Biltmore Becomes a Port Authority

If you think the phrase “any old port in a storm” also applies to port-style wines, think again: the pleasure of sipping a fine port makes it worth the effort of selecting something truly special.

The origin of Port

As the name suggests, Porto or Port originated in Portugal—a country with a long grape-growing and wine-producing history. Port is a type of fortified wine, similar in some respects to sherry, Madeira, Marsala, or vermouth.

While most fortified wines are created by adding some type of distilled spirit (such as brandy) after fermentation, distilled spirit is added to Port wines during fermentation, which effectively kills the actively fermenting yeast. Without yeast to consume it, residual sugar levels in the wine remain high, providing Port with its characteristically sweet flavor.

Biltmore winemakers pour Ventageo for a special eventBecoming a “Port authority”

As with Champagnes and wines of other protected designations of origin, Port can only be labeled such if it originates in the Douro River region of Portugal.

When our winemakers began the lengthy process of crafting this style of wine at Biltmore, they knew it would have to be labeled “dessert-style,” which is the legal wording for Ports that are not from the Douro.

“Although our new port-type wine cannot be labeled Port,” said Heather Jordan, Biltmore Wine Marketing Director, “it is handcrafted here at Biltmore from the traditional Portuguese grapes that would be grown in the Douro region, including Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão, Tinta Amarela, and Souzão.”

Our winemakers carefully selected these varietals from our California vineyard partners who also supply outstanding fruit for some of our Biltmore Wines and the producers of some of the finest American port-style wines.

“They’ve created a wonderful tawny port,” Heather said, “which refers to the aging process. The tawny designation means that the port has been barrel-aged for at least two years and some oxidation has occurred, deepening the rich notes of nuts and caramel that you’d expect to taste in a more mature port.”

Close-up view of Ventageo labelIntroducing Ventágeo

“Ventágeo is a first for us,” Heather said. “It is a very traditional port-style wine, and the name combines elements of the Portuguese word for wind with the first letters of George Vanderbilt’s name to create a word that suggests voyage and travel.”

Ventágeo honors George Vanderbilt’s journeys around the globe and the treasures—including fine wines—he carefully chose for his private estate. Intense, handcrafted flavor featuring rich layers of sun-dried stone fruit drizzled with hints of caramel and ripe berries makes Ventágeo a stunning finish for any meal or special moment.

Featured image: Ventágeo in the Champagne Cellar

First image: Winemaker Sharon Fenchak gives guests a preview of Ventágeo at our Vineyard Harvest Celebration in October

Final image: A closer look at the Ventágeo label

Decorating Biltmore’s most massive mantel

Please enjoy this archived content from a Christmas past.

For our grand annual events such as Biltmore Blooms and Christmas at Biltmore, America’s largest home is decorated according to a broad theme. This year’s theme of “Hearth and Home” is beautifully illustrated by the special attention paid to the many fireplaces and mantels throughout Biltmore House during the Christmas season.

From lavish Bohemian-style beading on the fireplace surround in the Breakfast Room to magnificent garlands with elegant gold tassels in the Library, our Floral team has created a breathtaking holiday display to amaze all the guests who visit from early November to early January.

Banquet Hall fireplace decorated for Christmas at Biltmore

In the Banquet Hall—always a showcase of seasonal spirit during Christmas at Biltmore—the triple fireplaces are decked in grand style. United by a massive limestone mantel, the fireplaces feature a double swag of greenery bursting with bright bows, twinkling lights, and decorative winter boughs. The swags frame Karl Bitter’s detailed carving entitled “The Return from the Hunt” that illustrates a scene from Wagner’s epic Tannhäuser opera. (In the photo above, you’ll note that the heavy garland is decorated in layers to add depth and richness. At the stage seen here, the lights are not in place and the bows will be further refined into rosettes. Floral will also load the greenery with frosty branches and other elements of botanical interest.)

According to Eugenia Halyburton Chandler, daughter of estate employee James A. Halyburton, the Banquet Hall triple fireplaces were an especially important part of the estate’s Christmas festivities during the 1920s and ‘30s. As a child, Eugenia recalled how Cornelia’s husband John Cecil—dressed as Santa Claus—would hide inside one of the triple fireplaces on a ledge above the opening. During the Christmas party for estate employees, Mr. Cecil would pop out and delight all the children in attendance.

In the image below, you see the completed garland aglow for Christmas at Biltmore and Candlelight Christmas Evenings. Enjoy this merriest time of the year now through January 8, 2017.

Decking Our Halls Is A Year-Round Process

From miles of garlands and hundreds of wreaths to thousands of lights and decorations on more than 50 trees inside America’s Largest Home®, our annual Christmas at Biltmore celebration is guaranteed to put you in a festive holiday mood!

