2010 marks Biltmore Winery’s 25th year, and on May 20–23 the historic estate will celebrate the anniversary with special activities and events, including the debut of an updated visitor experience and expanded tasting areas. William A. V. Cecil, the grandson of Biltmore’s founder George W. Vanderbilt, started the winemaking program as part of his vision for the estate to remain self-sustaining. It all began in 1971 when the first grapes were planted on the property as an experimental project located in an area below Biltmore House. The estate’s original dairy barn, designed by the firm of Richard Morris Hunt, the architect for Biltmore House, was converted into today’s modern facility in 1985 and is now America’s most visited winery.
The vineyards moved to the property’s West Side, and through the years, Biltmore has cultivated partnerships with other growers across the country to enhance its portfolio and ensure consistent availability. In 1985, Biltmore Winery produced 10 different wines totaling approximately 350,000 bottles. Today, Biltmore offers more than 50 different wines and produces 2 million bottles each year.
The 25th anniversary celebration of the winery coincides with the grand opening of Antler Hill Village. This new pedestrian-friendly venue is open to guests as part of daily admission to Biltmore and expands current offerings to include a new exhibition space, village green with live entertainment, dining, shopping and a new outdoor adventure center. The existing Biltmore Winery and farm are also incorporated in the village area. Celebratory activities at the winery will include demonstrations and tips from Biltmore experts, a meet and greet and bottle signing with winemakers as well as other festive and family-friendly experiences. A rare 1913 Stevens-Duryea Model “C-Six” seven-passenger touring car that once belonged to Mr. Vanderbilt and his wife, Edith, will also go on permanent display in the winery. This particular Stevens-Duryea model is believed to be one of only 10 existing in the world today. Biltmore’s museum services team has spent several months conserving the car for its premiere at the village.
Since Bill Cecil, Jr., great-grandson of estate owner George W. Vanderbilt, took over as President and CEO of The Biltmore Company in 1995, demand for Biltmore wines has risen dramatically.
“Biltmore is still family-owned, and we are passionate about our mission of preservation through self-sufficiency—a philosophy embraced before the first stone was ever put in place,” said Cecil. “Our wines are a great opportunity to offer our guests a tangible connection with Biltmore and we are proud of our continued success and the strength of our brand in this competitive field.”
Most visited winery
The most visited winery in the United States isn’t located in Napa Valley. It’s Biltmore Winery in the mountains of North Carolina, where approximately 600,000 visitors stop by to sample award-winning wines each year. Guests have the opportunity to taste Biltmore’s own wines, most of which are produced and bottled on the property in a 90,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility. The operation, including 94 acres of vineyards, is a natural extension of the estate’s ongoing agricultural program including cattle, sheep and an extensive field-to-table production garden supplying the property’s six restaurants.
With approximately one million guests visiting the estate from around the world each year, Biltmore Winery strives to accommodate those who are new to the world of wine as well as the connoisseur in search of a distinctive varietal. Visitors are given the opportunity to stroll through the historic cellars, learn more about the art and science of winemaking, experience special food and wine pairings and, of course, taste the finished product.
Biltmore ranks in the top 1% of the U.S. wine business and produces 170,000 cases of wine annually using estate grown fruit as well as grapes from partners in other premium winegrowing regions. The wines are currently available at stores and restaurants in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington D.C. and West Virginia, and can be shipped direct to consumers’ homes in 26 states. The future for the company includes plans to expand availability nationwide.
In the beginning
The genesis for a winery at Biltmore actually began more than 75 years prior to the estate’s first vineyard plantings in 1971, with the property’s creator, George W. Vanderbilt (1862-1914). An avid world traveler, George was also a thoughtful collector of books, museum-quality art, antiques and fine wines. During his forays abroad, Mr. Vanderbilt would often purchase cases of fine wine, bringing them back to his 250-room chateau to share with guests in his own home.
