Discover George Vanderbilt’s Railroad Ties

To discover George Vanderbilt’s railroad ties, you have only to look at his family history.

Few names have been more closely associated with the rise of the American railroad industry than the Vanderbilts.

Theirs is a remarkable legacy, and one that would ultimately contribute to the development of Biltmore, George Vanderbilt’s magnificent private estate.

Portrait of Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt in the Breakfast Room of Biltmore House

Railroad legacy

The Vanderbilt family’s success began with George Vanderbilt’s grandfather Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt—an entrepreneur from modest beginnings who spent his life building an empire based on shipping and railroad concerns.

His son William Henry Vanderbilt inherited the business after the Commodore’s death in 1877, doubling the family fortune before he passed away nine years later.

Cornelius Vanderbilt II and William Kissam Vanderbilt, William Henry’s two oldest sons, followed in their father’s footsteps to take on management of the family’s holdings, leaving George Vanderbilt—the youngest of William Henry and Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt’s eight children—free to explore his interests in art, literature, and travel.

George Vanderbilt’s vision

Formal photographic portrait of young George Vanderbilt 

By the time George Vanderbilt was in his twenties, he had begun planning the creation of a country estate similar to those he’d visited in Europe. After settling on Asheville, North Carolina, as the setting for his new home, he purchased considerable acreage in the area, breaking ground in 1889 for what would become Biltmore.

Vanderbilt party near Biltmore Station; March 1891. Seated (L-R) are Margaret Bromley, Maria Louisa Vanderbilt, Marguerite Shepard, and two unidentified women; unidentified person seated behind Mrs. Vanderbilt. Standing (L-R) are Margaret Shepard, possibly Frederick Vanderbilt, and George Vanderbilt.

While maintaining a permanent address at his family’s Fifth Avenue home, George made frequent trips to Asheville to oversee the project during the six years that Biltmore was under construction.

Swannanoa

In 1891, George Vanderbilt furthered his railroad ties by commissioning a private railcar from the Wagner Palace Car Company of Buffalo, NY. Showing affinity for his new home, George named his railcar Swannanoa after one of the two rivers that flowed through the property.

“Private railcars like Swannanoa were the height of luxury in the golden age of railroad travel, functioning as a home away from home for wealthy travelers” said Darren Poupore, Chief Curator for Biltmore.

For the railcar’s inauguration, Maria Louisa Vanderbilt gave her son an engraved tea service that read “GWV from MLV, November 14, 1891, Swannanoa.”

Teapot from Swannanoa’s tea service

Luxury travel

Swannanoa’s mahogany-paneled parlor was furnished with plush chairs and sofas; staterooms accommodated up to 12 people with comfortable beds and other furnishings.

George often sent Swannanoa to Washington and New York to transport family and friends back to Biltmore. While on board, a cook provided elaborate meals from a well-appointed kitchen and a porter tended to every passenger’s needs.

In addition to those comforts, guests could admire scenic views through plate-glass windows in an observation room in the rear of the car. And just like Biltmore House, Swannanoa’s interiors reflected George’s personality and interests, complete with countless books and etchings from his collections.

View of Biltmore’s Rampe Douce and Vista with construction sheds and train in foreground, c. 1892

Estate construction

As work on Biltmore House continued, a contract between estate architect Richard Morris Hunt and the project’s general contractor stipulated that the massive quantities of Indiana limestone required for construction be shipped by rail directly to the house site.

Working with a civil engineer and consulting with the superintendent of the Richmond & Danville Railroad, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted laid out a route for a standard gauge rail line connecting the depot in Biltmore Village to the building site.

The area’s uneven terrain—alternating between deep hollows and ridges—presented an added challenge for the rail line. In order to create a gradual incline from the depot to the building site, five trestles with a total length of 1,052 feet were constructed to carry the train across the gullies.

Steam locomotive in front of the Rampe Douce during construction; June 9, 1892

More railroad ties

George Vanderbilt purchased three steam locomotives for use on the estate. The two standard-gauge locomotives operated on the main railroad line to the Esplanade.

The first, Engine No. 75 (later renamed Cherokee) was purchased in 1890, but had to be modified because it lacked the coal and water capacity to make one trip to the Esplanade.

Another standard-gauge Baldwin locomotive, aptly named Biltmore, became the workhorse of the three engines.

Workers with a Baldwin steam engine on the Esplanade, 1892

The third locomotive, named Ronda, was a smaller engine used solely on the narrow-gauge line that ran between the Biltmore Brick and Tile Works and the clay pits on the estate.