But where does it all come from each year? How and when does it start? We asked members of Biltmore’s Floral team to give us a behind-the-scenes look at creating such a spectacular holiday happening.

A design storyboard featuring sample ornaments, ribbon, and photos for inspiration

A year of planning

“All the Christmas decorations you see this year began to take shape more than 12 months ago,” said Lizzie Borchers, Floral Displays Manager. “Our team spends several early December mornings walking through Biltmore House before guests arrived. We evaluate what’s great and what we might do again in another room,” Lizzie said. “We already know the following year’s theme, and our designers are eager to choose the rooms they want. Sometimes it’s like a bidding war—they have to sell me on their ideas.”

The selection process

Rooms are decorated according to an annual theme that changes each year, and the Floral team also takes cues from style elements of the room such as the predominant colors, art and furnishings, or the way in which the room was used.

The Library, for example, might feature books among its decorations while the Main Kitchen could include wreaths of dried bay leaves or other culinary ingredients.

Creating the designs, selecting the decorations, and deciding whether fresh plants or other ancillary materials should be included takes months of careful planning and review by the lead designer for each room, with input and assistance from the entire team.
Design sheets and ornaments for inspiration

As they decide on specific rooms for which they’d like to take responsibility during the December walk-through, team members choose some ornaments as they go; others are chosen from Biltmore’s warehouse a few months later.

Some ornaments are new, purchased at the Atlanta Gift Mart each March. Each designer then develops a kind of storyboard featuring a sample basket of ornaments and detailed design sheets to show Lizzie the look and feel of their plans. The designs are tweaked and approved as early as possible so the team can begin locating or creating any additional pieces needed to complete the scene.

Meanwhile, the Christmas trees are stored upright in Floral’s warehouse (sometimes called the tree farm) in spots reserved specifically for them. By early summer, team members have gone over all the tree lights to make sure they are in good condition and they’ve placed orders for plants such as fresh poinsettias to arrive at the proper time. For the next few months, the remaining decorations needed for each area are created.

Grand Staircase Christmas tree in Biltmore House

Putting it all together

During the entire month of October, our Floral Displays team is busy decking the halls and rooms of Biltmore House. Guests enjoy watching Christmas at Biltmore come to life and tell us it often inspires ideas for their own homes.

Featured image: a vintage children’s book inspires Christmas decorations at Biltmore

A renaissance for Roussanne

Receipts in Biltmore’s archives document that George Vanderbilt purchased and consumed wine on a regular basis, both at Biltmore and during his travels. Records of some trips, including one to Europe in 1891, are especially comprehensive. From receipts it’s clear that Vanderbilt enjoyed a variety of wines and that they were almost always of French origin.

With that in mind, we’d like to introduce you to one of Biltmore’s newest wines. Meet Roussanne—a standard in the Rhône region of France and now a rising star in the U.S.

White grapes on the vineMaddening & majestic

Described as both “maddening and majestic” by some growers, the late-blooming Roussanne is notoriously difficult to ripen and often yields less fruit than other varietals. Named for its rusty appearance when mature, Roussanne may include shades of rust, gold, and green grapes in a single cluster, signifying multiple levels of ripeness which, in turn, may affect the flavor of the finished wine.

Once cultivated mainly in Europe, Roussanne now seems to be thriving around Santa Barbara, which tends to experience cooler temperatures than the rest of California’s wine regions. This inherent coolness combines with Pacific breezes and fogs to extend the growing season, allowing Roussanne to ripen completely without developing too much sweetness during the heat of late summer.

What to expect

Cool-climate Roussanne wines open with an intriguing floral aroma reminiscent of herbal tea. The taste features a complex richness associated with stone fruits such as peaches and apricots, and a surprisingly “oily” texture gives Roussanne a mouth-feel similar to red wines rather than white ones.

When our winemakers discover exceptional grapes such as Roussanne grown by our California partners, they are inspired to create distinctive wines for the Limited Release series. Handcrafted in small lots, this series allows you to experience their skillful artistry in each bottle.

Biltmore Estate Limited Release Roussanne

Our Limited Release Roussanne

Refreshing and easy to drink, our Biltmore Estate Limited Release Roussanne features flavors of lime, kiwi, lemon, and tangerine. It pairs well seafood, including spicy dishes such as the traditional bouillabaisse of southern France. It also provides a nice complement to Asian cuisine, which can be a challenge for most wines.

For our Vanderbilt Wine Club members, we have crafted a delicious Biltmore Estate Limited Release Roussanne-Viognier

blend available exclusively to them. The two varietals combine to create a delightfully rich, full-bodied wine featuring good tannin structure plus flavors of red berries and vanilla.

Fall Garden Maintenance at Biltmore

As fall beauty begins to blanket the estate, our dedicated garden crew is busy preparing the grounds for cooler temperatures. Of course, the blowing and raking of leaves is a seemingly never-ending task among the crew this time of year, but here’s a peek into a few of their other duties.

