Biltmore’s Bass Pond: Re-Creating the Missing Island

Did you know Biltmore’s Bass Pond originally had two islands within it? One of the islands (or “islets,” as landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted referred to them) mysteriously disappeared over the years. However, our horticulture team recently worked to re-create this feature as part of our mission to preserve the estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

About the Bass Pond’s Design

Biltmore’s Bass Pond—referred to as “the lake” in some archival documents—was part of Frederick Law Olmsted’s landscape plan for the estate, created more than 125 years ago. Designed to provide still water for the Vanderbilts and their family and friends to go boating, the six-acre body of water was created by damming a nearby creek and enlarging its millpond.

Archival bass pond image
Archival image of the Bass Pond with both original islands visible, ca. 1895.

Olmsted wrote about the Bass Pond islands in a January 29, 1891 letter to George Vanderbilt:

“There were four reasons for designing the islets near the north margin of the lake: first, the effect of them would be to enlarge the apparent extent of the water… and there would at least be more effect of intricacy and mystery; second, [because of] the steepness of the ground almost everywhere at our proposed water-line on the main shore… the islands, being low and flat, are intended to serve was a disguise and relief to this circumstance; third, the islands will save cost of construction; fourth, they are needed as breeding places for shy waterside birds, many of which will only make their nests in the seclusion of thickets apparently inaccessible.”

Team re-creating the new island
Our team sourced the clay-based soil for the new island from another estate location.

Re-Creating the Missing Island

During the early months of 2022, our horticulture team began the preliminary work to install the missing island. First, they drained the Bass Pond so that the water level was below the height of the new island. Then, the pond was dredged and our crew disposed of the old sediment and material. Finally, our team brought in clay-based soil from another location on the estate to re-create the island.

Transporting plants in the bass pond
Transporting the selection of plants to the newly established island was a project in and of itself.

Landscaping of the island took place in May 2022. Six members of our horticulture team transported iris, Cliftonia, and Juncus to the island via several rowboat trips. The selection of plant material was in line with Olmsted’s original intention for the islands’ purpose. Juncus, for example, is a water-loving grass that offers habitat for wildlife, in particular the shy waterside birds referenced by Olmsted in his letter to George Vanderbilt.

New Bass Pond island almost complete
Our team intentionally selected plants that would remain true to Olmsted’s original vision.

On your next trip to the estate, we invite you to linger along the shores of the Bass Pond. Consider strolling there via the Azalea Garden Path after your Biltmore House visit. Marvel at its historic boat house and waterfall. And of course, watch the newly re-created island for those shy waterside birds—just as Olmsted intended.

Re-Creating Biltmore’s Missing Bass Pond Island

Moving into America’s Largest Home®

Moving into America’s Largest Home would be a work in progress for George Vanderbilt as Biltmore House was not quite finished for his October 1895 move-in date.

Have you ever moved into a custom-designed new home? If you have, you know that the punch list never seems quite buttoned-up on moving day. Little details seem to linger even after the last box is unpacked—and it was no different for George Vanderbilt’s magnificent new house in Asheville, North Carolina.

A ground-breaking project

Archival image of America's Largest Home under construction
Archival image of Biltmore House under construction, May 8, 1894

Ground was broken in 1889, and during the course of the six years that followed, George Vanderbilt remained in close touch with Biltmore House lead architect Richard Morris Hunt, supervising architect Richard Sharp Smith, and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Hunt passed away in August 1895, just months before Vanderbilt moved in, but Sharp Smith was able to complete the plan.

Archival image of the Brick Farm House, circa 1889
Archival image of the Brick Farm House, circa 1889

When he came to stay for periods of time at the construction site, George Vanderbilt stayed in what was called the Brick Farm House, a property he purchased from Asheville entrepreneur B. J. Alexander in 1889. Sharp Smith renovated the property, which included a mill and farm buildings, so that it was comfortable enough to accommodate Vanderbilt and his project team when they visited to check on the estate’s progress.