After construction ended, the railway was disbanded and the steam engines were sold, but today’s guests can still see remnants of the railroad’s path in a few places around the estate.

Discover Biltmore Gardens Railway

Biltmore Gardens Railway display

From July 1–September 7, 2020, enjoy Biltmore’s historic landscape from a new perspective: accented with model trains and replicas of iconic American train stations during Biltmore Gardens Railway.

On display in Antler Hill Village, this charming exhibition showcases handmade buildings constructed of natural materials like leaves, bark, and twigs and large-scale botanical railways.

Plan now to enjoy this one-of-a-kind, fun-for-all-ages experience that honors George Vanderbilt’s railroad ties.

Featured image: Unidentified passengers gathered on the back of what is thought to be Swannanoa, George Vanderbilt’s private railway car

Celebrate Sauvignon Blanc in April

Since April 23 is National Picnic Day and April 24 is National Sauvignon Blanc Day, it’s a perfect time to celebrate Sauvignon Blanc with a picnic that includes chilled bottles of our Biltmore Estate Sauvignon Blanc AND our Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc!

Ladies enjoying a warm weather picnic with wine at Biltmore House
Enjoy warm weather sipping with friends and family!

What is Sauvignon Blanc?

The Sauvignon Blanc grape originated in the Bordeaux region of France where it was considered a good blending grape for other white wines rather than a stand-alone varietal.

Grapes ripening in Biltmore's vineyard
Grapes ripening in Biltmore’s vineyard

Later, Sauvignon Blanc became widely cultivated in Sancerre and in the 20th century was known by the name of that region rather than the name of the varietal.

Sauvignon Blanc (or Sancerre) is highly desirable for its food-friendly qualities that make it a natural to pair with a variety of flavors.

Fresh chilled seafood
Pair our 35th Anniversary Chardonnay with fresh seafood and other flavorful fare

A classic Sauvignon Blanc is crisp and refreshing, with a high acidity that can hold its own with rich seafood dishes and cheeses, yet is also delicious when sipped by itself.

Discover the Biltmore difference

Our Biltmore Estate Sauvignon Blanc is handcrafted for true varietal character with bright citrus aromas, fresh peach flavors, and an elegant finish.

Biltmore Winemaker Sharon Fenchak suggests pairing it well-chilled with everything from crab, lobster, oysters, scallops, or shellfish to goat and gruyère cheeses and green salads.

Selection of cheeses
Savor Biltmore Estate Sauvignon Blanc with a variety of cheeses

Though crafted from the same varietal, our Biltmore Estate Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc gives our winemaker more leeway to express the possibilities of the grape.

“It is definitely refreshing,” said Sharon Fenchak, “but also unexpectedly creamy with hints of toasted coconut, key lime, and oak.”

Sauvignon Blanc and oysters
Our Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc pairs perfectly with oysters and other seafood dishes

She enjoys serving it with foods like crab, flounder, oysters, and mozzarella cheese. “It’s a perfect partner for sushi, too,” Sharon said, “which can be very difficult for wine pairings.”

Stock up on Sauvignon Blanc and celebrate!

Savor in place with Biltmore wines and charcuterie
Pair Biltmore wines with your favorite comfort foods!

Go ahead and stock up on now on both our delightful Sauvignon Blanc styles, then invite friends and family for a backyard picnic, grill some crowd-pleasing Grilled Vegetable and Goat Cheese Pizzetas, and raise a glass to good times and great wines!

Head Over Heels for Hats and Headpieces

For Edith Vanderbilt and her peers, the fashion demands of the Gilded Age included regular visits to their favorite milliners for stylish hats and headpieces to match every outfit and activity from strolling in the gardens to attending fancy dress balls.

Ladies also kept up with trends by reviewing elegant magazines like Les Modes for the latest looks from couture design houses in cities such as Paris and London.

Front covers of Les Modes magazines in Biltmore's collection

Glamorous gowns and headpieces grace the covers of the June 1911 and February 1913 issues of Les Modes magazines in Biltmore’s collection

In style

Now through May 27, experience a fabulous array of hats and headpieces ranging from beautifully beaded butterflies and dove gray velvet to iridescent peacock feathers during our new exhibition: A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age. 