Gardener cleaning out Italian Garden pools

After their summertime glory, Marc Montrell (pictured) is working to gather fading lilies from the Italian Garden ponds over the next few weeks. Along with all of our raked leaves across the estate, they will be composted. Many of our guests ask what happens to the koi during this time, but they actually remain in the ponds and hibernate over winter!

Gardener John Smith pruning roses

There are still many gorgeous blooms in the Rose Garden, but there is a lot of pruning and “deadheading” to be done over the next couple of weeks. A preliminary trim to mid-height is done in late November, with the final cutting in late winter when the roses are dormant. Gardener John Smith (pictured) notes that this method may not apply in other gardens, at Biltmore’s Rose Garden acts as it’s own ecosystem, protected by the stone walls which retain heat and offer protection from the wind.

Clare Whittington watering evergreen trees in front of Biltmore House

The Garden crew recently planted winter evergreens such as Blue Spruce, Hemlock and Magnolia trees in the large pots along Biltmore’s front door. Gardner Clare Whittington (pictured) notes that watering these potted trees must be done frequently, and are constantly monitored during freezing temperatures in the winter.

No matter what time of year guests visit, this wonderful team works hard to ensure the gardens and grounds are beautiful. Visit the Gardens & Grounds section of our website for more information about what’s featured throughout the year.

Christmas at Biltmore: Adding it all up

Decorating America’s largest home for the holiday season is certainly no small task. Christmas at Biltmore is one of the Southeast’s most storied Yuletide destinations and we know that expectations are set pretty high.

Yet the beauty of Biltmore adorned for the season never disappoints, a remarkable testament to the expertise of our Floral staff. Each January, before the holiday decorations are taken down, our designers and reserve team start planning for next Christmas.

Designs and arrangements vary from year to year, meaning every wreath, ornament, and bow is selected or created precisely for its intended location that holiday season.

The amount of imagination and preparation required is staggering, not to mention the sheer volume of décor. So besides a talented crew and a full year, what exactly does it take to create Christmas at Biltmore?

Christmas Trees

  • The 2016 celebration boasts 62 decorated Christmas trees inside Biltmore House. 
  • The largest tree in Biltmore House is the Vanderbilt traditional 35-foot-tall Fraser fir in the Banquet Hall. It takes about 50 Biltmore staff members to carry the tree through the house and raise it safely and securely into place.
  • An illuminated 55-foot-tall Norway spruce stands on the Front Lawn of Biltmore House, along with 20 other lit evergreens.
  • A total of 44 additional decorated Christmas trees can be found at other locations across the estate, including Antler Hill Village & Winery, The Inn on Biltmore Estate, Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate, and our restaurants.
  • The Conservatory is decorated with “trees” made of potted plants and other natural materials. Over 30 live trees and shrubs are used to decorate other estate buildings.

Lights and Candles

  • About 30,000 lights and 150 candles are used in Biltmore House. More than 135,000 LED and mini lights twinkle across the estate. 
  • The Front Lawn tree is illuminated by 55,000 lights. An additional 20,000 are used on the surrounding trees and shrubs. 
  • Lit at dusk, 300 luminaries line the driveway and Esplanade in front of Biltmore House.


The Banquet Hall tree is trimmed with 500 ornaments, 500 LED Edison style light bulbs, and 500 wrapped gift boxes. There are 13,000 ornaments decorating the other trees inside Biltmore House and another 13,000 used in other areas of the estate.

Poinsettias and Other Blooming Plants

There are over 1,000 traditional poinsettias on display as well as over 1,000 other bloom plants including amaryllis, Christmas cactus, orchids, peace lilies, cyclamen, begonias, and kalanchoe.


Our wreaths are made of fresh white pine and Fraser fir, ornamented with golden arborvitae, holly, or other natural materials like twigs and cones. Artificial bases are decorated with ornaments, berries, faux flowers, and ribbon. There are 360 fresh wreaths and sprays along with 130 faux pieces throughout the estate during the season.

Kissing Balls

There are 100 orbs made of fresh white pine and Fraser fir or dried and faux materials decorating the estate.


A total of 7,527 feet of fresh white pine and Fraser fir garlanding adorns the estate, all of which is replaced weekly for freshness and fragrance. An additional 1,200 feet for faux garlanding is used in Biltmore House with another 1,500 feet used across the estate.

Ribbons and Bows

There are 500 bows used in Biltmore House and about 1,000 used in other areas of the estate. Base materials vary from narrow cording to 8-inch-wide ribbon, decorated with velvets, metallics, satins, burlap, printed cottons, and more.

