Have you ever been on a wine tour in Asheville, North Carolina? When I was there last month, I visited three incredible wine and food venues in the area with creator, producer, and maker of video magic, Gary of G Social Media. The first stop was wine and dinner at Rezaz – Pan Mediterranean Cuisine. Next, we walked up the hill to sample a few wines at the tasting bar at Appalachian Vintner. Last, but not least, we took Uber to plēb urban winery to celebrate their Beaujolais Day release of the inaugural 2018 wine, a lovely rosé of Maréchal Foch from North Carolina. What an amazing time I had. I cannot wait for my next visit and tour.
Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, is truly a marvel. The center of attraction, the house, was built by architect Richard Morris Hunt for the George Vanderbilt family. The house was modeled on three 16th century French châteaux. It is comprised of four acres of floor space, 250 rooms, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces, including a swimming pool, a gymnasium and changing rooms, a bowling alley, servants’ quarters, and kitchens in the basement alone. It took six years to complete, opening in 1895. The house is surrounded by gardens and landscaping created by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York City’s Central Park. The original property was 125,000 acres, and from that arose the birthplace of forestry management in Western North Carolina. Edith Vanderbilt sold approximately 86,700 acres of the estate’s land on May 21, 1914 to the federal government, which became Pisgah National Forest. In 1968, The Cradle of Forestry was born from 6500 acres of this land.
Today Biltmore is still an 8000-acre, family-owned working estate and National Historic Landmark. It does not receive any funding from the government, but rather, remains privately funded. The estate now includes the Inn on Biltmore Estate, the Cottage on Biltmore Estate, six dining options (all participants in Biltmore’s Field to Table Program, which focuses on growing and procuring the best foods), 13 shopping venues, a farm in Antler Village, the Outdoor Adventure Center (Segway tours, driving lessons in a Land Rover, fly-fishing, sporting clays, bike rentals, horseback riding, carriage rides, and river float trips on French Broad River), and a winery.
When I was growing up in Asheville, Biltmore was a household name, not just because of the estate, but because of Biltmore Dairy Farms. All of our dairy products came from Biltmore. Today Biltmore Estate’s winery is housed in this converted dairy barn. William A.V. Cecil, the grandson of George Vanderbilt, decided that a winery would be the natural outcome of ongoing research and a logical extension of his grandfather’s intention that the estate be self-supporting. The first vines were planted in 1971 in a valley near the French Broad River on the west side of the estate. The winery opened to the public in 1985.
Biltmore now has two winemakers, Bernard Delille and Sharon Fenchak, who have very different backgrounds. Delille is a French native, studied at the Faculty of Science in Lyon, France, and worked as a winemaker in the Pyrenées Atlantiques region. Fenchak is originally from Pennsylvania, holds degrees from Penn State University and the University of Georgia, and formerly made wines for two Georgia wineries. The winery currently grows Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, and Viognier in the 90-acre estate vineyard, as well as grows grapes in California, Georgia, Oregon, and Washington. Biltmore also produces wines in an undisclosed West Coast facility. The estate grapes are handpicked and harvest averages 250 tons of grapes per year. The grapes are then fermented in 75 tanks and aged in oak barrels or stainless steel tanks. The winery has a portfolio of 15 grape varieties and produces more than 45 wines. It also offers a tour and tasting, which is included as part of one’s admission to the estate, as well as specialty wine tours at a nominal fee. Those include Vine to Wine, Red Wine & Chocolate Seminar, and the Biltmore Bubbles Tour.
I have been a Biltmore Estate Passholder for a number of years, but had not been to the winery in a very long time. When I visited the winery on September 22, 2013, I was surprised how production had grown. There were 37 wines offered during my visit, but I only tasted 19 as I never saw any dump buckets or spittoons. Poor me. I arrived when the winery opened at noon, tasted some white wines, then embarked on the tour and tasting included in admission. Although the winery has grown, the tour was very similar to the one I took during my last visit, except for a focus on the sparkling wine production area. Upon concluding the tour, we tasted a barrel-fermented estate Chardonnay. We were told by our guide that Biltmore uses a combination of French and American oak and purchases new barrels every three years once they become neutral. Based on that information, I determined that the barrel-fermented wines would have more of an oak influence, which I first noticed with the Chardonnay we tasted. I returned to the large tasting area and tried the rosé and red wines. I was correct in my assumption about more prevalent oak aromas and flavors in the red wines. I also learned from the tasting hosts indirectly that Biltmore is very aware of their audience and consumer market. Customer favorites are also indicated on the tasting list provided to guests. Most of the wines produced appear to be targeted towards customer preferences, such as preferred grape varieties, use of oak, and sweetness/dryness. Interestingly, all of the still rosé wines I tasted were off-dry to sweet, which was my one disappointment. However, I would not be surprised if Biltmore doesn’t plan to offer dry rosé in the future, if they are keeping their eye on consumer palates and trends like I think they are.
