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Challenges and Successes: How Biltmore Built a Wine Brand

Asheville, NC

The journey to an award-winning Winery began in 1971 with an idea from George Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A.V Cecil, that a vineyard and winery was the next logical step in diversifying the family business. It took many decades and more than a handful of trials and tribulations, but the Biltmore Wine Company emerged triumphant as a strong and quality producer in the wine industry.
The First Test: Growing Grapes
The first challenge the Wine Company faced was growing grapes. In 1971, Mr. Cecil planted muscadine grapes on the estate and later French-American hybrids. The experiment resulted in poor quality, so he turned his eye to Vitis vinifera, the European grape species. Experts across the industry believed vinifera grapes could not be grown in Western North Carolina. However, Mr. Cecil was determined to prove them wrong.
“Telling Biltmore’s owner William A.V. Cecil that ‘it can’t be done,’ is the quickest way to get Mr. Cecil to prove you wrong,” according to Jerry Douglas, President of Biltmore Wines.
Leading the Charge in Research
Biltmore led the charge for experimentation and research in the North Carolina wine industry. In the 1970s, little was known about producing wine on a commercial scale. Biltmore made inroads that later benefitted other state wineries and wine growers by reaching out to experts at NC State University and the University of California at Davis.
After much trial and error, the vineyard transformed into 94 acres of select vinifera grapes. Biltmore had conquered the challenge of growing grapes, but was now in the need of a large quantity of fruit. This led Biltmore to explore sourcing grapes from select growers and vineyards in California and later within North Carolina.
Winning Over Wine Drinkers
With one challenge met, another opportunity arose in the form of building a Winery where estate guests could taste and learn more about Biltmore Wines. The estate’s historic Biltmore Dairy barn was remodeled and transformed into a state-of-the-art Winery with production facilities, a tasting room, and wine shop.
Perhaps more challenging than constructing a winery was overcoming preconceptions about North Carolina wines. Popular opinion at the time held that only good wines came from France.
However, as the Winery’s reputation and collection of wines grew, it allowed guests and consumers to build an emotional affinity to Biltmore Wines. “There is an amazing level of trust in our brand and in the relationship our guests have with us, and that’s one of the main reasons we’ve been so successful over the years,” says Jerry Douglas.
Located in Asheville, N.C., Biltmore was the vision of George W. Vanderbilt.  Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, America’s largest home is a 250-room French Renaissance chateau, exhibiting the Vanderbilt family’s original collection of furnishings, art and antiques. Biltmore Estate encompasses more than 8,000 acres including renowned gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture. Among the many attractions on the estate is the nation’s most visited winery, started in 1977 in a converted dairy barn. In keeping with the Vanderbilt tradition of entertaining in style and embodying the agricultural legacy of its founder, Biltmore produces award-winning wines using fruit harvested from its 94-acre vineyard as well as from partners in N.C. and other premium growing regions. Biltmore ranks in the top 1% of the U.S. wine business and produces more than 170,000 cases of wine annually. To learn more about Biltmore Wines and to access a regional wine-buying guide, please visit
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