Decorations in Biltmore House: Christmas 2020 by the Numbers

Join us for a very special Christmas at Biltmore this year as we mark the 125th anniversary of George Vanderbilt first opening the estate to his friends and family on Christmas Eve 1895. In honor of this milestone in our history, this year’s theme for decorations in Biltmore House will be “An 1895 Christmas,” with a focus on Vanderbilt holiday traditions—especially those that provide a sense of calm and comfort. 

Estate archives offered insight to the theme, including George Vanderbilt’s request for “barrels of mistletoe and wagonloads of holly” to adorn his new home. Look for holly garlands throughout, plus plenty of classic Christmas reds popping up in the decorations in Biltmore House this year, like bright berry trees in the Vestibule and Entry Hall and deeper claret and burgundy tones in the Tapestry Gallery.

Let’s take a closer look at the sheer amount of décor displayed at Biltmore this Christmas season.

Crane assists with giant tree installation
Installation of the 55-foot-tall Christmas tree on the Biltmore House Front Lawn is always a sight to behold.

Christmas Trees

  • There are 55 hand-decorated Christmas trees in Biltmore House for the 2020 celebration.
  • The smallest tree in America’s Largest Home® is a tabletop tree in the Morland Room.
  • The largest tree is, of course, the Vanderbilt traditional fresh 35-foot-tall Fraser fir in the Banquet Hall
  • A lit 55-foot-tall Norway spruce encircled by 36 illuminated evergreens and shrubs decorates the Front Lawn of Biltmore House for Candlelight Christmas Evenings
  • A total of 52 additional decorated Christmas trees are at other estate locations, including Antler Hill Village, our Winery, The Inn on Biltmore Estate®, and estate restaurants. The Conservatory will feature Christmas tree-shaped planters with potted plants and other natural materials.  
Christmas lights lay across the floor
Strands upon strands upon strands of lights come together to create the illuminated magic of the season.

Lights & Candles

  • There are around 45,000 lights and 150 candles inside Biltmore House. Approximately 135,000 LED and mini lights twinkle around the estate.
  • More than 55,300 lights illuminate the Front Lawn tree. An additional 33,280 are used on the surrounding trees and shrubs.  
  • Hand-lit at dusk, 250 luminaires line the driveway and Esplanade in front of Biltmore House, welcoming guests for Candlelight Christmas Evenings. 
Various ornaments for Biltmore House Christmas trees
Ornaments used throughout the estate vary by size and style, with some paying homage to the Vanderbilts’ era.

Ornaments

  • The Banquet Hall tree is trimmed with 500 ornaments and 500 LED Edison-style electric lights, along with an abundance of gift boxes.
  • Around 13,870 ornaments are hung on the other trees in Biltmore House, and another 13,000 are used to add holiday cheer around the estate. 
Vibrant poinsettia blooms
Vibrant poinsettias and other blooming plants are on display in Biltmore House and across the estate.

Poinsettias & Other Blooms

There are more than 1,200 traditional poinsettias on display throughout the estate—about 150 of which are part of decorations in Biltmore House. Other familiar holiday plants and flowers include amaryllis, Christmas cactus, bromeliads, orchids, peace lilies, cyclamen, begonias, and kalanchoe.  

Detail shot of unique Christmas wreath
All of our Christmas wreaths are handmade and some feature unique natural materials.

Wreaths

About 225 fresh wreaths and sprays, along with 90 faux pieces, used as decorations in Biltmore House and around the estate for the season. Our wreaths are made of fresh white pine and Fraser fir and they are ornamented with golden arborvitae, holly, or other natural materials such as twigs and cones. Artificial bases are decorated with ornaments, berries, faux flowers, and ribbon.  

Floral team members install garland
Garlands and greenery are still used to decorate Biltmore House

Garlands

  • About 3,120 feet of fresh evergreen garlands, made of mixed white pine and Fraser fir, are used during the season. The garlands are replaced weekly to maintain a fresh look and fragrance for our guests.  
  • Faux garlands add another 1,000 feet in Biltmore House and around 1,800 feet in other estate areas.
Outdoor Christmas decorations
Once you start looking for bows throughout the estate, we have a feeling you’ll spot them everywhere!