I wanted to taste some of the premium offerings, especially the sparkling wines, so I made my way to the premium tasting area and wine bar within the wine shop. I elected to try three of the sparkling wines: Biltmore Estate® Château Reserve Blanc de Blancs – 2010 North Carolina (Chardonnay), Biltmore Estate® Brut (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier), and Biltmore Estate® Blanc de Noir (Pinot Noir). The first is North Carolina estate-grown and produced, while the other two are grown and produced by Biltmore with grapes from different American vineyards. All are produced in the traditional method, or méthode champenoise. My personal favorites of these three were the Reserve Blanc de Blancs, with its aromas and flavors of citrus, tree fruits, tropical fruits, and toast, and the Estate Blanc de Noir, with aromas and flavors of juicy cherries and strawberries. My host concluded my visit by offering me a taste of the Biltmore Estate® Reserve Riesling – 2012 North Carolina, which was a bit reminiscent of a Finger Lakes Riesling, off-dry, but balanced by some mouthwatering acidity.
I decided to purchase three of Biltmore’s wines, one white, one red, and one sparkling, for further tasting: the Biltmore® Pinot Grigio 2012 ($11.99, almost sold out), the Biltmore® Sangiovese 2012 ($18.99), and the Biltmore Estate® Blanc de Noir ($24.99), at 10% off for three bottles.
For those wishing to visit Biltmore, the winery is part of the estate admission, so the basic tour and tastings are complimentary. Their award-winning wines are for sale in the estate wine shop in Antler Village, at retailers, and online to states as allowable by state law. There are wine collections at all price points, something for everyone, including the Biltmore Collection ($9-$20), Century Collection ($15-$20), Biltmore Reserve Collection ($14-$30), Antler Hill Collection ($35-$50), and Biltmore Estate Sparkling Collection ($18-$30). The winery also has a wine club.
On Saturday, August 24, I attended the 2013 Asheville Wine & Food Festival VIP Grand Tasting as a member of the media/press. I was very impressed with the vendor choices as well as the organization and layout of the festival itself, which began upstairs with vendors and continued downstairs with more vendors and the VIP tent. It took me over two and a half hours to visit the vendors upstairs, then another two and a half hours to visit some of the downstairs vendors, including much needed break in the VIP tent. There was so such to taste that I never made it to the special media and press room. I know I missed some great vendors, so I apologize in advance. There was just not enough time to taste everything. However, based on the territory covered, below are some of the festival highlights from my perspective.
Where To Stay in Asheville
Two words: Hotel Indigo. Besides having the best location a couple of blocks away from the U.S. Cellular Center and just across the street from the Grove Arcade, Hotel Indigo is Asheville’s downtown boutique hotel gem. The concierge, dining, front desk, housekeeping, and valet teams are top notch. With regard to the guest rooms, many offer great views of the city and surrounding mountains. They feel airy, open, and welcoming. The floors are not carpeted, so for allergy sufferers like me, they are a literal breath of fresh air. The bathrooms offer gorgeous fixtures as well as Aveda amenities. If you want to feel what heaven on earth is like, then choose Hotel Indigo.
Don’t tell anyone, but I really should be called travelwinebeerchick because I love craft beers, especially IPAs and other hoppy offerings. Every month when I come to my hometown of Asheville, I am always astounded by the growing number of first-rate craft breweries in Asheville and the rest of North Carolina. Today was no exception. I tasted delicious ales (brown, American pale, and IPA), lagers, Oktoberfest, pilsners, and porters from Hi-Wire Brewing (Asheville, NC), Foothills Brewing (Winston-Salem, NC), Oskar Blues Brewery (Brevard, NC), Burial Beer Co. (Asheville, NC), and Pisgah Brewing Company (Black Mountain, NC). Hi-Wire, Oskar Blues, and Burial were all new to me, while Foothills Hoppyum IPA and Pisgah’s Pale Ale are a couple of my go-to brews. I wish I could have tasted more, but I simply ran out of time.
