Top 5 Biltmore Family Activities for Summer

Here are our Top 5 Biltmore family activities for summer that are sure to please the entire clan, from grandparents to grandchildren!

Winkie Bar Sundae in a waffle bowl
Try all the ice cream treats, including this delicious Winkie Bar Sundae served in a waffle bowl

5. Ice Cream for Everyone

Did you know that the vanilla ice cream served on the estate is based on a delicious original Biltmore Dairy recipe? Now at Biltmore Dairy Bar near Biltmore House and the Creamery in Antler Hill Village, you and your family can enjoy the same rich flavor enjoy by estate guests more than a century ago.

Tip: Get sandwiches and ice cream to go from The Creamery and have a picnic on the nearby Village Green. Celebrate summer with Biltmore wine for the grownups and Biltmore sparkling grape juice for the younger set.

Family biking at Biltmore
Bring the whole family along on your next biking adventure at Biltmore

4. Biking for All Ages

Ready to explore our wide-open spaces? Visit the Outdoor Adventure Center or Bike Barn in Antler Hill Village and rent mountain bikes for rugged trails or comfort cruisers for paved paths. Tandem rentals also available so the younger members of the family can join the fun.

Tip: You can bike all the way from Antler Hill Village to the Lagoon and back on a level, paved trail.

Costumes inside Downton Abbey: The Exhibition
Detailed and luxurious costumes on display at The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village as part of Downton Abbey: The Exhibition

3. Explore Downton Abbey: The Exhibition

Now through September 7, 2020, the whole family can enjoy Downton Abbey: The Exhibition hosted in two locations on the grounds of the estate. This interactive exhibition connects you with the characters, fashions, and historic events depicted in the global hit television show and new feature film.

Tip: Don’t miss this exclusive opportunity to see Downton Abbey: The Exhibition at Biltmore!

Top 5 Biltmore family activities for Summer
Plan a Biltmore visit today to explore our gardens and grounds

2. Play in Our 8,000-Acre Backyard

With 8,000 acres of Blue Ridge Mountain backyard, you’ll never run out of places to explore at Biltmore! Enjoy more than 20 miles of hiking trails along the French Broad River, through lush green forests, or in the open meadows of the estate.

Tip: Visit the Bike Barn or Outdoor Adventure Center for a detailed trail map and orientation to the trails.

Biltmore Gardens Railway in Antler Hill Village at Biltmore
Marvel at the wonders of miniature trains during Biltmore Gardens Railway!

1. Biltmore Gardens Railway

One of the absolute must-see elements of the estate this summer is Biltmore Gardens Railway, featuring beautiful botanical model train displays in Antler Hill Village. New for 2020, this charming outdoor exhibition features iconic American train stations—each handcrafted in meticulous detail from all-natural materials.

Tip: Experience Biltmore Gardens Railway July 1, 2020 – February 15, 2021.

Decanting Downton

In honor of hosting Downton Abbey: The Exhibition through September 7, 2020, we thought it would be fascinating to look at Downton Abbey—and Biltmore’s own history—through the lens of a wine bottle.

A thoughtful collector

We know that George Vanderbilt was a thoughtful wine collector in his own right, and he also relied upon the services of professional wine purveyor Alexander Morten who was well-known for his excellent taste and recommendations.

To learn more about the process of procuring and preparing wines in the late 19th century, we turned to Jeff Plack, business development manager for Biltmore Wines and a wine aficionado in general, to “pour out” what he knows about the subject.

Archival list of wines in Biltmore's wine cellar
March 12, 1913: list of wines in Biltmore’s cellar

The business of wine

“I love the fact that in the new Downton Abbey feature film–and in many episodes of the six-season PBS Masterpiece seriesthe characters were sipping wine at some point,” said Jeff. “Wine consumption was a direct measure of one’s wealth in that era and it was not unusual for large estates to have thousands of bottles in their cellars. At that time, the wines were mostly French.”

Jeff explains that Mr. Carson, the Crawley family’s beloved butler in the series, would have been largely responsible for the wines served at Downton Abbey.

“The family might have taken an active interest in wine,” Jeff said, “but the butler was generally the person who oversaw the supply and prepared the wines for the dinner table.

Decanting wines

Formal place setting on the Banquet Hall Table in Biltmore House
This formal place setting on the Banquet Hall table features six pieces of crystal, including a champagne coupe and a cordial glass for port or sherry

In one episode of the series, Carson is seen decanting wine using an interesting contraption.

“It’s appropriately called a decanting machine or cradle,” said Jeff. “The cradle holds the wine as someone turns a crank which slowly pours the wine out of the bottle.”

In the scene, Carson is using a lighted candle behind the bottle to help him see any sediment in the wine. This technique, along with a piece of muslin over the decanter, would help filter out impurities.

(Note: the featured image for this blog shows the decanting cradle in Mr. Carson’s pantry as part of Downton Abbey: The Exhibition currently hosted at Biltmore.)

The circle of wine

For wealthy households like the one depicted in Downton Abbey, the variety of wines consumed at dinner made a circle of sorts.

Glass and silver wine decanter
A delicate silver and glass wine decanter from the Biltmore collection

“Evenings would usually begin with port or sherry and possibly a glass of champagne as an apéritif,” said Jeff. “Each subsequent course of the dinner would be paired with a different wine.”

Mariporta dessert wine on a tray with glasses
Our Mariporta is a port-style dessert wine reminiscent of the ones the Vanderbilts might have enjoyed

According to Jeff, wine pairings were different than the ones we make today.

A common practice of the era was to serve a white Burgundy (generally a Chardonnay) with the first course and then a red Bordeaux with the main meal. 

“It was less about the science of which wines ‘go with’ or complement which foods, and more about wines that they preferred,” Jeff said. “For dessert, they would move back to something like port, similar to our Mariporta Red Dessert Wine, and then end with sparkling wine again; a happy circle of wine life.”

Celebrate with Biltmore sparkling wines
Biltmore sparkling wine is perfect for any occasion

With modern winemaking techniques, we no longer need to use decanting machines and filters, and though we enjoy pairing wines based on qualities such as acidity and tannins, we also love complementing favorite flavors with wines we enjoy.

Savor Biltmore Wines

Join us at the Winery for complimentary tastings of our award-winning wines. You can purchase Biltmore wines at most estate shops or online. In addition, experience Downton Abbey: The Exhibition hosted in two locations on estate grounds, November 8, 2019–April 7, 2020.

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.

Guests enjoying a visit to Biltmore's vineyards on the west side of the estate
Guests enjoying a visit to Biltmore’s vineyards on the west side of the estate

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.”

View of one of our partner vineyards in California
View of one of our partner vineyards in California

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 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, Vanderbilt Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, Vanderbilt Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley 2016, and The Hunt Red Blend Sonoma County.” 

The Hunt label features the finely wrought engraving on an August Francotte shotgun in Biltmore's original collection
The Hunt label features the finely wrought engraving on an August Francotte shotgun in Biltmore’s original collection

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.

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.”

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.”

Just a few of the more than 50 Biltmore wine selections available at the estate or online
Just a few of the more than 50 Biltmore wine selections available at the estate or online

Discover our exceptional wines for yourself

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

Featured image: Ripe grapes being harvested in Biltmore’s vineyard