, pair it like you would a Chablis. Very good stuff. (90 points)

Green melon and yellow apple fruit combine with floral notes on the nose. On the palate, high acid starts it off. Apricot, melon and yellow apple fruit, along with notes of quinine and dandelion. Fresh and floral in its approach with a medium finish. 12.5% alcohol. (85 points)

Bright strawberry-cherry colored. Smells of watermelon and wild strawberry topped with lime juice. Brisk acid on the palate, with flavors of wild strawberry and lime mixed with a spicy-herbal note that reminds me of rosemary. 12.5% alcohol, this wine is a light, bright rose that paired wonderfully with an array of hard cheeses. (87 points)

A flat-out joyous pinot noir. Mix of sour and ripe cherries on the nose, along with rose petals and pepper. Bright and juicy on the palate, with fresh cherries, cola, earth and notes of chewing tobacco. Firm tannins and fresh acid make this a refreshing pinot. Minerality and pepper linger on the finish. Not the deepest or most profound pinot noir, but delicious and very brisk for a California pinot noir. 12.5% alcohol. (88 points)

Plums, cherry pie and some dusty, earthy notes on the nose, along with rose petals and hints of pepper. The palate shows fresh, juicy red fruit and black fruit mix together with notes of cola, tobacco, cedar and soil. Medium acid with fine tannins, quite delightful. This is bigger than the estate pinot noir but not necessarily more complex. Still quite delightful. (88 points)

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