The most visited winery in the United States isn’t located in the Napa Valley. Perhaps a surprise to some, it is at the Biltmore Estate.Quietly nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, it is where fine food and wine, paired with elegant entertaining, have been traditions since the end of the 19th century.
After George W. Vanderbilt opened Biltmore Estate to friends and family in the late 1890s, the massive and graceful chateau and grounds became a favorite destination for many of his well-traveled cousins, aunts, and uncles. For many of his sophisticated New York relations, the trip undoubtedly afforded the unique opportunity to dine on fresh vegetables, meats, and Biltmore dairy products produced on the estate. But it was not until almost a century later that the Estate began to produce its own line of distinctive wines.
Today’s visitors to the estate, in addition to enjoying some of the same entertainment the Vanderbilt’s did, also have the opportunity to taste Biltmore Estate’s own award-winning wines, produced and bottled on the property in a 90,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art winery. The facility, which opened in 1985 to visitors, is housed in a converted dairy barn, originally designed by the firm of Richard Morris Hunt, the architect for Biltmore House. It features as its architectural centerpiece, the building’s original clock tower.
With more than 900,000 annual visitors from around the world, Biltmore Estate strives to accommodate those who are new to the world of wine and food as well as the connoisseur in search of a distinctive varietal. Biltmore Estate Winery offers visitors the opportunity to view fermentation and bottling rooms, stroll through the cellars, enjoy special food and wine events, and, of course, taste the finished product.
Biltmore’s wines are produced under three labels, George Washington Vanderbilt, the Estate’s premium vintages; Biltmore Estate Chateau Reserve, fine quality varietal wines; and Biltmore Estate, premium table wines that are both blended and varietals. Biltmore Estate wines have taken more than 300 medals in both national and international wine competitions, including a double gold, and numerous gold medals at such prestigious contests as the San Francisco International Wine Competition and The Dallas Morning News National Wine Competition.
But these medal-winning results didn’t happen overnight. Following extensive research, the first vineyards at Biltmore Estate were established in 1971 in an area below the Biltmore House. French-American hybrids were planted initially, with vinifera plantings following in a few years. By the late 1970s, Biltmore began serious cultivation of vinifera grapes, the finer quality European varietals, and began phasing out the French-American hybrids upon which it had previously depended. The original hybrids have since been replaced entirely with the European varietals.
Although the hybrids have a greater yield – averaging six tons of grapes per acre – Biltmore Estate president and owner William A. V. Cecil, grandson of the Estate’s original owner and creator George W. Vanderbilt, wanted a better quality wine than the hybrids offered. Making the switch was not without its difficulties, however, and it took the combined talents of Biltmore Estate’s top-notch veteran winemaking team to produce the excellent product that is available at the Estate today.
Biltmore Estate produces 100,000 cases of competitively-priced wines each year. They are available throughout the Southeast.
A tour of the winery is an entertaining addition to a tour of the stunningly exquisite Biltmore House. For more information about the house, winery, gardens, and special seasonal activities that are scheduled throughout the year, please visit the Biltmore Estate’s web site, www.biltmore.com, or call 800-543-2961.
(Image provided by Biltmore.)