Asheville Wine Tour: Yes, please!

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 Winery: A Model of Quality and Hospitality

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The stunning sparkling wines of Biltmore. Photo Credit: The Biltmore Company.

Biltmore has been synonymous with quality and hospitality since the estate’s inception in 1895, with its French Renaissance-style château designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscaping by Frederick Law Olmsted of New York’s Central Park fame. Today, Biltmore continues as a family-owned, self-sustaining 8000-acre estate and world-class destination, with hotels, restaurants, shopping, a plethora of events and activities, and a winery, which replaced the beloved Biltmore Dairy Farms and opened to the public in 1985.

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The wine tasting space at Biltmore

A visit to America’s Largest Home® includes a complimentary tasting at the winery, the most visited in the United States with around 600,000 visitors annually. Biltmore produces over 150,000 cases of wine to meet growing demand and universal appeal. The winery’s wine club has doubled annually the past three years and currently has around 6700 members at the time of this visit. Making around 50 wines for diverse palates and price points might seem like a daunting task, but not at Biltmore. After 32 years of winemaking – first as assistant winemaker, then winemaster – Bernard Delille, who retired in July 2018, along with Sharon Fenchak, who has been at Biltmore 19 years, have honed their craft, creating award-winning wines for everyone. The wines range from sweet to dry and include whites, reds, rosés, and sparkling wines. In addition to the complimentary tasting, Biltmore offers in-depth experiences such as the Premium Wine Tasting, Red Wine & Chocolate Tasting, Behind-the-Scenes Winery Tour & Tasting, Wine & Cheese Hour, and the seasonal Candlelight Winery Tour for an extra fee. With distinct wine collection categories and a Virtual Sommelier, the winery’s website assists online guests with finding wines and food pairing suggestions at all price points. Wines are widely available in the wholesale and direct-to-consumer markets. Biltmore ranks in the top 1% of wine businesses in the United States.

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The estate vineyards at Biltmore. Photo Credit: The Biltmore Company.

When the idea of a vineyard and winery first came to fruition in the early 1970s, George Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A.V Cecil, realized the challenge of growing wine grapes in North Carolina and led the charge for statewide research. Like other non-traditional, grape-growing regions, Biltmore and other state producers have had to prove themselves time and time again that Vitis vinifera grapes grown in North Carolina can produce high-quality wines. The reality is that not every grape variety is suited to North Carolina’s growing conditions and some consumers prefer the riper, fruit-forward styles produced in winegrowing areas like California. Thus, Biltmore produces wines from its 94 acres of estate vineyards; key winegrowers in Polk County (NC), Arroyo Seco Vineyards (Monterey, CA), Pietra Santa Winery (Ciegega Valley, CA), Tenbrink Vineyards (Solano County, CA); and California AVA wines from Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Napa Valley, Russian River Valley, and Sonoma County. Biltmore makes and finishes AVA-designed wines in those AVAs, per TTB law.

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Touring with retired winemaker, Bernard Delille

During a recent visit and tasting with Delille and Director of Business Development, Jeff Plack, Delille revealed that the honor of making such a large portfolio of wines from different vineyard locations is what makes winemaking at Biltmore exciting and why he has spent nearly his entire career here. Both he and Fenchak travel extensively to partner vineyard and winemaking facilities to ensure that all aspects of wine production, from vineyard to bottle, live up to Biltmore standards. Plack, a 12-year member of the wine business team, echoed Biltmore’s pledge to wine excellence across styles and price points, as well as took it a step further to emphasize that it is the winery’s renowned model of hospitality which first leads visitors to the winery, where they are treated to tasting experiences led by brand ambassadors empowered to deliver personalized experiences to wine novices and aficionados alike.

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Bottling day at Biltmore

A tour of Biltmore’s production facility confirmed a real, working winery, complete with fermentation tanks, caves, and wines ready to be transported to the winery’s own fulfillment warehouse, not outsourced to a third-party company. It was also bottling day for one of Biltmore’s wines. The crew members were delighted to show off the winery’s bottling line, as they engaged in a friendly competition of most bottles produced in a day.

