High Performance, High Style: The 2015 Volkswagen Golf R

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Volkswagen Golf R
The 2015 Volkswagen Golf R.
Bags packed, car loaded, Navigator and I were only a few minutes into our latest adventure when she said "This (car) is nice.  How much?"

"Thirty-nine thousand dollars", I replied, inadvertently leaving 90 bucks off the 2015 Volkswagen Golf R's base price.

"Why would a VW Golf cost $39,000?"  she asked.

With a smile, I pressed my right foot to the floor.

Rear 3/4 view of 2015 Volkswagen Golf R
2015 Volkswagen Golf R.
A base Golf has 170 horsepower.  More than adequate. A Golf GTI has 210 horsepower, 220 with the Performance Package.  The Golf R we were driving has 292.  That's 0-60 in 4.5 seconds.  It's also foot to the floor to a loving but firm "Okay, honey...stop showing off" in about the same amount of time.

Map showing route from Folsom to Monterey
Folsom to Monterey (Source: Google Maps)
Our destination was Monterey and Carmel Valley, respectively, for a two-night getaway.  The Golf R had navigation and it said the fastest route was down Interstate 5 to CA 152 and then west.

Monterey's Fisherman's Wharf
Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey.
Monterey was its usual charming self, a 245-year-old city (the capital of Alta California when it was part of Mexico) perched on a huge and scenic bay.  We pretty much played tourist for day one.  The main event was scheduled for day two.

We were to be guests at Holman Ranch, a winery, vineyards and guest ranch in Carmel Valley.

Map of the route from Monterey to Holman Ranch
Monterey to Holman Ranch (Source: Google Maps)
We could have just driven down to Carmel and then east for 11 miles on Carmel Valley Road, but the Golf R's navigation system instead recommended Laureles Grade, a beautiful, twisty-two lane that runs right past the famed Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, allowing the Golf R to show off the suspension that goes with all that power.

Tire, wheel and brake of 2015 Volkswagen Golf R
2015 Volkswagen Golf R.

The 2-liter turbo four is accompanied by a 4Motion all-wheel-drive system with a fifth-generation Haldex coupling, adaptive sport suspension with four-mode dynamic chassis control (which responds continually to changing driving situations, factoring in acceleration, braking and steering), that allows the choice of comfort, normal and sport, stability control with race mode, massive brakes and 19-inch wheels on low-profile summer tires.  If they'd left a gate open, I'd have been ready for a few hot laps of Laguna Seca.

It was a terrific build-up, but there is very little that could prepare the uninitiated for Holman Ranch itself.

Holman Ranch, Carmel Valley, CA
Holman Ranch.
Built in 1928 as Casa Escondida, Holman Ranch was an exclusive hideaway for Hollywood's biggest names through the 30s and into the 40s.  The original owner sold to Clarence Holman, who changed the name and the focus, adding a restaurant in 1952 and becoming the center of social life in the Carmel Valley.

Holman died in 1962.  His wife Vivian, kept the ranch in the local spotlight, as well as attracting guests from all over the world, until her death 19 years later.   For 16 years, from 1989 to 2005, the ranch belonged to Dorothy McEwen, who planted vineyards on some of the ranch's 400 acres.

The year after McEwen's death, Thomas and Jarman Lowder bought Holman Ranch.  They've spent the past nine years restoring the property to its original grandeur, while taking the wine business to the next level, changing over the vineyards to only the varieties of grapes that will do the very best...and keeping the output small.  Vineyards cover only 20 acres today.

After setting our bags in one of the ten beautifully-appointed guest rooms, we were taken on a tour of the property by Nick Elliott, the Lowder's son-in-law, who manages the resort and is Holman Ranch's winemaker.

Through the huge wooden gates is a truly remarkable operation...a certified organic, SIP (Sustainability In Practice) certified estate winery.

Estate wines are wines in which the grapes come from a single source, in this case Holman Ranch's own vineyards.  There are other wineries (many of which are the biggest players in the business), who buy grapes and even bulk wine from their competitors and label it as theirs or even blend it with theirs.

Wine cave at Holman Ranch
Holman Ranch wine cave.
The grapes are crushed on-site at Holman Ranch and then fermented in barrels inside a purpose-built wine cave. Because of the small output you won't find Holman Ranch wines or their even more exclusive Jarman brand at your local supermarket.  Apart from one retail outlet in the Carmel area and one restaurant (the fabulous Tarpy's Roadhouse, which we experienced and told you about in our review of the 2015 Hyundai Azera Limited six weeks ago), Holman Ranch and Jarman wines are sold through their tasting room in the village of Carmel Valley and via their Estate and Grand Estate wine clubs.

Holman Ranch's main business is the ranch itself, which can be rented for corporate retreats, weddings and other events. The lawn is a popular wedding spot, with a spectacular backdrop (on the other side of that mountain is Big Sur).

Exterior of Will's Fargo Dining House and Saloon
Will's Fargo Dining House and Saloon.
After the tour, we (Navigator, yours truly and about a dozen other journalists) were treated to a limo ride into the village of Carmel Valley for dinner and a sampling of both Holman Ranch and Jarman wines at Will's Fargo Dining House and Saloon  with Nick and his wife Hunter Lowder. The Lowder family recently bought this property as well. Like Holman Ranch, it was built in 1928. It became Will's Fargo in 1959 when Will Fay bought the place.

The sign says "Steaks and Seafood", and the aroma of the steaks was tantalizing, but the menu for our group was a choice of either grilled Sonoma free range chicken or goat cheese ravioli.  We opted for the chicken, which was very nice, and the members of our party who chose the ravioli were complimentary as well.  As for the wines, both the Holman Ranch and Jarman brand are superb, with Navigator and myself giving the edge to the Jarman.  Again, that's their premium brand, so no surprise.

Holman Ranch to Folsom, with stops (Source: Google Maps)
Come morning, it was time to hit the road.  The Golf R had sat unused, thanks to the limo ride to and from Will's Fargo, for 19 hours.

As we tend to do, Navigator and I went home by a different way, driving west on Carmel Valley Road to Carmel itself, spending a lovely couple of hours sightseeing and window shopping before heading north on Highway 1 and making a stop at Moss Landing for deep-fried artichokes (first time but definitely not the last), moving on to the lovely beach town of Capitola, stopping for some baked goods in Santa Cruz and then taking CA 17 to I-880 to I-580 to I-205 to I-5 in what we'd forgotten would be weekday afternoon Bay Area traffic.

Interior view of 2015 Volkswagen Golf R
2015 Volkswagen Golf R interior.
But even when you can't go fast (the East Bay stretch averaged about 15 miles per hour), the Volkswagen Golf R is a great way to go.  Killer Fender audio system, terrific dual-zone climate control and the best seats Navigator and I can remember in any car we've been in.  All that plus Bi-Xenon automatic headlamps, a rear view camera, park distance control, a touchscreen nav and audio system, heated leather seats (the driver's is 12-way power adjustable), automatic rain-sensing wipers and an electric parking brake come standard for the previously alluded to price of $39,090...bottom line $39,910 with destination charge.  For the blend of power, comfort and economy (EPA fuel economy estimate of 23 mpg city/30 mpg highway), that's serious value.

One night's lodging, several glasses of wine, a limo ride to and from dinner and a continental breakfast were provided by Holman Ranch and Will's Fargo in return for promotional consideration.