“We spent two years planning this exhibition,” said Leslie Klingner, curator of interpretation, “and we re-created many pieces of clothing from the original wardrobes of the Vanderbilts and their guests. We also looked at sources such as newspaper clippings and Edith Vanderbilt’s collection of Les Modes magazine in our archives for inspiration. The beautiful attire you’ll see in this exhibition would not have been complete without matching accessories.” 

An engaging headpiece

One of Leslie’s favorites is a velvet gown that Edith Dresser wore for her photographic portraits commemorating her engagement to George Vanderbilt. “The color is so deep that it looks black,” said Leslie, “but we know from newspaper articles and archival sources that it was actually midnight blue.” 

The matching headpiece features a diamonte ornament and a feathery black plume that adds additional height and elegance to the ensemble.

Edith Vanderbilt's engagement headpiece

Edith Dresser’s re-created engagement headpiece on display in the Tapestry Gallery

Feeding the swans

A vignette in the Second Floor Living Hall features Edith’s sister Pauline Merrill with the Vanderbilt’s only child Cornelia, dressed for walking out to feed the swans. While Pauline’s blue-gray tweed jacket and skirt seem sturdy enough for the outdoors, her hat is a delightful confection of soft gray velvet trimmed in matching ostrich plumes.

Pauline Merrill's gray velvet hat from A Vanderbilt House Party

Pauline Merrill’s stylish velvet hat draped in matching feathery plumes

Lady of the house

As the lady of the house, Edith Vanderbilt would always have been dressed appropriately for conducting her household responsibilities and attending to her family and guests. The elegant dress and hat featured in the Oak Sitting Room vignette were reproduced from an archival photograph.

Mannequins of Edith Vanderbilt and her daughter Cornelia

Edith Vanderbilt attends to the business of Biltmore House while daughter Cornelia and her cousin play with a toy 

George Vanderbilt's mannequin wearing a hat

George Vanderbilt’s mannequin sports a jaunty hat perfect for enjoying a stroll around the estate

And let’s not overlook the fashionable gentleman of the era. They, too, would have visited their trusted haberdashers for the finest bespoke styles—including hats—tailored to their needs and specifications.

Headpieces worthy of a grand gala in the Banquet Hall

Edith Vanderbilt mannequin with peacock feather headpiece

“For events like grand dinner parties, Edith Vanderbilt and other ladies would have worn stylish headpieces that coordinated with their gowns and accentuated their ornate hairstyles,” Leslie said. 
Edith Vanderbilt with an elegant spray of peacock feathers tucked into her chignon hairstyle

Katherine Hunt's mannequin with beaded comb in hair

Catharine Hunt, wife of Biltmore House architect Richard Morris Hunt, is shown with a comb in faceted jet to accent her curls

Beaded butterfly headpiece for Florence Vanderbilt Twombly's mannequin

The pièce de résistance: Florence Vanderbilt Twombly wears a beaded butterfly headpiece to match her exquisite gown, originally designed by the House of Worth. This stunning ensemble and many others were re-created for A Vanderbilt House Party by John Bright of Cosprop Ltd in London
 

A Vanderbilt House Party - The Gilded Age at Biltmore

Plan your visit now

Experience A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age February 8–May 27, 2019, and discover how the Vanderbilt family planned and prepared turn-of-the-century house party celebrations for their special guests. Receive our new Exhibition Audio Guided Tour featuring custom content created exclusively to enhance your visit—FREE when you purchase your estate admission online!

Main image: Clothing reproduced from archival photos of Pauline Merrill and Cornelia Vanderbilt 
 

Sip the essence of spring in a glass

Each spring, Biltmore winemaker Sharon Fenchak handcrafts something special that captures the essence of the season.

Seasonal spring wine release

For 2019, Sharon has created a fragrant white wine that opens with a scented bouquet of tropical fruit, coconut, pineapple, vanilla, and clove.

“As you sip, you’ll experience tastes of rich tropical fruit with a complex body,” said Jill Whitfield, senior marketing manager for Biltmore Wines. “The wine has a smooth, balanced finish and mild acidity, so it’s perfect for pairing with your favorite warm weather fare and outdoor picnics.”

To complement this year’s wine, the label features original artwork of Biltmore’s iconic Winery clock tower. Bryan Koontz of Asheville, North Carolina—the same artist who created both our stunning 2018 Christmas at Biltmore wine labels—was selected to paint a scene that echoes the beautiful blossoms of our annual Biltmore Blooms celebration.