Renovating America’s Most-Visited Winery

Please enjoy this archived content from 2016

In 1985, George Vanderbilt’s grandson William A.V. Cecil opened a new state-of-the-art winery in what had been an original estate dairy barn. Little did we know that within a few years, it would become the most-visited winery in the U.S., welcoming a significant portion of our one million and more annual guests to tour our production facility and taste our award-winning wines.

Renovation begins in the Biltmore WineryRenovation begins

Three decades have passed since the opening, and the time was right to renovate the Biltmore Winery, expanding its capacity to host more visitors and creating new space for our programs and offerings.

The initial phase of the project focused on updating the smaller Tasting Room plus the addition of a new Tasting Room. Construction began in Fall 2015—with a break for all the lively holiday celebrations—and was completed in time for a special Passholder preview event in April 2016.

Signatures on a beam in the Biltmore Winery

Signature event

In August 2016, the second phase of renovation started in the main Tasting Room. During this time, Biltmore Passholders and Vanderbilt Wine Club members were given the opportunity to become part of the project by signing pieces of lumber that would be used in the main Tasting Room. Though covered in the final stages of construction, their signatures, comments, and well wishes are a wonderful tribute to our winemakers and hosts–and Mr. Cecil’s vision to add a vineyard and a winery to his grandfather’s estate.

In just one month of busy days, nights, and weekends, the dedicated construction team completed the project—with beautiful results! While it was difficult to have the main Tasting Room under construction, our Winery staff handled it with grace and professionalism to ensure all guests still enjoyed the true Biltmore experience.

Couple tasting wines at Biltmore WineryMission accomplished

Our main Tasting Room officially opened on September 1, just in time for our annual NC Wine Month celebration. Not only is the space more aesthetically pleasing, but the renovation also provides added benefits to our guests, such as shorter wait times on busy days, more room to interact with the Winery hosts, and a more open, comfortable setting to enjoy Biltmore wines.

We invite you to join us soon and discover all our newly-renovated Winery has to offer!

Celebrating 100 years of Pisgah Forest

May 2014 marked a significant milestone for both Biltmore and Pisgah National Forest: the 100th anniversary of Edith Vanderbilt selling part of the estate to the U.S. government to create the first national forest east of the Mississippi River.

George Vanderbilt acquired Pisgah Forest under the direction of his forest manager, Gifford Pinchot, as part of his land holdings which eventually totaled 125,000 acres. Pinchot, who later served as the first chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, developed a forest management plan for the property. In 1895, Dr. Carl A. Schenck succeeded Pinchot, and continued and expanded the plan over the next 14 years. Dr. Schenck founded the Biltmore Forest School—the first school of forestry in the U.S.—graduating more than 300 of the nation’s first professionally-trained foresters.

While the Vanderbilts originally had offered to sell 86,000 acres of Pisgah Forest in 1913, the offer was rejected. After her husband’s death in March 1914, Edith Vanderbilt resumed negotiations with the Secretary of Agriculture, David Franklin Houston.

Cradle of Forestry

In her May 1 letter, she stated her family’s interest in preserving the property:

“Mr. Vanderbilt was the first of the large forest owners in America to adopt the practice of forestry. He has conserved Pisgah Forest from the time he bought it up to his death, a period of nearly twenty five years, under the firm conviction that every forest owner owes it to those who follow him, to hand down his forest property to them unimpaired by wasteful use.

I keenly sympathize with his belief that the private ownership of forest land is a public trust, and I probably realize more keenly than any one else can do, how firm was his resolve never to permit injury to the permanent value and usefulness of Pisgah Forest. I wish earnestly to make such disposition of Pisgah Forest as will maintain in the fullest and most permanent way its national value as an object lesson in forestry, as well as its wonderful beauty and charm; and I realize that its ownership by the Nation will alone make its preservation permanent and certain…

I make this contribution towards the public ownership of Pisgah Forest with the earnest hope that in this way I may help to perpetuate my husband’s pioneer work in forest conservation, and to insure the protection and use and enjoyment of Pisgah Forest as a National Forest, by the American people for all time….

In the event that my offer is accepted, I shall be glad for the Government to assume control of Pisgah Forest as soon as it may desire. In the same event, it would be a source of very keen gratification to me if the tract retained, as a national Forest, the title of “Pisgah Forest”, which my late husband gave it.”
Very truly yours,
Edith S. Vanderbilt

Pisgah National Forest was dedicated to the memory of George Vanderbilt in a 1920 public ceremony attended by Edith Vanderbilt and her daughter Cornelia, N.C. Governor Locke Craig, and George S. Powell, secretary of the Appalachian Park Association.

Today, the Cradle of Forestry is a 6,500-acre Historic Site within Pisgah National Forest, set aside to commemorate the beginning of forestry conservation in America and the lasting contributions of George Vanderbilt, Gifford Pinchot, and Dr. Carl Schenck.

Visit Biltmore today

Make plans now to visit George Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate and see the results of managed forestry for yourself.