Ribbons & Bows

  • There are about 600 handmade bows used in decorations in Biltmore House with an additional 1,200 across the estate. Everything from narrow cording to 8-inch-wide ribbons is used to make the bows, which are decorated with velvets, metallics, satins, burlap, and printed cottons.
  • The amount of ribbon needed to make a bow ranges from 5 yards for a bow used on the fresh garland on the Grand Staircase, to 15 yards to make a tree-topper bow for a 16-foot tree you might see in the Tapestry Gallery or Banquet Hall.  
Enchanted view of evening Biltmore House illumination
Candlelight Christmas Evenings offers the opportunity to experience Biltmore House aglow with holiday spirit.

We invite you to join us in marveling at the festive decorations in Biltmore House and across the estate as we honor the anniversary of this beloved celebration. Christmas at Biltmore Daytime Celebration and Candlelight Christmas Evenings each offer comfort, joy, and peace of mind in the traditions that have enchanted Biltmore’s guests for 125 years. Availability is limited; reserve your visit today to secure your preferred dates!

Please note all images used in this blog post are from Christmases past.

The Railcar Red Wine Runs Smooth

The Railcar Red Wine runs smooth–and we invite you to try it for yourself!

The powerful red blend—handcrafted to honor George Vanderbilt’s personal ties to the American railroad industry—and as a complement to Biltmore Gardens Railway—is just the ticket for sipping and savoring with your favorite foods.

The Railcar Red Wine runs smooth
The Railcar red wine is a powerful complement to Biltmore Gardens Railway

The Railcar red wine runs smooth

The Railcar is a distinctive red wine crafted predominantly of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Merlot,” said Biltmore Winemaker Sharon Fenchak. “I selected fruit from our vineyard partners in Paso Robles and Lake County—two outstanding grape-growing regions in California’s wine country.”

As soon as you uncork The Railcar, you’ll experience its earthy bouquet that includes hints of caramel, vanilla, plum, black cherry, and baking spice.

Friends toasting with red wine
Cheers to the chill, grill, and thrill of summer entertaining

On tasting this medium-to-large bodied garnet-colored wine, you’ll discover bright cherry, plum, and dried fruit flavors up front, a bit of spice, and nice full tannins that make it an excellent pairing partner with barbecue, smoked meats, and pasta with red sauce.

Creating a distinctive label

“When we first talked about creating this wine, we knew it would need a special label that showcased how distinctive it is,” noted Jill Whitfield, Senior Marketing Manager, Biltmore Wines. “With that in mind, we reached out to Asheville artist Bryan Koontz to see what he envisioned for The Railcar.”

Sketches for The Railcar label
Bryan refines his graphite concept sketches for The Railcar red wine

Getting on track with a local artist

In addition to being an an exceptional artist who created original artwork for our 2018 Christmas at Biltmore Wine labels and our 2019 Spring Release label, Bryan is a train aficionado whose detailed illustrations of trains have appeared in books depicting the historic development of railroads in this country.

Transitioning the sketches from graphite to watercolor
Transitioning from graphite to watercolor

Concepts and sketches

He’s particularly knowledgeable about the types of steam engines that would have been in use in George Vanderbilt’s day, and he drew on that knowledge to create several concepts that he began to refine with a final destination in mind.

“I knew about George Vanderbilt’s railway connections,” said Bryan, “and that he had his own private railcar. That was the height of luxury at that time, to commission a custom-made railcar and travel in style anywhere a train could take you!”

Bryan’s initial concepts and early sketches were rendered in graphite pencil to provide the crisp clarity that characterizes his work. It’s a medium that lends itself to creating all the tiny details of a vintage steam engine.

Refining the details

The artist at work on the label in his studio
Bryan at work on the label in his studio

As the concept was refined toward its final iteration, Bryan used watercolors to bring the engine, its cars, and the surrounding landscape to life.