Let’s take a look at the process for creating a commemorative label:

“We initially asked Bryan to present several concepts for the label,” Jill said. “He offered four options of the Winery’s clock tower showing different angles and perspectives, and we talked through each one, narrowing the choices down to a pair of sketches.”
The original four concept sketches Bryan Koontz presented for the 2019 spring wine label

Back to the drawing board

Bryan went back to the drawing board–literally–and worked the two sketches selected by Biltmore Wines and Lisa Vogel, art director, into more refined pencil drawings.

Bryan’s two drawings in the process of being refined

Interpreting the season

“We’ve worked with Bryan on several wine label projects,” noted Lisa, “and he is always able to quickly grasp the tone and manner that we need for a certain season or type of wine and to interpret it into a beautiful piece of art.”

Bringing the drawings to life with vibrant watercolors

All in the details

“We loved both versions of Bryan’s vivid watercolor paintings,” said Jill, “and it was hard to choose between them. I think it was his charming little detail of the bluebirds in the tree branches that finally decided the winner!”

Bryan finalizes details for the 2019 spring wine label

Biltmore Wines 2019 spring wine bottleSip a glass full of spring with us

Join us on April 5 in the Delille Room at the Winery from 5–6 p.m. for a special event honoring our 2019 spring release.

In addition to tasting the wine, you can meet artist Bryan Koontz and have him sign your bottles.
Make reservations now for this delightful opportunity by calling 800-411-3812. You can also purchase our 2019 spring release wine on the estate or online.

Featured blog image: Detail of the 2019 Spring Release label 

Spice Up Your Wine Selections with Unique Varietals

Ready to spice up your wine selections with unique varietals?

From classic favorites to special blends, Biltmore handcrafts a wide range of award-winning wines.

two hands toasting with wine
Savor award-winning Biltmore wines

Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon tend to be the best-selling white and red varietals around the world—and we create excellent versions of each at our estate winery—but what lies beyond these household names?

Let’s take a look at some of the more unique varietals we offer.

Viognier

Although its roots are firmly planted in southern France, this white varietal is now grown around the globe—as long as the climate offers warm weather for growing and cool nights to protect Viognier’s moderate acidity.

Friends toasting with Biltmore wine
Our new Biltmore Estate Albariño makes any occasion seem special!

“As soon as you uncork our Viognier, you can almost imagine that it’s a delicate perfume,” said Jill Whitfield, senior marketing manager for Biltmore Wines. “It offers top notes of tangerine, peach, and honeysuckle.”

Based on variables ranging from the terroir of a vineyard to production and aging, Viognier can be lighter with more hints of fruits and flowers, or deeper and creamier with flavors of vanilla and spice.

Viognier offers a definite aromatic sweetness,” Jill said, “but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a sweet wine. Our Biltmore Reserve Viognier 2018, handcrafted from North Carolina-grown grapes, adds a bright twist of white pepper to its overall bouquet. Good balance and acidity make it an excellent choice with seafood.”

Tempranillo

Pouring Biltmore wine into a glass
Tempranillo is a great way to spice up your wine selections

Most of the world’s Tempranillo is grown in Spain where it is believed to have originated, but this earthy red wine is rapidly gaining a following around the globe.

Tempranillo has a lot of personality,” said Jill. “Ours is full-bodied and fruit-forward with earthy aromas, rich dried fig flavors, and lingering tannins—just what you’d expect in a classic barrel-aged version.”

Winemaker Sharon Fenchak carefully crafts Biltmore Estate Limited Release Tempranillo with grapes sourced from our partner vineyards in California.

“When I discover exceptional grapes from one of our west coast growers, it inspires me to create distinctive wines for our Limited Release series,” Sharon said. “It’s usually a smaller amount of fruit, and that gives my production team an opportunity to really bring out the qualities of the varietal.”

Because of its fuller body and savory qualities, our Limited Release Tempranillo is a hearty match for beef, lamb curry, and pork.

It was recently rated “Exceptional” and awarded 91 points and a gold medal by Tastings.com, an online publication of the Beverage Testing Institute.

Chenin Blanc

Savor summer with Limited Release white wines
Pack plenty of Limited Release Semillon for your next summer picnic!

One of our guests’ favorites and a best-seller at Biltmore’s Winery, Chenin Blanc is a versatile white wine that can range from lightly sweet to quite dry, depending on the vintage and the style of winemaking.

“We handcraft our Chenin Blanc in two different styles,” said Jill. “Our Biltmore Estate Limited Release Chenin Blanc reflects the sweetness of the grape, which is very popular in the Winery’s Tasting Room. With floral aromas and a lingering sweet finish, guests can easily imagine sipping at home on a warm evening.”

