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Everything Old is New Again

Old Creek Ranch Winery gets a new owner…and a new lease on life.

By Leslie A. Westbrook

Photo by Michael Moore

After three years of renovations, the “new” Old Creek Ranch Winery offers refurbished roads, new buildings, outdoor tasting stations and native vegetation through which winding paths meander.

“If I knew then what I know now,” laughs Andy Holguin, patriarch and new owner (with his family) of the historic 850-acre Old Creek Ranch and Winery, “I probably wouldn’t have bought this place. It’s the only rural traditional winery in Ventura County.”

With new buildings, a 1,600-square-foot indoor tasting room (opening soon), lovely outdoor sipping areas and refurbished roads so costly that Holguin notes he “could have bought a Bentley!” the native Californian — who grew up in a large Hispanic family in Pico Rivera and always wanted a ranch — chose quite a retirement project.

The setting in the tranquil valley is idyllic. Sycamore trees and pergolas provide shade; new landscaping includes white roses, Matilija poppies and wild sage. There are a dozen seating areas under trees and trellises, making this a superb place to meet friends and bring a picnic. Old farm equipment and a couple of 1950s Ford trucks add to the “old ranch” ambience. Benches are made from wood recycled from an old barn that was torn down; the original tasting room is now an office.

The ranch was originally part of a historic 22,000-acre Spanish land grant in early California. In the late 1800s, an Italian by the name of Antonio Riva purchased the ranch and built a winery, which was in operation until the early 1940s. The Maitland family purchased the property in 1976, made award-winning wines and sold the ranch in 2015 to the Holguin family.

Being a “gentleman vintner and farmer” and raising a herd of 24 cattle is a new adventure for Holguin, the former head of a consulting firm for petroleum site assessments and remediation who sold his company in 2012.

“I needed a project,” he told me as we sat in the shade. “We opened on April 7 and I was scared at the beginning, but it’s been quite rewarding. I had no desire to be a winemaker or open a winery, but here I am!”

He did want a ranch — and now considers the winery a plus.

What Holguin does enjoy is design, architecture and construction — and the property reflects that. In fact, Holguin spent 15 years remodeling the family’s Sulphur Mountain, Mission-style home located 9 miles away, where he lives with his wife, Jane, who is the “social media maven” and in charge of the produce stand that sells locally made crafts as well as produce from the ranch’s organic orchards, including peaches, plums and persimmons.

Wooden outdoor tasting stations, with refrigeration for the white wines, are being utilized until the tasting room, with its lovely tile mural depicting Matilija Canyon (made by RTK Studios of Ojai) and a painting of the ranch by Ojai artist Jeff Sojka, opens. Parking has been reconfigured to take advantage of tree shade — hence, the expensive new roads.

In the meantime, vineyards within view are being planted with albariño, viognier, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc grapes. Up the hill, grenache, petite sirah, syrah, sangiovese and tempranillo will be planted in the future. Grapes are now sourced from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties and the wine is made elsewhere, but that will change when the winemaking production facility is complete and new grapes come to fruition.

The Holguins’ daughter, Marie (office manager), and her husband, Frans van Leeuwen (ranch manager), live on the ranch just next to a new outdoor kitchen with an Argentinian barbecue and pizza oven. The couple met in Bergamo, Italy, at Montessori school training and married just a year ago. Both gave up teaching careers to oversee the ranch and wine business, with Frans leaving his native Netherlands for new adventures in the West.

“Living at the ranch fits perfectly — it’s something new and fun,” says Marie, who also has a fun new puppy named Vlinder (butterfly in Dutch).

Winemaker Jeremy Leffert, Marie notes, is “crafting something special.” Leffert is also winemaker at Tooth and Nail Winery in Paso Robles and was the winemaker for Hearst Ranch Winery (2009-2014).

The Holguins encourage visitors to bring their own picnic, but Domino’s pizza is also available. (Marie is working on getting Ojai Pizza to deliver.) There’s a game area with cornhole and play space for kids. Plans are in the works for a playground.

The family hopes to offer a wedding and private event venue in the future. But in the meantime, “pop-up” events with food trucks and acoustic music add to the ambience of this great afternoon destination.

Wine production has doubled under the Holguins’ leadership. Old Creek Ranch’s previous owner produced up to 1,500 cases a year. Now the winery produces 2,500-3,000 cases. Even so, wines are sold only on site, with no shipping, and you won’t find Old Creek Ranch on any restaurant menus. But wine club members enjoy a “cash and carry” option that includes a 30 percent discount during special sales.

“It’s been a very interesting project and incredible dealing with all the regulations,” admits Holguin, “from property issues, riverbeds, the cattle, orchards, farming and the winery. There are liquor license issues, county and state regulations. It’s amazing how much work it is dealing with regulatory aspects in Southern California and fighting with the government. But luckily I had the background for this!”

Currently, the dog-friendly tasting venue is open only on weekends. That will hopefully become five days a week soon (check the webpage). Ten wines are offered right now, with wine flights going for $15-20 and bottles in the $45 range — with the occasional deal for $25. Most of the winery’s current vintages date from 2015, but there are 54 in the library inherited from the previous owner.

“I am never bored here and I enjoy mingling with the guests,” says Andy Holguin of his post-retirement project. “Everybody wants to talk to the owner!”

Old Creek Ranch Winery
10024 Old Creek Road, Ventura
(805) 649-4132
www.oldcreekranch.com

Pinot gris, cabernet franc and chardonnay are among the 10 wines currently available for on-site purchase. More will be offered once recently planted vineyards mature and a production facility is up and running.

The winery’s rural setting and old-fashioned design create the perfect ambience for a
grape-stomping party.

Owner Andy Holguin (right) with daughter Marie, son-in-law Frans van Leeuwen and playful
pup Vlinder.

Guests can enjoy wine and a picnic on comfortable seating (some made from wood salvaged from the old barn) set among trees and native plants.

07-01-2018

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