In the months leading up to the official opening, carpentry and cabinetry were among the final touches. With George Vanderbilt’s move-in scheduled for October, archival information shows that Richard Sharp Smith hired 16 additional cabinetmakers to speed up progress.

Archival photo of some of the contractors who built America's Largest Home
Biltmore House contractors, including Richard Sharp Smith (second from right), circa 1892

Finishing the last details of America’s Largest Home

On his first night at Biltmore, George Vanderbilt slept in the Bachelors’ Wing because his bedroom wasn’t finished. There was another issue, too, described in the papers of Frederick Law Olmsted:

When the water was turned on in the stable… to get ready for the servants to occupy, it was found that it would not go up to the second floor where the servants [sic] rooms are.

The problem was soon fixed and water flowed a few days later, but there were still a few outstanding details to hammer out. With family and friends expected for Christmas 1895, Sharp Smith hired an additional 10 cabinetmakers in December. While almost all the carpentry was finally completed in 1896, additional cabinetry projects extended into 1897.

Front façade of America's Largest Home
View of front façade of Biltmore House

Plan your visit today

Today, when you visit Biltmore Estate, you can see first-hand the incredible attention to detail that went into every aspect of America’s Largest Home. But as you might imagine, even this architectural masterpiece was subject to the challenges faced in any home-building project. By seeing the vision of the project through until the end, George Vanderbilt and his design and construction team created a landmark with enduring quality that we still enjoy today, more than 125 years later.

National Gallery of Art Calls on Biltmore During World War II

Did you know the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, called on Biltmore during World War II?

It was during the winter of 1942 when an unusual array of guests arrived at Biltmore House. Accompanied by guards on their journey from Washington, D.C., 62 paintings and 17 sculptures from the National Gallery of Art were carried into the house and placed in the Music Room.

Archival photo of artwork from National Gallery of Art beling placed in moving vans to be returned to Washington DC. Objects were delivered to Biltmore in January 1942 and returned in October 1944. © The Biltmore Company
Archival photo of artwork from National Gallery of Art beling placed in moving vans to be returned to Washington DC. Objects were delivered to Biltmore in January 1942 and returned in October 1944. © The Biltmore Company

It was a critical time in the nation’s capital, and in 1941 during World War II, American leaders based there began to fear the possibility of an attack.  An air raid on a major U.S. city seemed likely. German submarines had been sited along the Atlantic Coast from Maine to North Carolina, bringing the war uncomfortably close to the American shore.

Perhaps one of the best known works that Biltmore House stored for the National Gallery of Art was Sandro Botticelli’s The Adoration of the Magi (c. 1478/1482).
Perhaps one of the best known works that Biltmore House stored for the National Gallery of Art was Sandro Botticelli’s The Adoration of the Magi (c. 1478/1482).

With that thought in mind, and with information from European sources about Hitler’s relentless efforts to seize and stockpile art—much of which was damaged or destroyed in the process—David Finley, the new director of the National Gallery of Art, contacted Biltmore to discuss the possibility of sending some of the nation’s most important art treasures there for safekeeping.

Finley had visited Biltmore previously as a guest and felt that Biltmore House was the perfect choice with its fireproof features and remote location. Edith Vanderbilt graciously agreed.

Rembrandt van Rijn’s Self-Portrait (1659) was among the works stored at Biltmore House during World War II. Rembrandt was coincidentally one of George Vanderbilt’s favorite artists.
Rembrandt van Rijn’s Self-Portrait (1659) was among the dozens of works stored at Biltmore House during World War II. Rembrandt was coincidentally one of George Vanderbilt’s favorite artists.

The unfinished Music Room on the first floor of Biltmore House was refitted with steel doors and other protective measures were taken, as outlined by the National Gallery of Art. On January 8, 1942, the paintings and sculptures arrived in Asheville.