The food offerings at this festival this year were nothing short of stellar and seemingly endless. I began with an amazing olive oil and balsamic tasting from The Tree & Vine and made my first festival purchase, a bottle of single-estate, Sicilian olive oil (and I don’t even cook.) Next I visited Chestnut, where I tasted some samples, including a lobster bisque soup made from Troy & Sons moonshine and my weakness, homemade potato chips. I visited The Chocolate Lab for a bite of decadent chocolate, then I made my way to the Century Room/Pack’s Tavern/Spruce St. Catering table, where I nibbled on my first bison meatloaf. Next up was Farm Burger Asheville‘s sample of braised hickory nut beef resting on a blend of Anson Mills farro, local sweet corn, Jake’s Farm tomatoes, beans, Looking Glass goat cheese, and Jolly Farms greens. Sunny Point Café offered a taste of delectable shrimp and grits. MG Road Chai Pani Bar & Lounge quenched my thirst with a taste of their Sage Advice, non-alcoholic version, typically a blend of lemongrass-infused Tito’s vodka, sage, soda, and lime. Then came Lusty Monk‘s mustard offerings (gotta spread the lust, you know) followed by a pairing of The Blackbird Restaurant‘s famous coconut cake with mint julep made from Troy & Sons’ Blonde. After that, I had another taste of olive oil and balsamic from Oil & Vinegar, artisan crackers from Roots & Branches, a bite of dessert again from French Broad Chocolates, and a taste of bread from DOUGH. At this point, I was still on the top floor wondering if it would ever end, but it continued with samples from Edison and Horizons at the Omni Grove Park Inn and CocoBacon from Coconut Organics. Finally I made it downstairs, with my first stop being at Cúrate for authentic jamón ibérico, carved from the leg of a pig for all to see. After this delicacy I needed a break, so I headed to the VIP tent to enjoy some appetizers and Biltmore Estate® Méthode Champenoise Brut. For the last hour or so, I enjoyed ham, bacon, and pork belly samples from Way Co Hams (made in Wayne County, NC since 1946), cheeses and spreads from English Farmstead Cheese in Marion, NC, whose family made their first dairy shipment in 1927, and greens and sausage from OneFiftyOne Boutique Bar & Kitchen at Hotel Indigo.
Another confession: I don’t drink spirits often, but after Saturday’s festival, I am confident I should imbibe a bit more. I was astounded at the palatability and smoothness of the spirits I tried, including 100-proof moonshine and strawberry moonshine (100-proof moonshine blended with real strawberry) from Howling Moon Distillery, Blue Ridge Distilling‘s Defiant American Single-Malt Whisky, Troy & Sons‘ Oak Reserve, Covington Gourmet Vodka made from sweet potatoes (it requires 20 sweet potatoes to make a fifth), and TOPO (Top of the Hill Distillery) gin. I haven’t been a gin girl since a bad experience in college, but I’m now open to more gin exploration.
When tasting so much beer, food, wine, and spirits, there’s nothing better than access to great water for hydration. Thank goodness for Jana Water, strategically placed at the bottom of the ramp to the lower level of the festival. Jana Water is natural artesian water from the village of St. Jana in Croatia, and it hit the spot.
I tried to focus most of my tasting on North Carolina wines, but found myself tasting around the world. I started my wine journey with a couple of French offerings from Weinhaus, Asheville’s oldest wine shop (since 1977). Next, I visited Flint Hill Vineyards (East Bend, NC) and Native Vines Winery (Lexington, NC), the first American Indian owned and operated winery in the United States. I particularly enjoyed Flint Hills Vineyards’ Chambourcin, a French-American hybrid black grape that produces a red wine resembling a lighter Zinfandel, with lots of berry and spice flavors. Because I am traveling soon to Mendoza, Argentina, I had to stop and taste the offerings from Bodega Gratia (Mendoza, Argentina), whose Sauvignon Blanc and two Malbecs I loved. I also tasted wines from Rodney Strong Vineyards in Sonoma County, California, and more North Carolina wines from Addison Farms Vineyard (Leicester, NC), Linville Farms Winery (Newland, NC), Shelton Vineyards (Dobson, NC), and Childress Vineyards (Lexington, NC). Two of Asheville’s wine bars, 5 Walnut Wine Bar and Santé Wine Bar and Tap Room, were there offering some of their current selections. At Santé, I tasted my first wine from a keg, a 2011 Baileyana Pinot Noir, and it was delicious. I suspect more and more wine in kegs will enter the market, as it’s a very efficient way to offer wine by the glass without spoilage.
For more photos of the Asheville Wine & Food Festival, please visit my Flickr photostream.
Last year I attended my first Asheville Wine & Food Festival as a VIP attendee at the Grand Tasting. This year I am excited to be a part of the official media team covering SWEET on Friday, August 23 and the Grand Tasting on Saturday, August 24.
