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

 

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!