The Biltmore Wine Brand
Taste and style were hallmarks of George Vanderbilt’s life, and both are reflected throughout Biltmore— his private country estate in Asheville, North Carolina.
George Vanderbilt traveled the world gathering art, sculpture, furniture, and books. He also enjoyed collecting wine. If he was not purchasing it abroad and bringing it back to his cellars, he worked closely with his importer to identify and secure wines to share with and delight his family and friends. Vanderbilt’s hospitality was legendary, and a visit to his home was characterized by the best in comfort, entertainment, and attention to every detail, including the wines that graced his table.
As much as his estate was meant to be an oasis for his family and guests, just as important was his desire to preserve the surrounding beauty. He envisioned a self-sustaining estate that would nurture the land and its resources for years to come. From this vision came the nation’s first planned forestry program and the beginning of a family focus on the environment.
History of Biltmore Wines & Winery
While George Vanderbilt introduced the pleasures of wine to Biltmore, it was his grandson, William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil, who had the vision and determination to take Biltmore’s agricultural tradition and re-imagine it as vineyards and a winery for his family’s estate.
Knowing that George Vanderbilt was a thoughtful collector of wine — and served it to his family, friends, and guests — makes a very real and logical connection between the Vanderbilt family and the wine business Biltmore enjoys today. However, when William Cecil first took on management of the estate in 1960, Biltmore needed an economic boost to be able to carry on stewardship. A choice had to be made—either let go of the legacy…or find a way to preserve the family’s heritage. His choice? A new direction and new mission statement: The preservation of Biltmore as a privately owned, profitable, working estate.
The idea to raise grapes at Biltmore followed the natural end of the Biltmore Dairy business. For many years, it had been one of the largest and most successful dairy operations in the southeast and it helped support Biltmore over that time. A winery seemed like a natural extension of Biltmore’s agricultural legacy as well as a viable means of diversifying Biltmore’s revenue-generating possibilities. As William Cecil once said, “What’s more appropriate for a French chateau than vineyards and a winery?” Of course, it would prove to be a labor of love.
In 1971, little was known about producing wine on a commercial scale in North Carolina, so Mr. Cecil went to the agricultural experts at NC State for assistance. Biltmore’s first grape- growing efforts resulted in about 30 acres of native muscadines being planted on the slopes below Biltmore House. However, Mr. Cecil was not satisfied with the results. He then went to Cornell University for assistance and was advised to try French-American hybrid grapes. Again, the results were less successful than hoped. Finally, he went to the University of California-Davis, pioneers in the field of American viticulture. Mr. Cecil learned that while vinifera cultivation was possible in Western North Carolina, it would be a very expensive, time-consuming, and labor-intensive proposition. Undaunted, he continued to pursue his dream, and the first vinifera grapes were planted on the west side of Biltmore in 1978.
In 1979, sixth-generation French winemaker Philippe Jourdain came to Biltmore to supervise the harvest and production of the first wines bottled under the Biltmore label. In a note to Mr. Cecil, Jourdain wrote, “I believe that a truly superior quality of wine may be possible…this is only a dream and we must make our first vinifera wines to determine if this is realistic or not.” Mr. Cecil and Philippe worked tirelessly in their efforts to develop vineyards and produce quality wines. In 1981 they expanded the vineyards to 150 acres of vinifera plantings. Two years later, the Biltmore Estate Wine Company was established and construction began on a new Winery in what had been the Dairy. The new Winery opened in May of 1985 and marked a momentous occasion in Biltmore’s history.
Following the opening of the Winery, Bernard Delille, a native of France with a master’s degree in biochemistry and winemaker in the Pyrenees Atlantiques region, joined Philippe as assistant winemaker. Delille left a legacy of 32 years of winemaking at Biltmore, playing an integral role not just as winemaker, but also as an expert in growing and harvesting grapes in North Carolina and with west coast partner vineyards.
Sharon Fenchak joined the Biltmore Wine team in 1999, and as of 2018 was promoted to the role of head winemaker for all of Biltmore’s wines. Sharon has a wealth of winemaking experience, passion for agriculture and food science, and deep ties to the southeastern United States – qualities that make her uniquely well matched to the Biltmore brand. Despite their different backgrounds, Sharon and Bernard shared a philosophy of creating high-quality wines that reflect true varietal character while still being food-friendly and approachable. All these years later, winemaking at Biltmore continues to reap a harvest of returns.
Biltmore Estate® American Series
Grapes for this series are selected from leading growing regions across America and custom crafted by winemaker Sharon Fenchak at Biltmore Winery in Asheville, NC. Each wine captures the true character of the varietal, resulting in an outstanding taste that provides a perfect pairing for any occasion.
Biltmore Estate® Sparkling Wines
Handcrafted in the traditional méthode champenoise, our wines feature tiny, even bubbles, excellent acidity, and a depth of clarity and flavor found only in the finest sparkling wines. Perfect for any occasion, from special toasts and celebrations to pairing with your favorite flavors.
Biltmore® Reserve Wines
At Biltmore, guests experienced everything the Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate had to offer—including fine wines. To honor that heritage in a special way, this collection features grapes from our vineyards on the estate, as well as local growing partners in North Carolina, specially selected and vinified at the Biltmore Winery.
Biltmore Estate® Limited Release Wines
Crafted in smaller lots, these exceptional wines showcase our winemaker’s skillful artistry in each bottle. Exclusively available on the estate, in the online store, or through the Vanderbilt Wine Club®.
Antler Hill® Wines
Antler Hill wines celebrate premium harvests and vintages from small partner vineyards with whom Biltmore has cultivated long-standing relationships in the nation’s finest wine regions.
Vanderbilt Reserve Wines
An invitation to dine with the Vanderbilts assured you of enjoying gracious hospitality paired with fine wines from around the world. Today, that legacy continues in this collection which highlights outstanding grapes selected from west coast partner vineyards, and made with special care by winemaker Sharon Fenchak.