Food & Drink

Biltmore, most visited winery in the U.S., celebrates 30 years

Geese wade into Long Valley lake near one of the vineyards on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate.
Geese wade into Long Valley lake near one of the vineyards on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate. Observer files

The Biltmore Winery celebrates a real milestone this month – its 30th birthday. A celebration is certainly in order. For many North Carolina wine fans, the Biltmore was one of their first wine experiences.

The Biltmore Winery in Asheville is the most visited winery in the United States, hosting more than a million guests each year who visit the beautiful grounds and try the delicious wine.

The history of the estate is well-documented, and there are references to wine served by George Vanderbilt, who founded the estate in the 19th century. It was Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A.V. Cecil, though, who began experimenting with wine grapes in the 1970s.

In May 1985, Biltmore Winery opened its doors, and it hasn’t slowed down since.

Biltmore Winery’s winemaking team is Bernard DeLille, who has been with the winery since 1986, and Sharon Fenchak, who joined Biltmore in 1999. These busy winemakers produce more than 150,000 cases of wine a year, in about 45 different styles.

As demand has increased, some grapes are grown on the estate, some are sourced locally in North Carolina and some are made with juice that may be sourced from California or Washington state. In addition to their own viticulture team that tends the estate’s vineyard, the team travels to California several times a year, and has long-term relationships with growers. They also work with growers in Tryon and Polk counties.

Running a wine program of this size is a huge task. Currently they are replanting vineyards that were planted around the time the winery began. DeLille notes that they will be using this opportunity to experiment with clones, particularly for the chardonnay vines, that they think will add greater flavor and complexity.

Fenchak says that with the breadth of the portfolio, Biltmore Winery is able to offer a wide selection that appeals to a wide variety of preferences, including red, rosé and white, sweet to dry, still and sparkling.

The Biltmore Estate Riesling ($12) is a perennial favorite, and has won a number of awards over the years. The Biltmore Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($25), produced from North Carolina fruit, has black fruit and a smoky note, and is also an award winner. Biltmore sparkling wines are made in the labor-intensive traditional method used in the Champagne region of France. The Brut, widely available for around $25, is a lovely introduction to Biltmore wines and perfect for a spring celebration.

This year, DeLille and Fenchak crafted a special wine to celebrate the anniversary – a rich red blend of petit sirah, syrah, and zinfandel, available in limited release at the winery.

The team at the Biltmore Winery deserves a cheer for its accomplishments over three decades.

Catherine Rabb is co-owner of Fenwick’s and a senior instructor at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte. Email: Catherine.rabb@jwu.edu.

Sip of the Week

Biltmore Estate Chardonnay, $13, widely available at wine stores.

This is a very pretty Chardonnay for summer, with refreshing acidity and fruit, with a bit of oak.

Catherine Rabb.

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