Although our Biltmore Estate Chenin Blanc also features the classic floral aromas you’d expect in this varietal, it’s a bit more crisp than the Limited Release version and offers flavors of wild strawberry and bright hints of lime.

“Both styles are delicious,” noted Jill, “and I call them my ‘secret weapons’ when it comes to pairing wine with sweet-and-sour dishes and Asian cuisine! Those are not easy flavors to complement, but our Chenin Blanc and our Limited Release Chenin Blanc have enough acidity and sweetness to make it work.”

Couple drinking Biltmore wine
Enjoy Biltmore wine on the estate and at home.

Enjoy Biltmore wines at home

Whether you stick to your favorites or explore any of our unique varietals, you can stock up on our award-winning wines close to home through our Retailer Locator or shop online.

A Desirable Destination for Romance

Even before construction of Biltmore House was officially completed, George Vanderbilt offered world-class hospitality—and a desirable destination for romance—to family and friends who visited his estate.

Destined for romance

In honor of the romantic traditions of Valentine’s Day, let’s take a look at some of the very first Biltmore visitors: newlyweds Jay and Adele Burden.

Adele was George Vanderbilt’s niece, the daughter of his sister Emily Vanderbilt Sloane. She had been a frequent visitor to the estate, even during early stages of construction, and Adele’s love of Biltmore is evident in her diary entries.

George Vanderbilt, the Burdens, and Cedric the Saint Bernard crossing the river on Biltmore's ferry

George Vanderbilt, the Burdens, and Cedric the Saint Bernard crossing the river on Biltmore’s ferry

Words in a diary

Welcoming in the new year of 1894 at Biltmore nearly a year before the house officially opened, Adele wrote:

“Only a word to begin the New Year with. I made my good resolutions last night sitting over a little dying fire. The window was wide open, and the cold night air blew in. The stars were all out, and there was a hushed stillness everywhere as if something were expected. It has been so gloriously beautiful out today; it made me feel wild.”

A courtship begins

In fact, 1894 would be a significant year for Adele. She was courted by a handsome young man, James “Jay” Abercrombie Burden, whose family owned the Burden Iron works, one of the most successful such firms in the country.

Adele had no shortage of suitors, but with his clean-cut good looks, Harvard education, and superior athleticism, Jay soon won Adele’s heart. He proposed in December and the couple married on June 6, 1895, in what was reported to be one of the costliest American weddings held at the time.

Jay and Adele Burden on the steps of River Cliff Cottage at Biltmore

Happy honeymoon!

Of all the possible destinations far and wide, the Burdens chose Biltmore as the place to begin their honeymoon. They spent the first 10 days of their married life at River Cliff Cottage, which was built at the same time Biltmore House was under construction.

Just before her wedding, Adele wrote:

“The next day we go down to Biltmore to spend ten days in the dear little house Uncle George has given to us. How perfect it will be!”

Adele and her husband Jay were the first in a long line of friends and family welcomed as guests at Biltmore to experience what would become George Vanderbilt’s legendary hospitality.

Experience Biltmore Estate as destination for romance

Couple with sparkling wine by a fireplace
Celebrate your romantic occasions at Biltmore

Join us to experience the rich history of hospitality and romance at Biltmore Estate, located in Asheville, NC.

Whether you’re visiting for Valentine’s Day or simply want to shake off winter’s chill while enjoying an exciting glimpse into the past, the estate is always a great destination for romance!

Featured image: George Vanderbilt and Cedric the St. Bernard with newlyweds Adele and James Burden at Biltmore

Wings of Delight: Discover Our Newest Dessert Wine: Mariporta

In honor of our new exhibition A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age, winemaker Sharon Fenchak has handcrafted Mariporta—a dazzling red dessert wine that reflects the fine vintages that George and Edith Vanderbilt would have offered their guests.

Biltmore winemaker Sharon Fenchak

Careful coaxing

“The starting point for Mariporta was an outstanding Petit Sirah that we blended with other varietals,” said Sharon. “We carefully coaxed all the rich layers from the wine as it matured in oak.” 

Designed to delight

“Our velvety and barrel-aged Mariporta is exceptionally jammy and fruit-forward. Pair it with your favorite dessert, or simply serve it as dessert!” Sharon suggested.

In addition to the richly rewarding flavor of the wine, the label is a flight of fancy also inspired by A Vanderbilt House Party.

