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Taste the terroir of Biltmore Wines

Posted on 02/22/2017 by Jean Sexton

Don't let the word "terroir" strike terror in your heart--it may sound like something from a foreign horror film, but it actually refers to the complete natural environment in which the grapes for wine are grown and in which the wines themselves are produced and aged. It includes factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.

Long established among European winegrowers, the concept of terroir is now beginning to take hold in the U.S. and other nations. Interestingly, there is no exact translation of terroir from the French language--it loosely means "a sense of place," and can be as broad as an entire region or as narrow as a few rows in a specific vineyard.

Grapes ripening in Biltmore's vineyardClassifying our type of terroir

Biltmore's acreage--including the vineyard--is classified as a Low and Intermediate Mountain System between 1,400–4,600 feet above sea level with soil influenced by elevation, slope aspect, exposure, and vegetation. As part of the ancient Appalachian Mountain chain that formed 480 billion years ago, the Blue Ridge Mountains feature lower elevations and a soft, weathered appearance that shows much they've worn away over the years.

When George Vanderbilt's grandson William A.V. Cecil envisioned developing an estate vineyard and winery, he felt it should be possible to grow grapes at Biltmore. In his book Lady on the Hill, Cecil wrote that “Asheville was about the same latitude as Gibraltar in the Mediterranean, and with an altitude between 2,100 and 2,500 feet, the fields of the estate would enjoy warm days and cool nights in the summer.”

Biltmore's vineyard on the west side of the estateWest coast advantages

Unlike the conditions of the Mediterranean and other classic grape-growing regions, however, the climate of Western North Carolina is notoriously unpredictable, averaging 47 inches of rain per year—more than twice the average amount that falls in Napa Valley.

In addition to a drier climate, California growers have another advantage when it comes to terroir: the geologic age of the area is much “younger” than that of the east coast. Wine grapes typically fare better in lower-nutrient, more alkaline soils preferably with gravelly or rocky substrates. The idea is that the plants’ roots will grow deeper in such circumstances to seek nutrients and water, allowing the plant and eventually the fruit to express the unique characteristics of the specific location that the grower has chosen.

“Our west coast vineyard partners like those in Cienega Valley have the benefits of a maritime climate and rocky soils that create more intensity and richness in the grapes,” said Sean Willborn, Winery Manager. “They may have lower yields there, but the flavor develops more fully. One of the wines for which we source grapes from this region is our Biltmore Estate Sangiovese. We want to take advantage of very complex fruit with balanced acidity and a subtle earthiness on the finish.”

Grapes growing in Biltmore's vineyardClimate makes the difference

“Soil and climate have significant impact on grape quality, but climate is the more important factor at Biltmore,” said Philip Oglesby, Vineyard Supervisor. Grapes can be more reactive to certain weather conditions than some crops, but when the weather is right in Western North Carolina, the fruit produced in our vineyards is exceptional.”

Try our Biltmore Reserve Wines, handcrafted from estate and local grapes, and you’ll taste not only the character of the varietal, but the distinctive influence of our unique Blue Ridge Mountain terroir.

Fun Fact

The state soil of North Carolina is known as Cecil soil. Named for Cecil County, Maryland where the soil type was first documented rather than the family name of George Vanderbilt's descendants, it is nonetheless a delightful coincidence that Biltmore's vineyard and Winery are planted on Cecil soil!

Biltmore Wines are available on the estate, through many retailers, and online. 

All images show different views of Biltmore's vineyard located on the west side of the estate.

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