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Tasting with Bernard Delille

An opportunity to taste three of Biltmore’s estate wines, a Sonoma County wine, and an American AVA designated wine, demonstrated the exemplary breadth and depth of Delille’s and Fenchak’s winemaking talents. The tasting began with their grande dame sparkling wine, the 2015 Biltmore Estate® Château Reserve Blanc de Blancs, North Carolina ($50), which recently earned gold in the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. A favorite of the tasting, this wine showcases a lovely balance of zingy acidity, mouthwatering citrus, and a yeasty, creamy mousse. The second wine, the 2017 Biltmore Estate® Reserve Chardonnay, North Carolina ($24), is an outstanding value. Barrel fermentation, six to eight months of French and American oak aging, and malolactic fermentation gently cradle the wine’s zesty tree fruit flavors. The third wine, the 2016 Biltmore Estate® Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, North Carolina ($25), is proof that Biltmore can grow and make cabernet sauvignon in North Carolina and do it well. Its softer style and lower alcohol (13%) speak to those who think they do not enjoy red wines. In stark contrast stylistically to the first three wines, the 2015 Biltmore Estate® The Hunt, Sonoma County ($40 for the 2016 vintage), inspired by the estate’s former game hunts, is a robust, luscious, Bordeaux-style blend of 40% cabernet sauvignon, 35% cabernet franc, and 25% merlot, calling for rich meat dishes. At lunch in The Bistro, I enjoyed a glass of the NV Biltmore Estate® Blanc de Noir, American ($25), whose effervescence and vibrant red berry flavors paired exquisitely with the salmon dish of the day.

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Tasting with Director of Business Development, Jeff Plack

Biltmore’s reputation as a premium destination and lifestyle brand is unrivaled in the hospitality industry, so much so that they offer their own “immersion into luxurious world-class service” program through the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) accredited Biltmore Center for Professional Development. This pursuit of excellence translates into every aspect of Biltmore, including the winery, which, after 33 years, continues to be a pioneer and a leader in American, East Coast, and North Carolina wine production.

Key Links
Visit Biltmore
Biltmore Annual Pass
Visit and Taste at the Winery
Wine Club
Purchase Wines

 

Travel: My Life In One Word

#MWWC18 Winner!
#MWWC25 Winner!

If I could describe my life in one word, it would be travel. My life is replete with literal and figurative journeys. Therefore, when I saw this month’s Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC25) topic, travel, I immediately thought, this is who I am.

(To vote for this entry or one of my peers through June 6, 2016, head over to this link!)

My seventh grade coastal crew trip
My seventh grade coastal crew trip

When I was in seventh grade, I applied to participate in the annual coastal crew trip with my science teacher and my favorite teacher at the time, Mr. Charlie Baker, and was selected. This was a big deal for me as it was the first time I traveled without my parents. We spent days exploring the North Carolina coast including the Outer Banks. I remember waking up after a night of camping and my first sight was the sunrise over Pamlico Sound. I swallowed too much salt water swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, waded in salt marshes, and saw Venus Fly Traps growing in their native environment. I attempted to climb Jockey’s Ridge where the Wright Brothers took their flight. The travel bug bit me hard and I didn’t want to go home.

The A.C. Reynolds High School Marching Band
The A.C. Reynolds High School Marching Band

Fast forward to ninth grade, my first flight to Montréal on a chartered plane with my high school band, my first international destination. We marched in the Lions Clubs International Parade, which culminated at a my first MLB baseball game between the Montréal Expos and the Cincinnati Reds. I saw Johnny Bench and Pete Rose play. At Place Jacques-Cartier in Vieux Montréal one evening after dinner, I was propositioned by a young Québécois for a kiss from an American girl, much to the dismay of my mother who was chaperoning the trip. Duh, mom. Of course, I said no. Two Canadian dollars was not enough for me to kiss a stranger. However, I fell in love with Montréal and the French language, which would eventually become my minor, then my major in college.

A métro stop in Paris
A métro stop in Paris

Once I decided to major in French, instead of political science or computer science, I had to scramble to find a way to graduate on time because my parents and a scholarship were paying for me to finish college in four years. During the summer between my third and fourth years of college, I traveled to France with Winthrop College (now Winthrop University) to study abroad. We began the trip in Paris, studied French for four weeks in Aix-en-Provence, and concluded the trip traveling by bus through the Loire Valley, to Burgundy, and back to Paris for a final night. I learned to use the métro in Paris, I took the TGV to Marseille, I learned my way around Aix-en-Provence – from my dormitory to class to cafés for dinner and wine every night – and I met a French pen pal to whom I had written for years. I had my first escargots in Dijon. I also had my first memorable wine moment in Beaune. I had no idea I was in one of the world’s most famous and fantastic wine regions. We stopped for the night at a hotel surrounded by vineyards. Our dinner that night seemed like it would never end. The red wine that night, pinot noir, was plentiful and delicious. Our glasses were never empty. During this trip, I developed a lifelong love of everything French: the language, the culture, the people, the food, and the wine. However, it would be many years until my life-changing wine moment.