Florence Vanderbilt Twombly in her inspiring gown

Flight of fancy

“For the exhibition, we reproduced a stunning gown worn by Florence Vanderbilt Twombly—one of George Vanderbilt’s sisters,” said Leslie Klingner, Curator of Interpretation. “The original dress of finely woven silk was designed by House of Worth and adorned with embroidered butterflies and hand-sewn beadwork.​

Drawing on this description of the dress and an archival photo of Florence Twombly wearing it, Lisa Vogel, Art Director, created a remarkable design that echoes the delicate winged details of the gown. 

Re-creation of the butterfly gown

“In keeping with the style of the label, the name Mariporta flutters between the Spanish word for butterfly and the expressive style of this elegant red dessert wine,” said Lisa. 

Designed to delight with a touch of satin and spice, Mariporta celebrates the excitement of Biltmore house parties when friends and family were entertained with boundless hospitality.

Join us for the 2019 Sparkling Soirée: Gilded Age Masquerade!

Celebrate the first release

Be among the first to savor our newest offering by attending our 2019 Sparkling Soirée: Gilded Age Masquerade on Saturday, February 9, at 8 p.m. Don a mask and your most stunning attire for an evening of unparalleled elegance featuring live entertainment, dancing, and refreshments. Enjoy savory canapés, sweet petit fours, and a selection of Biltmore wines including the much-anticipated first release of Mariporta. You can also purchase Mariporta in estate shops or online.

Holiday Gingerbread at The Inn on Biltmore Estate

This gingerbread creation was on display during Christmas at Biltmore in 2018.

Please enjoy this archived content.

To celebrate Christmas at Biltmore, we deck the halls of America’s Largest Home®, place thousands of twinkling lights in Antler Hill Village, and turn the ceiling of our Winery into a dazzling burst of ornamental bubbles that resemble a glass of sparkling wine.

And then there’s the gingerbread.

Holiday tradition

Each year, The Inn on Biltmore Estate® constructs a spectacular scene out of gingerbread, carefully crafting all the delicious details with a sampler of sweets including frosting, candies, cookies, and more.

Decorating gingerbread at The Inn on Biltmore Estate

Leilani Padilla with The Inn’s pastry team adds “snow” to branches

This year’s building project is a replica of the Lodge Gate—one of the first historic buildings you’ll see when you arrive at Biltmore

Serving as the estate’s main entrance, the impressive structure was designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the same architect who designed Biltmore House. It features a wide two-story arch that guests have been driving through for more than a century.  

Biltmore's iconic Lodge Gate with Christmas decorations

Biltmore’s iconic Lodge Gate, decorated for the holidays

Historic inspiration

“It’s a challenge to replicate the look of original estate architecture,” said The Inn’s Pastry Chef Dana McFarland, “but we loved creating something so special for our guests to enjoy during their stay with us.”

Under construction

For 2018, Chef McFarland and her team set their sights on the Lodge Gate. From the steep tiled roof and distinctive brick and stucco exterior to the iconic arch, this glorious gingerbread creation was a labor of love that tested their engineering abilities.

Decorating gingerbread at The Inn on Biltmore Estate

Demi chef Megan Shreve adds details by hand 

Work began the week after Thanksgiving, with pastry team members* spending a combined 150 hours to bake, assemble, and decorate their holiday masterpiece

The Inn's pastry team decorates their gingerbread project

(L-R) Team members Leilani Padilla, Megan Shreve, and Laura Hinzman

“Our shopping list for ingredients was a little overwhelming,” Chef McFarland admits.

Shopping list

• Powdered sugar: 200 lbs. 
• Chocolate: 40 lbs. 
• Foiled chocolate balls: 35 lbs. 
• Rolled wafer cookies: 30 lbs. 
• Gingerbread: 20 lbs.
• Fondant: 20 lbs. 
• Isomalt: 20 lbs. 
• Rock candy: 15 lbs. 
• M&M’S®: 6 lbs.
• Jordan almonds: 2 lbs. 
• Gumballs: ½ lb. 

Inside information

Snowman and raccoon are part of the gingerbread display

Look for charming touches like these BFFs (Best Frosting Friends)!

Cinnamon-scented smoke coming out of the gingerbread chimney

On display now through January 7, 2019, The Inn’s gingerbread Lodge Gate is a feast for the eyes and the nose. 

“In addition to the spicy fragrance of ginger and the sweetness of all the candy decorations, we placed a cinnamon-scented infuser inside the structure,” said Chef McFarland.