Biltmore had opened to the public in 1930 as a means of promoting tourism in Asheville. Guests walked by the Music Room, unaware that some of the world’s greatest artwork was secretly hidden on the other side of the wall. The priceless artwork remained under 24-hour armed guard at Biltmore until the fall of 1944, well after the danger of bombings or invasion had ended.

Feature image: Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington (1795)—an iconic portrait of the nation’s first president—was safely stored in America’s Largest Home® from 1942 to 1944.

Cornelia Vanderbilt’s Birthday Parties: The Grandest Affairs

From the day she was born, Cornelia Vanderbilt’s birthday was recognized and celebrated on an extraordinary scale, one befitting of royalty.

Birth Announcements

Named in honor of prominent members of both her mother and father’s family, Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt was born on August 22, 1900 in the grand Louis XV Bedroom in Biltmore House.

George Vanderbilt with newborn daughter Cornelia on the Loggia of Biltmore House, September 30, 1900
George Vanderbilt with newborn daughter Cornelia on the Loggia of Biltmore House, September 30, 1900

Cornelia’s birth was mentioned in the society pages of newspapers across the country, including the Asheville Citizen, which reported:

Stork comes to Biltmore

To Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt a Child is Born

“The advent of a daughter to Mr. and Mrs. George W. Vanderbilt was announced last evening from Biltmore House. The little stranger is a Buncombe baby—pretty as babies go—but with the Buncombe birthright of the mountain health its days of babyhood will dot in dimpled sweetness and the fairy lines of beauty blend in a vision fitting to its home on the grand estate.

Edith Vanderbilt with young daughter Cornelia around the time of her christening, October 1900
Edith Vanderbilt with young daughter Cornelia around the time of her christening, October 1900

And from the Spartanburg Journal of upstate South Carolina:

Biltmore’s New Star

“A new star has appeared at famous Biltmore, and the charming mistress of this most gorgeous home is smiling upon her first born, a tiny girl called Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt…”

Early Birthday Celebrations

Although we have no specific descriptions of birthday parties during Cornelia’s childhood, we do know that she had many playmates among her cousins and the children of families who lived on the estate.

Cornelia Vanderbilt with one of her family's Saint Bernards on the Front Lawn of Biltmore House, 1905
Cornelia Vanderbilt with one of her family’s Saint Bernards on the Front Lawn of Biltmore House, 1905

Cornelia Vanderbilt’s 21st Birthday Party: An Elegant Masquerade

As Cornelia Vanderbilt grew older, her birthday parties became grand events. Her twenty-first birthday on August 22, 1921 began with a surprise gathering of 250 estate workers and tenants at 7 a.m. at Biltmore House. The staff clearly had a deep affection for Cornelia, and many of their children had been her playmates since her birth.  

As part of their surprise for Cornelia, whom they had watched mature into a sophisticated young woman, the employees improvised a band that played old-time dance tunes. The group then presented Cornelia with a game-bag as a gift. Later that same evening, more than 200 guests attended a masquerade party at Biltmore House in Cornelia’s honor. 

Employees gathered to celebrate Cornelia Vanderbilt’s 21st birthday, August 1921
Employees gathered to celebrate Cornelia Vanderbilt’s 21st birthday, August 1921

The Asheville Citizen-Times published the following account of the occasion:

“Miss Vanderbilt is accorded honors on reaching majority; masquerade party given on Monday at mansion.

Miss Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt reached her 21st birthday Monday and was accorded honors becoming the lady of Biltmore mansion. Monday night a large masquerade was given and guests were present in large numbers.  

The social calendar for the week started with one of the most brilliant of the season’s entertainments, the fancy dress ball, given the Monday evening at Biltmore House by Mrs. George Vanderbilt in honor of the birthday of her daughter, Miss Cornelia Vanderbilt. Dancing was enjoyed in the sunken garden where masses of ferns and palms made a pleasing and charming background for the two hundred or more fascinating and gorgeous costumes of the guests. The Garber-Davis orchestra from Atlanta provided the dance music. Late in the evening supper was served in the banquet hall. A special feature of the entertainment was that the assemblage of the guests, at the commencement of the evening, a closed sedan chair was brought in by four attendants, and as the curtains were drawn, Miss Vanderbilt stepped forward in a most attractive costume of a page of the period of the French Renaissance.