Final touches for The Railcar label
The label nearing completion

The final version looks so real you can almost hear the engine coming down the track toward you—perhaps pulling George Vanderbilt’s private railcar behind it!

Enjoy The Railcar Red Wine along with Biltmore Gardens Railway!

Biltlmore Gardens Railway display
Biltmore Gardens Railway in Antler Hill Village

From July 1, 2020, through February 15, 2021, marvel at Biltmore Gardens Railway, our botanical model train display located in Antler Hill Village.

New this year, we’re featuring iconic American train stations crafted from natural materials such as leaves, twigs, and bark.

Stroll through this fascinating display that hearkens back to the golden age of train travel, and celebrate the occasion with a distinctive bottle of The Railcar Red Wine, available at estate shops, online, or close to home with our Retailer Locator.

Biltmore Dairy: An Udderly Fascinating History

George Vanderbilt established Biltmore Dairy operations at his estate in Asheville, North Carolina for three main reasons: to supply dairy products to Biltmore House, to provide an example to others on how to run a successful farm, and to generate income through commercial product sales.

Imagine having a Vanderbilt for your milkman—flavoring your coffee with cream from the dairy of a multi-millionaire. It is enough to make one smack his lips and imagine the product is richer than that of ordinary dairymen.
– “A Millionaire Farmer,” St. Louis Globe Democrat, 1894

Biltmore Dairy delivery wagon, ca. 1900
Biltmore Dairy delivery wagon, ca. 1900

Beyond the dairy, original agricultural operations included sheep, hog, and poultry farms, and a substantial market garden for produce. All of these endeavors, collectively named Biltmore Farms, contributed to George Vanderbilt’s ability to fulfill the estate’s mission of self-sufficiency.

However, 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.

Cows in main dairy barn
Cow stalls in the main dairy barn, ca. 1930

The Legacy of Biltmore Dairy

Much of this success was thanks to the Vanderbilts’ prized herd of Jersey cows. Of all major dairy breeds, Jerseys produce the richest milk—high in butterfat, protein, and calcium. They also produce a higher volume of milk per each pound of body weight than other type of cattle.

The Biltmore Dairy Farms herd, believed to be the largest herd of registered Jerseys in the world, is unquestionably one of the finest and best known.
– “Souvenir Edition Annual Meeting of the American Jersey Cattle Club,” June 3, 1942

Biltmore Dairy workers, ca. 1910
Biltmore Dairy workers, ca. 1910

To ensure that the herd maintained excellent health, staff included a full-time veterinarian and a dairy bacteriologist. Dairy workers kept detailed records on the herd and conducted regular inspections to ensure their living conditions were of the highest quality.

The herd was primarily housed in the estate’s Main Dairy Barn—what is now Biltmore’s Winery. Just down the road was the Creamery, where cream was separated from the milk. Milk was then bottled and sold, while the cream was made into butter, buttermilk, cottage cheese, and, of course, ice cream.

Biltmore's Main Dairy Barn
Biltmore’s Dairy Barn (what is now the Winery), May 30, 1913 (Courtesy of Alice Marie Lewis)

The Tasty History of Biltmore Ice Cream

Biltmore’s ice cream played a leading role at estate gatherings, including Cornelia Vanderbilt’s birthday parties, Christmas celebrations, and May Day festivities. Almost every oral history interview in our archives that mentions a childhood memory on the estate also includes a reference to ice cream.

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.

Biltmore Dairy milkmen and delivery trucks, ca. 1935-1940
Biltmore Dairy milkmen and delivery trucks, ca. 1935-1940

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. Salesmen were now able to market the products as far away as Charlotte, which at the time was a windy, wooded five-hour drive.

Unfortunately, the market shifted. With the advent of chain grocery stores came a cheaper, more efficient way to purchase milk, eventually making door-to-door dairy delivery obsolete. Biltmore Dairy and other smaller, family-run businesses were unable to compete with expansive commercial operations. In April of 1985, Biltmore Dairy was sold to Pet, Inc.

