Thursday, June 27, 2013

Where the Magic Happens: The Caves at Holman Ranch {Edible Monterey Bay}

This is on the Edible Monterey Bay blog: here. Or read it below.


Stepping into a vineyard’s wine cave feels slightly illicit. Maybe it’s the sense that you’re getting a peek into where the wine making magic happens. It’s where the wine ferments and ages, developing the flavor profile that the winemaker desires. Or perhaps it’s just that being underground lends a certain air of mystery.

The Caves at Holman Ranch are completely underground, carved into the hillside, to take advantage of the natural cooling and humidity. The 3000-square-foot area maintains a constant temperature, fluctuating only a degree or two from 58˚F to 60 ˚F, and houses four 750-gallon tanks, four 1200-gallon tanks, four open top tanks that can house two tons each, and one hundred François Frères oak barrels. All of the winery operations—from destemming and pressing to fermenting and aging—take place within the cool environment of the caves, while bottling is done directly outside using a mobile bottling line.

On the day that I visited, Guest Services Manager Nick Elliott greeted me, swung open the heavy wooden doors to the underground workspace, and invited me inside. We strolled towards a barrel topped with an army of wine goblets and a variety of Holman Ranch wines, including their estate Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé of Pinot Noir. It was the unreleased Chardonnay that intrigued me the most.

Over a picnic lunch just outside the caves, Nick poured both the 2010 Chardonnay and the not-yet-released 2012 Virgin Chardonnay. I chuckled when I finally saw the label. I had heard him mention ‘virgin’ when we talked about the wine, but I didn’t realize that that was its actual name – on the bottle.

While the 2010 is cold-fermented for three months in new François Frères oak barrels, the 2012 has never seen any wood. Nick and I discussed how the oak contributes to the character of the wine. Aging wine in oak barrels produces a smoother, fuller, and sweeter wine. Used judiciously, like Holman’s three months stint, the wine grows complex without getting too buttery and heavy.

New oak barrels impart flavor to the wine. With each use, the wine extracts progressively less and less oak flavor. After a few seasons of use—Holman Ranch considers their barrels ‘new’ for three rounds—the barrel is largely depleted of its oaky flavor. The barrels are still used after that; but they are simply labeled as ‘neutral’ barrels.
Though Holman Ranch’s 2010 Chardonnay is only oaked for three months, it still has that supple, round feel, woodsy smell, and toasty character that is fairly common in Chardonnay wines.

The 2012 Virgin Chard is altogether a different creature. The first word that came to mind after inhaling the bouquet was ‘grassy.’ The aroma reminded me of a freshly mown field—not golden straw or hay but lush, verdant grass. There is the faintest green tint to the wine as well. Even the foil capsule covering over the cork is a unique, almost iridescent shade of green. The wine was bright and crisp and after a few minutes in the glass it grew almost tropical. What a fun summer wine!

And the 2012 Virgin Chardonnay is only one of the up-and-coming wines to emerge from Holman Ranch. Nick, knowing my fondness for Pinot Noir, shared that they will have ten Pinots with a 2012 vintage. Ten. That is not a typo. While most are small production—with only about 50 cases bottled of each—Holman is debuting one larger production wine that will bear the name of the third Lowder daughter, Kelly.

Kelly’s Press is a pressed, versus free-run, wine which means that it’s made using the leftover must, the unfermented grape juice and contains the seeds, stems, and skins. It will join the 2010 Hunter’s Cuvée, a bold Pinot Noir with intense jam notes; the 2011 Heather’s Hill that makes me think of rose petals and peppercorns; the 2010 Estate-Grown Pinot that is aged for 12 months in French oak, resulting in an earthy wine with hints of tobacco; and six clonal varieties, including Clone 667, Clone 777, Clone 828, Pommard 4, Swan, and Calera.

Holman Ranch Vineyards consists of 19 acres that lie between 950 and 1150 feet in elevation. The topography of the surrounding area allows for morning fog that rapidly moves out as the air warms while sedimentary soils and Carmel stone play a major role in providing excellent soil drainage. The vines are planted 15 degrees off due north which allows for all-day sunlight on the fruit zone and good protection from winds. Holman Ranch’s inland valley is an ideal microclimate for the production of Pinot Noir grapes.

Currently in the process of attaining sustainable and organic certification, they do not use any chemical herbicides or pesticides on their fruit. Holman Ranch’s wines are refined and crafted to deliver the true varietal of the grape from harvest to table. And if purity and passion are key ingredients in the wine-making process, Holman Ranch truly excels in that arena.

You can take a trip to the Holman Ranch Tasting Room in the Carmel Valley Village to taste their wines. And if you ask really nicely, they might even let you into The Caves to see where all the magic happens. Or you can attend a special dinner in July at the vineyard that will showcase their wines.

Holman Ranch Vineyard and Edible Monterey Bay host a Farm (and Vineyard) to Table Pop-Up Supper Club on Sunday, July 28th to benefit the Food Bank for Monterey County. Click here to buy tickets.

 Holman Ranch Tasting Room
19 E. Carmel Valley Rd., Suite C
Carmel Valley, CA 93924
(831) 659-2640

Summer Hours
Mon–Thu – 11am–6pm
Fri–Sun – 12pm–7pm
Private Tasting – Call for information

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