Cornelia Vanderbilt’s 25th Birthday Party: An Open-Air Ball

Cornelia’s birthdays continued to be stunning occasions, even after she married the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil in 1924. 

Cornelia Vanderbilt’s wedding portrait upon her marriage to John Francis Amherst Cecil, April 1924
Cornelia Vanderbilt’s wedding portrait upon her marriage to John Francis Amherst Cecil, April 1924

The Asheville Gazette reported on celebrations for Cornelia’s 25th birthday:

“On Friday, August 22, 300 employees attended a garden party and tea at 4 pm with dancing to Guthrie’s Orchestra.  Biltmore Dairy employees gave Cornelia a surprise birthday gift of a giant ice cream cake—4’ high and 2’ square at the base—made of 26 gallons of Biltmore Dairy ice cream.  It “consisted of alternate layers of chocolate parfait, Lady Ashe ice cream, and a covering of vanilla mousse.  The cake was studded with roses and lilies and also bore the inscription ‘May your joys be as many as the sands of the sea.’”

Cornelia celebrated the following evening with an open-air ball for 300 people at 9:30 p.m. Guests danced in a pavilion to the Charles Freicher Orchestra. The lawn was lit with Japanese lanterns placed in trees and shrubbery. 

Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil around age 25, 1925
Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil around age 25, 1925

The Gazette further noted that, “the beautiful array of summer gowns of the many dancers made a scene as beautiful as that of gay moths and fireflies in a fairy garden,” and a buffet supper was served at midnight.

Although we have no further descriptions of Cornelia’s birthday parties, we are sure they were often celebrated in style. From her earliest days as the “Biltmore Baby” to her life as a celebrated socialite of wealth and style, Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil exemplified the Roaring 20s and the Jazz Age that still fascinate us today.

Tomato Gazpacho Recipe

Enjoy your own garden-fresh tomatoes with this lovely cool soup created by Bistro’s Executive Chef. Perfect for lunch with some crusty bread and olive oil, or as an elegant appetizer before dinner.

Wine Pairing Suggestion: Pair this refreshing Spanish soup with an equally refreshing wine, such as our Biltmore Estate Albariño or Sauvignon Blanc.

Enjoy your own garden-fresh tomatoes with this lovely chilled Tomato Gazpacho soup recipe by Biltmore.

Tomato Gazpacho

Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • Gazpacho Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes
  • 2 red peppers – diced
  • 3/4 cup red onions – diced
  • 3/4 cup cucumber – peeled seeded and diced
  • 1/3 cup celery – diced
  • 1/3 cup fennel – diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup tomato juice
  • 1 clove garlic – minced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chipotle Crème Fraiche Ingredients
  • 1 cup crème fraiche
  • Juice and zest of 1 lime (reserve zest for garnish)
  • 1 tablespoon canned chipotle peppers – finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Instructions:

  1. Soup: Bring a medium pot of salted water to boil. With a small knife, remove each tomato core and cut a small X into the bottom of each tomato. Put water and ice in a large bowl; set aside. When the salted water comes to a boil, carefully drop tomatoes into the pot and blanch for 30 seconds. Remove tomatoes from the pot with a slotted spoon and place in the ice water. Allow a few minutes to chill. Once chilled, remove tomatoes from ice water and peel off outer skin. Cut tomatoes in half and remove seeds. Discard skins and seeds. Place tomatoes and all remaining gazpacho ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. For best results, store gazpacho in refrigerator overnight before serving.
  2. Chipotle Crème Fraiche: Place crème fraiche, lime juice, and chipotle peppers in a small mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Serving Suggestion: Place approximately 1 cup of chilled gazpacho in each bowl. Garnish with a dollop of crème fraiche, some of the reserved lime zest, and a few cilantro leaves.