Third bottle from the right, the 2005 Anderson's Conn Valley Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Third bottle from the right, the 2005 Anderson’s Conn Valley Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

A few jobs, a few boyfriends, a master’s degree, and a failed marriage later, during the good, old days of Internet dial-up and America Online (AOL), I met a guy online who lived in Yonkers, New York, while I was still teaching French and Spanish in Virginia. Because we both had established careers, instead of me moving there or him moving to Virginia, we traveled back and forth and around the country and world to spend time together – for 15 years. I learned the ins and outs of frequent travel and found myself participating in online travel forums with like-minded people. (This was the social media of that era, before Facebook.) I connected with a businessman who owned a wine marketing and sales business. We met in real life in July 2007 at a frequent flier get-together in Virginia. A year later, we met again and during that visit, he brought wine from one of the Napa Valley wineries he represented, the 2005 Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. When that wine touched my palate, I was forever changed. It was inky purple and opaque. Rich in color, aromas, and flavors, including black fruits and smoky French oak, it captured my soul. I didn’t realize that I was drinking a 96-point Robert Parker wine. I just knew it was like nothing I ever had. Is this what wine is supposed to taste like? I still have a bottle of this cabernet sauvignon purchased the following year, a part of a vertical from 2005-2012. According to CellarTracker, it’s still drinking great.

Me tasting and taking photos during one of my many trips to the Napa Valley (that's a BlackBerry, remember those?)
Me tasting and taking photos during one of my many trips to the Napa Valley (that’s a BlackBerry, remember those?)

In July 2008, I became this businessman’s remote travel manager. The part-time role came with extra money and often shipments of wine for a job well done. By 2009, I was ready for my first trip to the Napa Valley, Sonoma, and San Francisco. My client, who by this time was a good friend, arranged for me VIP tasting appointments at three of the wineries he represented: Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards, Bell Wine Cellars, and Trentadue Winery. While driving around Northern California during that first trip, I said to myself, I could live here. During the next five years, I traveled to the Napa Valley and Sonoma 11 more times. I couldn’t get enough. The travel manager gig led to additional travel clients – a wine importer in New Jersey, plus Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards and Trentadue Winery – and more wine.

My first #SauvBlanc Day Twitter tasting: March 4, 2010
My first #SauvBlanc Day Twitter tasting: March 4, 2010

I began participating in virtual Twitter tastings and before I knew it, wineries were sending me free wine samples. I felt a little guilty, so on June 16, 2011, I began this website with some wine tasting during a trip to my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. I didn’t know what I was doing or why, except that I loved travel and wine. I decided to call the website travelingwinechick.com. I re-branded myself on Twitter as @travelwinechick. I attended my first Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Charlottesville, Virginia. Before I knew it, I was immersed in more travel and wine than I ever expected. It began to take my focus away from my teaching job. I found myself waking up in the middle of the night thinking, is this all there is?

Pouring Foris and Graziano wines at the Masciarelli show in Boston, MA
Pouring Foris and Graziano wines at the Masciarelli show in Boston, MA

Then in 2012, it happened. The universe had decided enough was enough. My long-distance boyfriend dumped me out of the blue. A month later, I was notified that my teaching position was being eliminated. Instead of crying, I felt a sense of relief. A new journey awaited me. During my last four months of teaching, I took Wine & Spirit Education Trust Levels 1 and 2 under the guise of professional development for my website. I also used my severance to not only pay my bills, but also to travel. During the most difficult time in my life, travel as solace saved me. I also ran my first 5K and flew in my first seaplane to Victoria, British Columbia. In 2013, I continued to work for my friend as not only the company travel manager, but also the company’s executive assistant. I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina; Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Ohio; Pinehurst, North Carolina and Boston, Massachusetts to pour wines at trade shows. I accompanied the team to Napa Valley and Sonoma to meet with our clients. I learned about wine depletions and compliance since my friend also owned an import business. This role, along with my other travel client connections, catapulted me into my first full-time and part-time jobs in the wine business in the Napa Valley and Sonoma. Currently, I am in my second full-time job here as well as writing for various media outlets such as American Winery Guide and Snooth. I couldn’t be busier or happier. The only thing for which I yearn is more travel. I am looking forward to upcoming travel to Vermont and Lodi, California.