“It makes it look as if there’s real smoke coming from the chimney—and it smells delicious!”

Create your own gingerbread masterpiece

Join us for a Gingerbread Tea at The Inn—a time-honored tradition that offers fun for all ages! The Inn’s pastry chef will be on hand to assist you as you decorate your house with a selection of colorful candies. Also available, assorted tea sandwiches and desserts from our Holiday Tea menu, and for an additional charge, seasonal cocktails. Find complete details and make reservations now for December 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, or 22 by calling 866-336-1245.

*Pastry team members 
Ashley Buchleitner
Aspen Galley
Dana McFarland
Karen Neal
Laura Hinzman
Leilani Padilla
Lucas Conti
Megan Shreve
Rachel Tipping
Tony Mushinski

Featured blog image: Biltmore’s Lodge Gate, constructed of gingerbread, on display now at The Inn on Biltmore Estate

Designing Christmas One Room at a Time

Please enjoy this archived content from our
2018 Christmas at Biltmore celebration.

To create the magic of Christmas at Biltmore, our Floral Displays team* draws inspiration from the details of America’s Largest Home®, including the style and furnishings of the rooms and objects from Biltmore’s collection displayed within them.

For 2018, let’s explore the stunning holiday décor created for some of the most iconic rooms in Biltmore House, learning how each designer brings their vision to life.

Grand Staircase Christmas tree in Biltmore House
The Grand Staircase tree offers heavenly inspiration with stars and cherubs

Vestibule, Entry Hall, and Grand Staircase

“This connected set of open spaces is the first thing guests see when entering Biltmore House,” said Joslyn Kelly, floral designer, “and it sets the tone for their whole visit.”

For the Vestibule, Joslyn used crystal garland and swags accented with gold to create an impression of entering heaven. She placed trees behind the paned glass in that area, adding twinkling lights for a star-like effect. 

The heavenly theme continues into the Entry Hall, with soft, iridescent hues of blue, gold, and pink drawn from the painted ceiling in the Library. Look for candelabras on the table above a seasonal display of fresh poinsettias and amaryllis.

“I chose a very different look for the tree under the Grand Staircase this year,” said Joslyn. “I was inspired by the celestial details on the face of the grandfather clock that stands nearby.” 

Crowned with suspended stars and featuring charming cherub ornaments, this tree is centered under the Grand Staircase Chandelier, making it appear as though the four-story light is the tree topper. 

“The tree looks different at each level, giving our guests a new perspective as they go up and down the Grand Staircase.”

Renoir-inspired Mediterranean colors in the Breakfast Room

Breakfast Room

“When you have two paintings by Renoir in a room, that’s a wonderful source of inspiration,” said Sara Merkel, another member of Biltmore’s Floral Displays team. 

“The artist painted these after he retired to the Mediterranean, so I’ve pulled out the warm orange and green tones of the region that are featured in both Child with Orange and Young Algerian Girl, plus a bit of blue for the Wedgwood-style fireplace surround.” 

In addition to the colors, look for Sara’s décor to incorporate a rich assortment of herbs, olives, fruit, pomanders, and nuts.

Pretty details in the Morning Salon honor the Vanderbilt family’s Dutch heritage

Morning Salon

Designed to appear as though Edith Vanderbilt might be using the space to write out her Christmas cards, Deborah Link of Floral has created a feminine feel with elegant cobalt and gold ribbon and a Victorian tussie-mussie on the desk. 

“In addition to those elements, I wanted to hint at both George and Edith Vanderbilt’s Dutch origins with classic blue-and-white Delft-style ornaments on the tree,” said Deborah.

Eiffel Tower and fleur-de-lis ornaments evoke a Parisian feeling in Mrs. Vanderbilt’s Bedroom

Mrs. Vanderbilt’s Bedroom

“We’re telling a very special story about George and Edith Vanderbilt this year,” said floral designer Kyla Dana. “The tree décor is inspired by the first Christmas of their courtship, which took place in Paris.”

According to archival information, George’s close friend Willie Field secretly took one of George’s stockings and gave it to Edith who filled it with treats including a copy of Quo Vadis—a novel George Vanderbilt enjoyed.

When you enter Mrs. Vanderbilt’s Bedroom, note that the room features a lush mix of purples, ambers, and oranges, all inspired by the colors of the distinctive oval ceiling.