The Dairy Foreman’s Cottage: A Brief History

There’s a new overnight offering at Biltmore—a cozy, casual home in a peaceful woodland setting. Introducing the freshly renovated Dairy Foreman’s Cottage on Biltmore Estate™, an historic structure, reimagined to offer today’s guests an oasis of service, style, and charm. 

In honor of this exclusive new lodging option, let’s take a step back in time for a closer look at the history of this unique Biltmore residence. 

A Family Home for Estate Workers

Originally labeled a “Dairy Worker’s Cottage,” this welcoming home was one of five identical houses designed by Asheville architect Anthony Lord in 1935 for Biltmore Dairy employees and their families. According to archival correspondence from the time, the cottage was built for $535 with materials provided by the estate.

Archival photo of cows with Dairy Foreman's Cottage in the distance
The earliest archival photo of the Dairy Foreman’s Cottage (center of image, top of hill), ca. 1940

One of the first families to live in this house was likely the Allen family in the late 1930s or early 1940s. Ernest Allen brought his family to the estate in 1927, and over his 38 years of employment at Biltmore, primarily as a Farm Foreman, they lived in seven different estate residences. 

Ernest’s daughter Martha Allen Wolfe recalled in a 2016 interview with our Oral History Program that they had indoor plumbing and electricity while growing up in the Dairy Foreman’s Cottage. 

Archival image of Dairy Foreman's Cottage
Archival photo believed to be the Dairy Foreman’s Cottage, ca. 1950

Even with seven brothers and sisters, she remembered the home as being very comfortable. Her brothers slept upstairs, and apparently, they would secretly climb out of the windows at night, engage in some youthful mischief, and then sneak back in the same way.

One of her brothers was Bill Allen, who would eventually follow his father’s footsteps and have a 45-year career at Biltmore—first as Farm Manager and later Vineyard Manager. 

Martha said of the Dairy Foreman’s Cottage, “We loved it, and it was home.”

Gorgeous gourmet kitchen in Dairy Foreman's Cottage
The cottage’s gorgeous gourmet kitchen features stainless steel appliances.

New Life for an Old Cottage

Today, this 1,778-square-foot home has been beautifully updated with modern touches. Accommodating up to six guests, the cottage offers three bedrooms with a king-sized bed in each as well as a pullout sofa in the reading room. 

And there’s plenty of room for entertaining: an open kitchen that extends to dining and living areas, a formal sitting room, a screened-in back porch, and an outdoor dining patio.

Charming front porch with swing and rocking chairs
The charming front porch offers a secluded oasis of rest and relaxation.

The Dairy Foreman’s Cottage puts you just steps away from quiet nature trails, made lush by original forest plantings that contributed to the estate’s National Historic Landmark designation as the birthplace of American Forestry.

This welcoming abode is also located within walking distance of lively activity in Antler Hill Village, tastings of award-winning wines at our Winery, and the luxurious amenities offered at our four-star Inn.

For your next getaway, we invite you to make the Dairy Foreman’s Cottage your home away from home. Delight in the privacy of one of the most exclusive and customized lodging experiences the estate has to offer. Book your stay today.

Tulips in Biltmore’s Walled Garden: A Brief History

Each spring, thousands upon thousands of beautiful and brightly colored tulips fill the formal flowerbeds of Biltmore’s Walled Garden. Their vivid hues are a favorite part of the season for many guests.

But preparation for the show actually begins long before warmer weather arrives. According to Parker Andes, director of Horticulture:

Planting for spring in the Walled Garden begins months before you see the results. One reason we get continuous color is because we plant several varieties of up to six bulbs per hole!

In honor of this seasonal celebration, let’s take a look at the history of tulips in Biltmore’s Walled Garden.

Archival image of Biltmore Walled Garden
The Vegetable and Flower Garden (now the Walled Garden), cica 1895

The Vegetable and Flower Garden

Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted originally envisioned the Walled Garden as a multipurpose space, providing fine fruits and vegetables as well as fresh flowers for Biltmore House. The design was inspired by English kitchen gardens, which were often walled to protect them from wind and wild animals.