The Asheville Wine & Food Festival began in 2007 as a celebration of “all that’s worth savoring in the Blue Ridge Mountains.” In its seventh year, next week’s festival is presented by EDISON at The Omni Grove Park Inn and has grown to four events, which include:
WNC Chefs Challenge – An Iron Chef-style competition for the title of Best Chef in Western North Carolina, with semifinal challenges to be held next week at Pack’s Tavern and the finale at The Grand Tasting on Saturday, August 24.
Elixir – A mixology competition and libations at The Venue, which will include craft spirits from North Carolina distilleries such as Troy & Sons Moonshine (Asheville), Cardinal Gin (Southern Artisan Spirits, Kings Mountain), and Carriage House Apple Brandy (Carolina Distillers, Lenoir).
SWEET – Billed as a “decadent evening of desserts,” local bakers, chocolatiers, pâtissiers, wine vendors, and distillers will offer irresistible pairings in the Grove Arcade, which will be open late for your shopping, sipping, and noshing pleasure.
The Grand Tasting – The culmination of the festival at the U.S. Cellular Center, which includes 125 local, regional, and international wine distributors and vintners, artisan food producers, chefs, cookbook authors, farmers, craft brewers, and distillers. A list of participants can be found here.
The good news is that tickets are still available at this link, so I hope you will join me next week for this year’s festival! Cheers!
I really thought 2012 was going to be my year. However, beginning in the summer, life began to change for the worse. I had a few health scares and issues. I had to move suddenly due to leak and mold issues in the place I had lived for 16 years. Out of the blue, my partner walked out of my life after 15 years together. Then in August, I learned that my college program, Liberal Arts, along with my 23-year teaching position, had fallen victim to the the bad economy. Both the program and my position were eliminated effective December 15, 2012 due to a budgetary reduction in force, so I had to put on a happy face and finish the semester at an institution that no longer valued me.
In spite of all that has happened, I vowed to move forward and enjoy life. I traveled to destinations such as Denver/Keystone, Austin, Houston, St. Louis/Ste. Geneviève (Missouri), Seattle/Woodinville, Victoria (British Columbia), Asheville, Napa and Sonoma, Charlotte, Williamsburg/Norfolk, San Francisco, Finger Lakes Wine Country in New York, Chicago for Thanksgiving, Philadelphia, and back to Asheville for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. In a span of three months, I earned my Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 1 Award in Wines (High Achievement) and Level 2 Award in Wines and Spirits (With Distinction). I ran/walked my first 5K, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Tri-Cities, in 50:13.4 minutes, an average of 16:12 minutes per mile. I flew on my first seaplane, Kenmore Air flight 320 from Seattle to Victoria, British Columbia: tail number N606KA, a 1954 Dehavilland DHC-3 C/N 37 (Otter). I also gained a new winery travel client.
The wines I’ve sampled this year have been great learning experiences and have kept my mind off of the challenges. I am thankful for the opportunities provided by ThirstyGirl’s #TGTaste events, as well as others such as Jeff Gordon Cellars, MTGA Wines, #CabernetDay, WITS Technology Showcase and WineTwits Virtual Tasting, and #ChardonnayDay.
The readership of this blog has grown immensely this year, and I thank you for being a faithful supporter and reader. I will be forever grateful to Shari Stacy for taking care of my cat when I travel, Gourmet Rambler of theBrideScoop.com for sharing with me a taste of Chicago’s nightlife, Chef Robin White for including me in her Thanksgiving celebration, and long-time friend Nancy Skinner Adams for including me in her Christmas Day celebration at The Grove Park Inn.
I am not sure what the future holds, but I am determined to have a new career that involves travel, wine, writing, social media, hospitality, education, or a combination thereof. In spite of great adversity, I remain thankful for what I have and hopeful for the future.
On August 25, I attended the Asheville Wine & Food Festival VIP Grand Tasting in the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, North Carolina. This was my first public tasting event and I was not disappointed. In fact, I was pleased to find an assortment of vendor choices serving not just wine and food samples, but also beer and liquor, most of which were produced in North Carolina. I tasted food samples from local hotels and restaurants, wines from North Carolina wineries, international wines provided by local retail stores and their distributors, ONEHOPE Wine (50% of their profits are donated to charities benefiting the environment, breast cancer, the troops, AIDS, and autism), beers from Asheville-area microbreweries, Cardinal Gin (Kings Mountain, NC), Troy & Sons Moonshine Platinum and Oak Reserve (Asheville, NC), and Carriage House Apple Brandy (Lenoir, NC). Below are some photos from this year’s event.