A family enjoying ice cream in the Stable Courtyard at Biltmore
A family enjoying ice cream from Biltmore Dairy Bar® in the Stable Courtyard

Enjoy Biltmore Ice Cream Today

Today, Biltmore continues to draw inspiration from Biltmore Dairy. Biltmore Dairy Bar® in the Stable Courtyard was named in honor of our agricultural heritage. Additionally, vanilla ice cream based on a delicious original Biltmore Dairy recipe is offered at both Biltmore Dairy Bar® and at the Creamery in Antler Hill Village.

Lights, Camera, Biltmore: A Magnificent Movie Location!

Lights, camera, Biltmore! Since the golden age of filmmaking, Biltmore has starred as a majestic backdrop for some unforgettable movies.

Biltmore House and the French Broad River in Asheville, NC, make a perfect movie location
West view of Biltmore House above the French Broad River near Asheville, NC

Although the estate was created to provide a restful retreat from the outside world, sometimes the bright lights and top stars of film and television come calling when they require a setting like no other.

A magnificent movie location

The appeal as a movie location is obvious: the estate includes Biltmore House–a majestic French Renaissance-style chateau that can easily be seen as a castle–plus acres of formal gardens and miles of rolling hills and scenery, all conveniently located in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina.

Here are five of Biltmore’s most notable big screen appearances:

The Swan

In this classic 1956 drama, actress Grace Kelly portrays a princess attempting to secure an advantageous marriage that will secure the throne taken from her family during Napoleon Bonaparte’s rule.

Biltmore House appears extensively throughout the film as the exterior of Kelly’s palatial home with one particularly iconic scene taking place along the Lagoon and French Broad River.

Although it was not featured in the film, one of Biltmore’s most notable treasures is a game table and chess set once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte.

Biltmore's Bass Pond Bridge, featured in The Last of the Mohicans, another movie shot at Biltmore.
Bass Pond Bridge, featured in The Last of the Mohicans

Last of the Mohicans

Producers of this 1992 drama starring Daniel Day Lewis were searching for locations that resembled the old-growth forests of the Catskill Mountains as they might have appeared at the beginning of the 19th century.

Luckily for Hollywood, Biltmore’s elaborate grounds were planned by Frederick Law Olmsted–the father of American landscape architecture–nearly 100 years earlier and included forest land and mature trees suitable for the producers’ cinematic needs.

In addition to the sweeping fields and forests, the movie features a scene in which a carriage crosses the estate’s signature red brick Bass Pond bridge designed by Biltmore House architect Richard Morris Hunt.

Last of the Mohicans movie trivia: when filming extended into the fall, the production crew used organic green paint in several locations to create the illusion of summer foliage.

Forrest Gump

With settings ranging from Greenbow, Alabama to the jungles of Vietnam, you may wonder how Biltmore was selected as a movie location in this beloved 1993 Tom Hanks classic.

During one scene where Forrest Gump is running across America, he was actually running along the road which leads to The Inn on Biltmore Estate and Antler Hill Village & Winery!

Richie Rich

In 1994, America’s Largest Home® served as the sprawling estate of the world’s richest comic book family.

Richie Rich featured many of interior shots of Biltmore House, and some rooms were left largely unaltered during filming–even paintings of Vanderbilt family members were prominently featured.

Although the estate does not feature the Rich family’s signature dollar-sign topiaries on the lawn or a Mount Rushmore-inspired family portrait looming over the gardens, this delightful comedy remains a family favorite for all ages.

Antler Hill Barn, one of several movie locations at Biltmore
Antler Hill Barn was one of the filming locations for the movie Hannibal

Hannibal

In the chilling sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, an ensemble cast, including Oscar-winning actors Julianne Moore, Anthony Hopkins, and Gary Oldman, offered dramatic performances against the stunning backdrop of Biltmore.

Featuring the estate as the home of the reclusive Mason Verger, the thriller incorporated many different locations such as the arched Lodge Gate and the façade of Biltmore House, some of the grand rooms on the first floor, and several outlying buildings including Antler Hill Barn, which had not yet been restored at the time of filming.