George Vanderbilt, however, did not share this vision. Instead, he thought the Walled Garden should be one of “ornament, not utility.” While fruits and vegetables were grown there intermittently, most of them were gradually phased out over time.

Archival image of Tulips in the Walled Garden
Tulips in the Walled Garden, circa 1930

The Earliest Hint of Tulips

It is difficult to say exactly when tulips made their debut in the Walled Garden. However, one letter in our archives tells us the blooming bulbs have been planted there for almost a century.

On April 14, 1922, Estate Superintendent Chauncey Beadle wrote to Cornelia Vanderbilt:

The tulips in the walled garden are so glorious that we are trying out an experiment of sending you a box today by express for Easter. We shall hope they will bring you something of their original beauty and charm to make Easter even more wonderful. Spring is very much advanced here, even the yellow rambler roses are opening.

The showy flower was perhaps chosen for the dramatic beds of the Walled Garden as an homage to the Dutch heritage of the Vanderbilts—and the term “Biltmore.” The name selected for the family’s country retreat derives from “Bildt,” the town in Holland where George Vanderbilt’s ancestors originated, and “more,” an Old English word for open, rolling land.

Tulips have served as a status symbol for the Dutch since the height of “Tulipmania” in the mid-1600s when speculation on rare bulbs created an investment bubble and the price of one bulb was equal to ten years of income.

Couple walks with child amongst the Tulips at Biltmore Gardens
Tulips in the Walled Garden delight guests year after year.

The Tradition Continues

Tulips in Biltmore’s Walled Garden have long been a favorite element of the season. Even before Biltmore House opened to the public in 1930, the Vanderbilts allowed some public access to the area a few days a week during spring so that locals and out-of-state visitors alike could enjoy estate gardens in bloom.

This tradition continues today with Spring at Biltmore, our seasonal celebration of the estate’s ever-changing progression of springtime blooms.

Plan your visit today and join us as we delight in the more than 80,000 tulip bulbs that lend their dramatic color to the Walled Garden. 

Top 5 Downton Abbey-Related Activities at Biltmore

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition ended September 7, 2020. Please enjoy this archived content.

From November 8, 2019 through April 7, 2020, Biltmore is hosting Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, an immersive, must-see event that pays homage to the show.

The multimedia display in Amherst at Deerpark includes holograms, video, and life-size imagery—plus some of the series’ most recognizable sets, including Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen and the gossip-fueled servants’ quarters.

The estate has a variety of additional offerings that connect to the exhibition. Here are our top 5 picks:

Costumes from Downton Abbey on display
The limited-time exhibition continues in Antler Hill Village with costumes on display at The Biltmore Legacy.

5. Costumes at The Biltmore Legacy

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition itself extends to The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village where more than 50 official costumes from the series’ six-season run—worn by actors such as Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville, and Dame Maggie Smith—will be on display.

Lush summer blooms in the Walled Garden at Biltmore
Stroll through lush late summer blooms in the Walled Garden

4. Stroll Through Stunning Gardens

In one episode of the series, Lord and Lady Grantham had the delightful task of presiding over the annual village flower show. While visiting Biltmore, be sure to stroll through our four-acre English-style Walled Garden filled with roses and a glorious mix of summer annuals and perennials, exotic grasses, and more–and don’t miss the glass-roofed Conservatory that houses hundreds of tropical specimens.

Tea sets
Our charming estate shops offer a wide range of Downton Abbey-inspired items, including a variety of lovely tea sets.

3. Downton Abbey-Inspired Products

For a limited-time, shops throughout the estate are offering a variety of Downton-inspired items. Browse fashions such as fascinators, jewelry, scarves, hat pins, and more—inspired by the styles worn by characters in the show. Tea sets, books, and additional accessories relating to the era are also available.

Biltmore Sub-Basement
Our newest tour takes you into rarely seen areas of Biltmore House, such as fascinating parts of the Sub-Basement.