My current destination, the Napa Valley
My current destination, the Napa Valley

Travel has not only transported me to and from physical locations, but it has been my beacon through the various stages of my life. It has taught me acceptance of different people, places, and cultures. It has opened doors of opportunity. It has excited me like no other life experience. I will be forever grateful that I was accepted on that coastal crew trip to the coast of North Carolina, that being a band geek landed me in Montréal, that needing additional credit hours to graduate on time caused me to study abroad in France that summer, and that my frequent flier lifestyle and new-found love of wine would lead me to a second lease on life in the Napa Valley. During my life’s ebb and flow, the one constant has been travel. I can’t wait to see where my journey takes me next.

Biltmore Estate Winery

Biltmore Estate in the Fall (biltmore.com)
Biltmore Estate in the Fall (The Biltmore Company, biltmore.com)

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.

Biltmore Wine Shop
Biltmore Wine Shop

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.

Biltmore Dairy Farm, Now Winery
Biltmore Dairy Farms, Now Biltmore Estate 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.

Racked sparkling wines
Racked sparkling wines

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.

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Fermentation Tanks at Biltmore

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.

Biltmore Sparkling Wines Flight
Biltmore Sparkling Wines Flight

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.

My Biltmore Purchases
My Biltmore Purchases

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.

Santé!
Beth

2013 Asheville Wine and Food Festival VIP Grand Tasting

Olive oil and balsamic tastings by The Tree & Vine
Olive oil and balsamic tastings by The Tree & Vine

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.

The Blackbird Restaurant's Coconut Cake
The Blackbird Restaurant’s Coconut Cake

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.

Hi-Wire Brewing IPA Sample
Hi-Wire Brewing IPA Sample

Beer
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.

Food samples from Chestnut
Food samples from Chestnut

Food
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.

Defiant American Single-Malt Whisky
Defiant American Single-Malt Whisky

Spirits
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.

Jana Water
Jana Water

Water
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.

Wine selections from Native Vines Winery
Wine selections from Native Vines Winery

Wine
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.

Santé's keg of Baileyana Pinot Noir
Santé’s keg of Baileyana Pinot Noir

For more photos of the Asheville Wine & Food Festival, please visit my Flickr photostream.

Preview of this year’s Asheville Wine & Food Festival

Festival Coaster (camiphoto.com)
Festival Coaster (camiphoto.com)

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.

Troy & Sons Moonshine (travelingwinechick.com)
Troy & Sons Moonshine (travelingwinechick.com)

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 (camiphoto.com)
WNC Chefs Challenge (camiphoto.com)

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 (camiphoto.com)
Elixir (camiphoto.com)

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 (camiphoto.com)
SWEET (camiphoto.com)

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.

Festival Tent (ashevillewineandfood.com)
Festival Tent (ashevillewineandfood.com)

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.

Baker Buffalo Creek Vineyard & Winery, Fallston, North Carolina (travelingwinechick.com)
Baker Buffalo Creek Vineyard & Winery, Fallston, North Carolina (travelingwinechick.com)

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!

Childress Vineyards

Childress Vineyards’ Award-Winning Wines

As a North Carolina native, I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t know very much about North Carolina wine. When a friend asked me if I’d like to go to Childress Vineyards in Lexington, NC, with her and another friend for a ladies’ day out, I jumped at the opportunity.

If you’re a NASCAR fan, you will recognize the name Childress immediately. The winery’s website explains that Richard Childress became passionate about wine while traveling the NASCAR circuit and decided to open his own winery.

The winery is located in Lexingon, NC, between Winston-Salem, NC and Charlotte, NC. It is a little over three hours’ drive from where I live. If you’re traveling from further away, there’s a Holiday Inn Express adjacent to the winery.

Shrimp and Grits at The Bistro

My friends and I arrived at lunchtime so we could enjoy lunch at The Bistro at the winery. I had the shrimp and grits ($14, Sautéed Jumbo Shrimp, Andouille Sausage, Caramelized Onions, Sweet Peppers served over Creamy Polenta). It was simply amazing. My friends and I enjoyed a bottle of Childress Pinot Gris with our lunch (92% Pinot Gris, 8% Riesling, on sale for $10), a very easy-drinking, fruity wine. It was perfect for our visit on a 100-degree summer day.

After lunch, we headed to the tasting room to taste some of the other award-winning wines. The sweet wine tasting was $12 and the dry wine tasting was $15. I opted for the dry wine tasting. I tasted through eight or ten wines and decided to purchase the Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $15) and Sangiovese, Gianni Vineyards (SRP $17), as Sauvignon Blanc is my go-to white wine and I was intrigued by the North Carolina-grown Sangiovese.

2009 Childress Vineyards Sangiovese, Gianni Vineyards

I enjoyed my short visit to Childress Vineyards and I’d love to visit again, stay overnight, and take a tour of the on-site vineyards.