Lucinda Ledford points out a delicate spiderweb ornament on the Billiard Room tree

Billiard Room

Lucinda Ledford with Biltmore Floral sought to bring the great outdoors into Biltmore House with details drawn from Buckspring Lodge—the Vanderbilts’ rustic retreat built on the slopes of Mt. Pisgah

“Since this room features sporting prints and other elements of outdoor pursuits,” said Lucinda, “I utilized natural colors and textures such as feathers and pine cones to introduce a woodland tone. There are also small framed photographs of the Vanderbilt family on the tree as ornaments.”

Banquet Hall Christmas tree

Other 2018 Christmas at Biltmore Highlights:

  • Banquet Hall
    • From the 35-foot fresh Fraser fir at one end to the triple fireplaces at the other, the Banquet Hall is a traditional guest favorite and one of the most beloved rooms in Biltmore House
  • Library
    • Themed around George Vanderbilt’s love of travel—especially nautical travel—the décorations will include ships, stars, and rope knots. 
  • Oak Sitting Room
    • ​Look for colorful décor in rich jewel tones of red, cobalt, gold, and green, all drawn from the room’s splendid Axminster—the only rug of English origin in Biltmore House.
  • Watson Room
    • As the sole room featuring twin beds, it’s easy to imagine children staying here on Christmas Eve. Look for stockings hanging on the bedposts and a small floor tree decorated with dolls, beads, and German blown glass ornaments.
  • South Tower Room
    • This charming scene features a table with paper, ribbon, and gifts since archival notes tell us this is where Edith Vanderbilt wrapped her gifts for the Christmas season!

Creating Christmas With Lizzie Borchers

When your responsibilities include decorating America’s Largest Home® for Christmas, you want to make sure you’re ready for the start of the holiday season.

Father and daughter enjoy Christmas at Biltmore

Create a Biltmore Christmas tradition with your family

Ahead of schedule

“We’re a little ahead of schedule this year,” said Lizzie Borchers, Floral Displays Manager for Biltmore, “and that’s a great place to be, because there’s no telling what bumps we may encounter!”

Now in her second year leading the team that creates the spectacular décor for Christmas at Biltmore, Lizzie feels she’s got a handle on the whole process.

“I feel fortunate to have gone through the entire Christmas at Biltmore season last year before I had to plan it all,” she said. 

Members of Biltmore's landscaping team with poinsettias

Todd Roy, Clare Cottrell, and Kathryn Marsh of Biltmore’s landscaping team with decorative poinsettias 

Team effort

Although her team includes nearly a dozen full-time floral designers and several reserve members who assist with special events, it still takes more than 100 people to bring Christmas together, from housekeeping and engineering to logistics, landscaping, and more.

Not everything happens as expected, however, and Lizzie admits they always have back-up plans, just in case. 

“Orders can be delayed and things can change at the last minute, but we make it work, even if it means pulling extra items out of storage. It’s really all about the details—that’s what sets Biltmore apart. We’re fastidious about what we do, from developing beautiful displays that delight our guests all the way to straightening the ornaments and carefully spacing the lights.”

Antler Hill Village illuminated for the season

Beyond Biltmore House

In addition to decorating Biltmore House, Lizzie’s team also enlivens Antler Hill Village & Winery, both hotels, and all estate restaurants and shops with seasonal splendor

Compared to the formal tone of Biltmore House, Lizzie and her team create a more rustic feel that is authentic for the village.

More than 7,000 ornaments decorate the Winery ceiling

Bubble ornaments sparkle at the Winery

“Inspired by the name, we’ve used a lot of antlers in the décor this year. We’ve added more illuminated grapevine spheres around the Village Green and more cascading waterfall lights in the trees—guests told us how much they love those. And don’t forget all the beautiful bubbles adorning the Winery ceiling—it’s like being inside a glass of champagne!”

Memories that last a lifetime

Although she doesn’t plan to make sweeping changes to the look and feel of the estate’s decorations, Lizzie wants to continue exploring ways to distinguish between Christmas at Biltmore during the day and Candlelight Christmas Evenings at night.

Choirs perform in the Winter Garden during Candlelight Christmas Evenings at Biltmore

Choirs perform in the Winter Garden during Candlelight Christmas Evenings

“They’re very different experiences,” she said, “and I want to ensure that our guests enjoy how special the décor is during regular hours, and then return at night to an entirely different feeling, like they’ve stepped back in time. Christmas is the perfect season to discover Biltmore all over again.”

Featured blog image: Lizzie Borchers with some of the “bubbles” that adorn the Winery ceiling