2. The Biltmore House Backstairs Tour

Developed exclusively to coincide with Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, The Biltmore House Backstairs Tour is a brand new behind-the-scenes tour. Hear the fascinating stories of those who worked and lived on the estate while visiting rarely seen servants’ areas including the Butler’s Pantry and beyond.

The Inn and Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate
With so much to see and do at Biltmore during your getaway, stay overnight at The Inn (above), Village Hotel (below), or one of our private historic cottages to ensure you have time to experience it all.

1. Stay Overnight to Make the Most of Your Visit

Both The Inn on Biltmore Estate® and Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate® offer an exciting opportunity to stay overnight on the property, ensuring you have time to see and do it all. Take your time while enjoying Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, and take in all the glorious costumes from the series on display at The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village.

Comparing Biltmore House to Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition ended September 7, 2020. Please enjoy this archived content.

Did you know everyday life in Biltmore House bore striking resemblance to fictional life at Downton Abbey? In honor of Biltmore playing host to Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, let’s take a look at some of the similarities—and differences—between these two grand homes.

Archival image of estate workers during harvest season at Biltmore, ca. 1900

A Working Estate

The greatest overarching parallel between Downton Abbey and Biltmore is the idea of both as working estates overseen by one man and his family. While Downton Abbey is set in England, George Vanderbilt’s vision for Biltmore was heavily influenced by the model of similar English estates. There were numerous tenant families working the land, and the Vanderbilts grew to know each of these families closely over the years.

Servants' Hall in Biltmore House
The Servants’ Hall in Biltmore House, where staff could relax and socialize

Household Staff

Within the houses, the standards of domestic service were much the same between the Crawleys and the Vanderbilts. While there were some differences in the ways American and English households were managed, the housekeeper played a major role. At Biltmore, this role was primarily filled by Mrs. King; for Downton Abbey, it’s Mrs. Hughes—both known for their massive house key rings and calm demeanors.

Detail of electrical switchboard in the sub-basement of Biltmore House

Technological Advancements

Though numerous characters within the Downton Abbey household, both above stairs and below, expressed concerns about advancements in technology, they were widely embraced at Biltmore. Even in 1895, Biltmore House was constructed with many of these in mind: telephones, elevators, forced heating, mechanical refrigeration, an electric servant call bell system, electric lighting, and more. 

Restoring the wallcovering of the Louis XV Room in Biltmore House
Restoring the wallcovering of the Louis XV Room in Biltmore House

Preserving the Home

One of the primary themes in Downton Abbey is the importance Lord Grantham and his family place on preserving and maintaining their home for succeeding generations. This has also been a prime concern at Biltmore for George Vanderbilt’s descendants. Today, the estate is owned and overseen by the fourth and fifth generations of the family.

Join us November 8, 2019 through April 7, 2020 to experience Downton Abbey like never before—amid George Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate—with Downton Abbey: The Exhibition at Biltmore.

Feature image: Biltmore House, ca. 1910

Discover Biltmore Wines From Grape to Glass

How do we select the finest fruit for Biltmore wines? Here’s an overview of the process, from grape to glass!

Sourcing fine North Carolina vintages

In his book Lady On The Hill, George Vanderbilt‘s grandson William A.V. Cecil noted that “Asheville was about the same latitude as Gibraltar in the Mediterranean, and with an altitude between 2,100 and 2,500 feet, the fields of the estate would enjoy warm days and cool nights in the summer.”

While the climate of Western North Carolina is not nearly as predictable as that of the Mediterranean or other major grape-growing regions, when conditions are right, the fruit produced in our estate vineyards is exceptional and earns the Biltmore® Reserve label for our finest North Carolina vintages.

To ensure we can meet the growing demand for Biltmore wines, however, we also look to our local vineyard partners in Polk County—a lower-elevation region just south of Asheville that experiences slightly warmer temperatures with less danger of late season frost damage.

Glass of Wine at Vineyard
Enjoy the fruits of our labor, by the glass, on the Farm to Table Tour.

