Have you ever dreamed of being a winemaker? The Grand Cru Experience at Holman Ranch offers the opportunity to walk in a winemaker’s shoes—from the rows of the vineyard to the underground caves and, finally, to the tasting room.
Used chiefly in official French wine classifications, ‘Grand Cru’ refers to a wine of the highest quality or to the vineyard that produces it. By appointment only, Jarman Wines’ Grand Cru Experience begins with an ATV ride to the top of the Holman Ranch property, stops in the winery for barrel tasting, and ends at the Jarman Tasting Lounge and Patio with a wine and food pairing.
While the itinerary is the same for everyone, Holman Ranch’s family owner Nick Elliott tailors the tour for each party, spending approximately two hours with guests on these private, one-of-a-kind adventures. Chatting amiably on the ride from the guest cottages at the ranch up to the top of the vineyard, he gauges level of interest in viticulture, ecology, and enology or if there’s simply an appreciation of wines. “Usually,” he notes, “at least one part of the group or couple is an avid wine enthusiast. It does help if everyone enjoys wine.”
Located twelve miles inland from the coast, Holman Ranch sits at the northeastern tip of the Carmel Valley appellation. Their estate-grown wine varietals occupy just over twenty acres of bucolic terrain.
Winding up to the highest vines, we disembarked at the vineyard planted with rows of Pinot Noir grapes, clone 828. At one-third of an acre, it’s the smallest vineyard on the property; but it might be one of the most interesting. Elliott pointed out that 828 grape clusters point upward on hardy stems instead of hanging down the way clusters are usually oriented. 828 is blended into the Jarman Estate Pinot Noir and like all of the grapes in Jarman wines, they are 100% estate-grown, organic, and certified-sustainable grapes.
Elliott shared details about how they plant cover crops—sweet pea and rye—to provide nutrients to the soil. And he pointed out three enormous mounds of compost, in different stages of decomposition, that were created using manure from the stables and plant clippings from the ranch, resulting in a completely natural fertilizer. Indicating one of the many owl boxes above the vines, he explained that they control pests with natural predators such as spiders, ladybugs, and owls.
As we made our way down the hill, we paused in the olive grove. Elliott indicated the difference between the French olive trees which are stockier while the Italian trees are more slender and taller. Holman Ranch’s estate olive oil is blended using whatever olives the trees produce. So, one year, if the blend contains more Frantoio or Coratina olives it will be more peppery; if the blend has a higher percentage of Leccino or Pendolino fruits, it will lean more towards the sweet and mild. The oil is a limited edition product available at the tasting room while supplies last.
The 3,000 square foot winery at Holman Ranch, located in The Caves which are carved out of the hillside, is completely underground to take advantage of the natural cooling and stable humidity. Held at a constant temperature of between 58˚F-60˚F, the winery houses a dozen different tanks with varying capacities, including four open tanks that allow for manipulation with a wooden paddle. “These,” Elliot gestured, “allow us create truly handmade wines and make small adjustments during the fermentation process. But we don’t manipulate things too much because we want the grapes to speak for themselves.”
Between explaining the different tools used in the wine-making process and showing me photos from the trip to France when he and Hunter Lowder visited the cooperage where their oak barrels are made, Elliott used a wine thief to pull wine from barrels for us to sample. We tasted the 2015 Holman Pinot Noir and the 2015 Jarman Pinot Noir.
Jarman’s artisanal, small-batch wines honor matriarch Jarman Fearing Lowder’s memory and spirit. Held in limited supply, the Jarman wines are not available anywhere except the tasting room.
At the tasting room Elliott walked to pick up a charcuterie tray from neighboring Will’s Fargo Restaurant + Bar, which joined the Holman Ranch family holdings nearly two years ago. The charcuterie tray included grilled toast points, rustic mustard, prosciutto, assorted pickles, and a country-style housemade pâté with a wild mushroom gelée.
Unsurprisingly, the two Jarman varietals he poured—2014 Jarman Chardonnay and 2013 Pinot Noir—complemented the food nicely. We started with the 2014 Chardonnay whose floral notes seemed to soften the piquant mustard and pickled cauliflower and onions. The 2013 Pinot Noir, lush with subtle notes of ripe fruit and earthy spices, matched the suppleness of the pâté. “It reminds me of warm blueberry pie,” Elliott commented.
The Grand Cru Experience takes the visitor on the complete journey that the grapes themselves undertake—connecting you from the vine to the table. And, with those experiences, you view the wine with a more informed appreciation.
Jarman Tasting Lounge and Patio
18 West Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley
Camilla M. Mann has crammed a lot of different jobs into four decades: florist, waitress, SCUBA divemaster, stock photo agency manager, stroller fitness teacher, writer, editor, and au pair. But, if she had to distill who she is today – tree-hugging, veggie-crunching, jewelry-designing mean mommy who loves to cook but hates to clean. Thankfully her husband and their boys clean like champs. Her current culinary goal: grow conscientious, creative kids with fearless palates! She blogs at culinary-adventures-with-cam.blogspot.com