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Biltmore’s Winery: A Tradition of Evolution
Posted on 09/12/2016 by Amy Dangelico Comments(5)
Today, Biltmore’s Winery is the most visited in the country. We produce about 150,000 cases of wine annually, available on the estate and also distributed across the country, and our wines have been honored with numerous awards and medals.
Exciting things happening at the ever-evolving Winery include the release of new Biltmore Wines, a newly expanded Tasting Room, and new tours featuring the Winery’s production facility and wine tastings straight out of the barrel—all just in time for harvest season.
As we celebrate these developments, let’s take a moment to reflect on how we got here. And as it turns out, the Winery’s tradition of evolution is even older than the Winery itself.
The Days of Biltmore Dairy
Before it became the Winery in Antler Hill Village, the century-old structure was the main dairy barn for Biltmore Dairy. Designed by Richard Howland Hunt, son of Biltmore architect Richard Morris Hunt, and farm manager George Weston, the barn accommodated 140 cows for one of the largest dairy operations in the Southeast.
Biltmore Dairy was the most successful of all of Biltmore’s enterprises, providing the estate with a financial cushion that would see it through George Vanderbilt’s death, two world wars, the Great Depression, and beyond.
After Biltmore House opened to the public in 1930, guests could view the milking rooms and processing areas in the dairy barn, sample the milk, and buy ice cream. Biltmore Dairy was so successful and its products were so well-known that it became an attraction in its own right for estate visitors.
It was around this time that the dairy’s delivery wagons were replaced with trucks and the fleet grew from 30 vehicles to over 400 in just 15 years.
Unfortunately, the market gradually shifted and, like many other smaller, family-run businesses at the time, Biltmore Dairy became unable to compete with larger commercial operations. With the advent of chain grocery stores came a cheaper, more convenient option for consumers to purchase milk, eventually making door-to-door dairy delivery obsolete. In April of 1985, Biltmore Dairy was sold to Pet, Inc.
A New Drink, A New Day
Even before Biltmore Dairy was sold, George Vanderbilt’s grandson and Biltmore’s owner, William A.V. Cecil, was asking: “What’s more appropriate for a French château than vineyards and a winery?”
In the early 1970s, he planted the first vines on the property, just below Biltmore House, and bottled the inaugural vintage in the Conservatory basement.
Less than pleased with the product, Mr. Cecil traveled to France in search of expertise. He returned with Philippe Jourdain, Biltmore’s first Winemaster. Together, the pair moved the vineyards to their current location on the west side of the estate and established Biltmore Estate Wine Company.
The conversion of the dairy barn into a state-of-the-art winery began in 1983. Mr. Cecil’s son and Biltmore’s current CEO, Bill Cecil, assumed the leadership role in overseeing the renovation.
In 1985, the Winery opened to the public in what Mr. Cecil called, “the most historic event since my grandfather had opened his estate to his family on Christmas Day ninety years earlier.”
The Evolution Continues
French native Bernard Delille joined Biltmore as assistant winemaker in 1986—making this year his 30th anniversary with Biltmore Estate Wine Company. Bernard was promoted to Winemaster and Vice President of the Winery when Philippe retired in 1995.
Sharon Fenchak joined the team a few years later. Her research in grape-growing technology and wine production methods in combination with Bernard’s traditional and artistic perspective proved to be a perfect combination for the Winery. Sales have continued to grow and retail distribution has since expanded.
Indeed, the evolution continues, while at the same time, throughout the dynamic history of the Winery, Biltmore’s winemaking philosophy holds: “To keep each wine true to varietal character, food-friendly, and consistent from vintage to vintage.” Visit the Winery in Antler Hill Village and taste for yourself.
Feature: Aerial view of Biltmore Dairy, circa 1925
Top Right: Biltmore Dairy milkman and delivery truck,
Top Left: William A.V. Cecil, early 1980s
Right: Bill Cecil at the renovation site, early 1980s
Left: The Winery at Antler Hill Village
Posted on 01/20/2018 By Lynda W
One of the things I love about Biltmore is how George Vanderbilt’s vision of being self-sustaining has continued to evolve over the years through the creativity of his heirs. Turning the dairy building into a winery and creating new purpose for its use was brilliant.
Posted on 04/14/2017 By Elizabeth A
We had Biltmore milk delivered to our back door when I was a child! We lived in East Flat Rock! There is no milk today that compares with that and it is a wonderful childhood memory!
Posted on 10/17/2016 By Gail N
My granddad worked in the dairy around 1926 or 1927. Wish I had pictures. His family lived on the grounds. The older ones (my two aunts) remember going in and getting a toy from the Christmas tree. My dad remembers a little about the inside but not much. He was around 5. My grandad worked there with his two brothers.
Posted on 09/19/2016 By Cathy M
My dad started off as a Biltmore Dairy milkman driving his delivery routes around Asheville and surrounding areas in the 1950s. He then was manager of the Greensboro plant in the 1960s and then manager of the Winston-Salem branch, until the buy out by Pet. We missed Biltmore milk and products so much after that. Nothing tasted as good ! My dad is 85 now and he reminisces about his milk routes in the 3 cities. And all the guys he worked with. Many now gone. The cow barns were always fun to see.
Posted on 09/12/2016 By Ted G
Excellent historical Blog...Thank you! (And please keep them coming)