His wine purveyor, Alexander Morten, was also known for his excellent palate and was a worthy advisor and provisioner for the Vanderbilt lifestyle. Knowing that George Vanderbilt collected and enjoyed fine wines in his stately home – and served them to his family, friends and guests – was the underlying inspiration decades later for the planting of vineyards and the creation of Biltmore Winery. When William A.V. Cecil, George’s grandson, first claimed his heritage, he already had an estate winery in his sights. A winery, he felt, was a natural extension of Biltmore’s agricultural legacy and mission of self sustainability. It was also a fitting homage to his grandfather’s love of wine, and his legacy for gracious hospitality.
French-American hybrids were planted initially, with vinifera plantings following a few years later and when vineyard experiments indicated a wine operation was feasible, Cecil did just as his grandfather would have done—he sought the best possible help available. He traveled to France and hired a veteran winemaker as a consultant to help get his new enterprise going.
Biltmore’s first winemaker
Selected for the job was Philippe Jourdain of Provence, a winemaker of the European school who, as a sixth generation winemaster, had been involved in the winemaking business all of his life. Not only had Jourdain operated a family vineyard, he was also a respected teacher of viticulture and oenology, having taught at the Lycee Agricole in Carcassonne.
In 1979, two years after Jourdain began working with the estate, Biltmore sold its first bottle of wine. Pleased with the results, Cecil convinced Jourdain to become the estate’s first official winemaker. Under Jourdain’s guidance, Biltmore began the serious cultivation of vinifera grapes, the finer quality European varietals, and began phasing out the French-American hybrids it previously depended upon. The original hybrids have since been replaced entirely with the European varietals.
Although the hybrids have a greater yield—averaging six tons of grapes to the acre—Cecil wanted a better quality wine than the hybrids offered. Making the switch was not without its challenges, however, and it took the combined talents of Jourdain, Winemaker Bernard Delille and vineyard staff to cultivate the sensitive vinifera in the unique climate and soils of Western North Carolina.
Biltmore’s winemakers today
When Jourdain retired in 1995, Delille was the best candidate to become Biltmore’s next winemaster. Having been winemaker at the estate since 1986, Delille recognized the challenges and opportunities as Biltmore Estate Wine Company began its next phase of maturity. Delille holds a master’s degree from the Faculty of Science in Lyon, France, and served his internship in the Bordeaux region. He received his French National Diploma of Winemaker in Dijon, Burgundy, and was winemaker in the Pyrenees Atlantiques region prior to coming to Biltmore.
While Delille and Jourdain come from different regions in France, their approach to the art of winemaking is much the same. Both were graced with the benefits of a French winemaking background to transform American grapes into Biltmore’s fine varietal wines.
A native of Pennsylvania, Winemaker Sharon Fenchak, who works closely with Delille, has been with Biltmore since 1999. In addition to wine production, Fenchak is involved with in-house research and development to help Biltmore lead the way in employing new grape-growing technology and testing grape-production methods. Before joining Biltmore, Fenchak was winemaker at Chestnut Mountain Winery in Braselton, Ga., where she oversaw the wine development process. Prior to that, she was employed as assistant winemaker at Habersham Winery in Baldwin, Ga. She holds a master's degree in food science from the University of Georgia and a bachelor's degree in food science from Penn State University.
In addition, Vineyard Manager Dennis Wynne experiments throughout the year with pruning methods, leaf removal, crop thinning and pesticide use. These projects, which vary according to the growing conditions of the particular season, help Wynne determine the most efficient and environmentally conscious grape growing methods. Wynne, who oversees Biltmore’s vineyards as well as partnership vineyards within North Carolina, has been with the company for 29 years and was awarded “Winegrower of Excellence for 2008” by the North Carolina Winegrower’s Association.
Located in Asheville, North Carolina, Biltmore was the vision of George W. Vanderbilt. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, America’s largest home is a 250-room French Renaissance chateau, exhibiting the Vanderbilt family’s original collection of furnishings, art and antiques. Biltmore estate encompasses more than 8,000 acres including renowned gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture. Today, Biltmore has grown to include the new Antler Hill Village, which features the award-winning Winery and Antler Hill Farm; the four-star Inn on Biltmore Estate; Equestrian Center; numerous restaurants; event and meeting venues and Biltmore For Your Home, the company’s licensed products division. To learn more about Biltmore, or book a visit to Biltmore, go to www.biltmore.com
or call 877-BILTMORE.