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A thoughtful wine collector

Posted on 08/21/2014 by Jean Sexton Comments(2)

Taste and style were two hallmarks of George Vanderbilt’s life, and both are reflected throughout Biltmore—his private country estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Visually stunning and technologically advanced, Biltmore House is a testament to Vanderbilt’s vision.

George Vanderbilt was well-known as a collector, travelling the world gathering art, sculpture, furniture, and books. He also enjoyed wine, frequently purchasing it abroad and bringing cases of wine back to Biltmore to share with his family and friends. Vanderbilt’s hospitality was legendary, and a visit to his home was characterized by the best in comfort, entertainment, and attention to every detail, including the wines that graced his table and delighted his guests.

Wine research at Biltmore

In 2008, wine consultant John Hailman visited Biltmore to look at Vanderbilt’s wine cellar and the vintages stored there, and to review wine-related notes and correspondence from the Vanderbilt era. Having been a wine columnist for the Washington Post, with his work nationally syndicated for more than a decade by Gannett News Service, Hailman is considered one of the foremost authorities on wine. In 2006, he wrote Thomas Jefferson on Wine, an examination of Jefferson’s influence as a wine connoisseur and collector in the early days of the nation.

Through Hailman’s research, we now have a better understanding of George Vanderbilt as a thoughtful wine collector. Archival correspondence, notes, and receipts suggest that Vanderbilt was well-versed in wines, purchasing those he enjoyed sharing. Vanderbilt was also a practical buyer, preferring high quality vintages at reasonable prices, such as wines from Chateau Pontet-Canet, which is still in business today.

"Good enough for anybody!"

Vanderbilt’s trusted wine purveyor Alexander Morten was known for his excellent taste and recommendations, and would have been a worthy provisioner for the Vanderbilt lifestyle. George Vanderbilt relied upon Morten’s suggestions and his outstanding contacts in the industry. In one letter dated February 14, 1914, Morten advises Vanderbilt on a particular vintage for an upcoming ball, suggesting:

“As to Champagne for a ball:- I can strongly recommend Pierlot 1906. This is a good, sound vintage wine, price $32.50, and is used almost exclusively by many of our customers for dances and entertainments of that ilk. If you have the slightest hesitation, however, I can recommend Pol Roger 1906; price $36. We also have Krug, Clicquot and Pommery of 1906 and 1904; but these are more expensive. The Pierlot is good enough for anybody.”

This letter is particularly poignant, as George Vanderbilt passed away in Washington, DC, just a month after he received this letter. We don’t know what type of ball the Vanderbilts might have been planning, but the preparations were apparently abandoned after Mr. Vanderbilt’s unexpected death.

You have only to examine the amount and variety of crystal and stemware in the Biltmore House collection—glasses for every possible occasion and type of beverage—to see the importance of wines and spirits as an integral part of dining and entertaining. Knowing that George Vanderbilt collected and enjoyed wine—and served it to his guests—forges a very real and logical connection between the Vanderbilts and the wine business their descendants have developed and continue to nurture today.

Main image: An archival photographs shows George Vanderbilt, seated on the right, in a Venetian gondola with two companions

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Posted on 09/13/2014 By Ted G

Intrigued by the prices below... Per bottle? Seems very expensive: “As to Champagne for a ball:- I can strongly recommend Pierlot 1906. This is a good, sound vintage wine, price $32.50, and is used almost exclusively by many of our customers for dances and entertainments of that ilk. If you have the slightest hesitation, however, I can recommend Pol Roger 1906; price $36. We also have Krug, and Pommery of 1906 and 1904; but these are more expensive. The Pierlot is good enough for anybody.”

Posted on 08/22/2014 By Ted G

Jean, always thought this trip to Venice occurred in 1892...we do not know definitively and who his traveling companions are? They do not look familiar... Great story about the plans for an upcoming Ball...poignant, yet sad...LOVING ALL THE HISTORICAL BLOGS!