Beyond Biltmore

We also look to our west coast partners for the quality and consistency of grapes needed to handcraft our award-winning wines. Several times each year, Biltmore winemaker Sharon Fenchak schedules extended visits to California to meet with our growing partners and select outstanding vintages for Biltmore wines. 

“Some of the finest American wine grapes come from the vineyards of coastal California,” Sharon said. “The terroir—the different combinations of weather and soil in each hill and valley—translate into the distinctive flavors and qualities that characterize the wines of that region.”

Grape harvesting
Harvest preparation is one of the busiest times of the year for vineyards and the wineries.

California’s Northern Coast

This large wine grape-growing region is located north of San Francisco, with a maritime climate that is affected by cool fogs and breezes from the Pacific Ocean. Some of California’s best-known American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), including Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Lake County, Napa, and Russian River Valley, are located here. 

“This AVA is an important one for our Vanderbilt Reserve® series,” said Sharon. “We select grapes from outstanding partner vineyards for some of our most distinctive wines, including our Vanderbilt Reserve Merlot Dry Creek Valley, Vanderbilt Reserve Pinot Noir Sonoma County, Antler Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, and The Hunt Red Blend Sonoma County.”

Biltmore Wine Selection of Reds
Our Biltmore® Reserve label honors fine vintages handcrafted with grapes from the estate’s vineyard in Asheville, NC. The collection is distinguished by blue foil capsules and a label showcasing elements of the Vanderbilt family’s table linens and place settings.

California’s Central Coast

Stretching from San Francisco Bay south to Santa Barbara County, this region offers a warmer climate that still benefits from the cooling influences of the Pacific Ocean. We partner with vineyards from such prestigious AVAs as Arroyo Seco, Cienega Valley, Monterey, and Paso Robles.

“Some of the more unusual varietals we choose from partner vineyards here include Barbera, Marsanne, Mourvedre, Rousanne, and Tempranillo,” Sharon noted.

California Vineyard Stock Photo
The central coast wine region is one of California’s most fascinating wine regions and is also home to some of the most prestigious wineries in the country.

Washington

A wide range of grapes are now being grown in the fertile valleys of Washington, making the state an important producer of outstanding wine varietals. Vineyards are found primarily in the eastern half of the state that benefits from a dryer shrub-steppe ecosystem and the rain shadow of the Cascade Range. The state experiences long hours of daylight—approximately two more hours per day during the growing season than California—and milder, more consistent temperatures. 

“We are excited to be working with some great partner vineyards in Washington,” said Sharon. “We’re selecting a lot of excellent grapes for our American Series and Limited Release Series wines.”

Washington Vineyard Stock Photo
With 1,050+ wineries, 400+ grape growers, and 60,000+ acres of wine grapes, Washington State is the 2nd largest wine producing state in the U.S.

Handcrafting our award-winning wines

While Sharon and her team handcraft the majority of our wines from start to finish at Biltmore’s Winery in Asheville, North Carolina, our Vanderbilt Reserve® wines and Antler Hill wines are created in the particular region where they were grown. This painstaking process is overseen—from selecting the vintage and expressing the varietal character to aging the wine—by Sharon during her visits to California. 

“All our wines represent the Vanderbilt family’s legacy of gracious hospitality on which Biltmore was founded,” Sharon said, “and as Biltmore’s winemaker, I am committed to handcrafting our wines with the philosophy of keeping each one true to varietal character and consistent from vintage to vintage. Whether I’m at work in North Carolina or California or Washington, I’m focused on creating wines that reflect the quality of this family-owned estate and Winery.”

White Wines
Beautifully balanced Dry Riesling, crisp Sauvignon Blanc, refreshing Pinot Grigio, and smooth, oaky Chardonnay are just a few of the white wines available in Biltmore’s Wine Portfolio.

Discover our exceptional wines for yourself

Visit Biltmore’s Winery, purchase online, or find them close to home with our Retailer Locator.