Biltmore’s Winery: A Tradition of Evolution
Estate History 09/12/16
Written By Amy Dangelico
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