For wine lovers like myself, the impending holiday season means one thing … wine and lots of it! Each year, the fall tends to become more of a frantic, “What should I buy this year to pair with the amazing spreads I plan to serve?” time of year for me. This year I decided to take a strong look at Biltmore wines. And why not? The winery at Biltmore is one of America’s most visited (out of 1.4 million visitors to the estate each year, over half visit the winery), and it is conveniently located in Asheville. There has long been a perception that North Carolina does sweet wines like moscato and scuppernongs the best, and that’s really about it. When I saw that Biltmore makes their own cabernet sauvignon (among many other wines), I knew there was more to the story and that I definitely had to treat myself to a day trip.
Upon arrival at the winery I was greeted by Sean Wilborn, Director of Winery Operations. From the very minute he started talking, he amazed me with his knowledge of the winemaking process and the history of the winery and grounds. He quickly shared with me a bit of backstory on the property: In the late 1800s, Biltmore had a thriving dairy business, and their pedigreed Jersey cows were known for their record-breaking milk production. William A.V. Cecil, grandson of George Vanderbilt, being very committed to the land, had other plans for the estate. William was determined to make that land work for them and began planting grape vines in 1971. Testing and experimenting with grape varietals, and of course bottling, soon followed. The Biltmore Estate Wine Company was established in 1983, and the old dairy barn was soon converted into a massive wine tasting room. The winery officially opened to guests in 1985, hiring French winemaker Bernard Delille and American winemaker Sharon Fenchak over the years; they remain their team today.
The first stop on my tour was the fermentation room with its rows and rows of barrels. Sean explained that Biltmore wine barrels are a mix of American and French oak and cost between $1,000 and $1,200 apiece … keep that in mind when considering they go through roughly 150,000 cases of wine per year. The barrels have a three-year limit before they are repurposed in some way, most likely in the estate’s floral department. Highland Brewery, a local Asheville brewery and Biltmore partner, also gets their share of retired barrels.
There are 40 wines in the Biltmore portfolio. (Who knew?) The vintners are fully committed to utilizing estate-grown fruit at all times, and it’s not all muscadines. A quick peek at two of their best sellers:
Biltmore’s sparkling wine program is one of the best in the country and one of just a few on the East Coast. The Biltmore Estate Brut, a fine sparkling wine, has been awarded 90 pts from Wine Spectator. With its mix of grapes (Chardonnay, 53% and Pinot Noir 47%), it is harvested at high acidity and fermented at a low temperature, undergoing a second fermentation in the bottle and aging 12-24 months prior to disgorging. Expect tiny bubbles with a strawberry, apple, pear and bread nose, and a wine that pairs well with brunch, seafood and more.
Biltmore’s Cabernet Sauvignon features touches of Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Interesting fact: the juice is fermented in contact with the skins allowing for proper color and flavor development. Following fermentation, the wine is pressed and transferred to French and American oak barrels and aged 8-12 months prior to being blended and bottled. Expect to taste cherries, black currant, vanilla and rosemary.
Fan of the wines, but can’t get to Asheville? The winery’s wine club ships three bottles right to your door, four times a year. Choose vintages from red, white, mixed or sweet categories when ordering — that’s easy! A wine club membership also gets you invites to special tastings, sneak peeks and wine-centered social events at the estate.
Visit the winery over the next few weeks, and you’ll quickly realize that Biltmore Estate is simply fantastic at Christmastime. Between the fresh evergreen trees throughout the house decorated to the hilt and millions of twinkling lights, their team goes above and beyond to ensure a true holiday experience for all. Candlelight Christmas Evenings are something not to be missed here: luminaries, holiday lights, roaring fires throughout the house and live holiday music are sure to get you in the mood. Making a weekend out of it? Check out their new Village Hotel, a charming, family-friendly spot just a skip from the winery. The hotel’s Village Social is the perfect place to grab a bite to eat and one (or two!) more glasses of wine before bed.
For more information, including hotel reservations, visit biltmore.com.
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