Tag Archive | Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Estate Wine Tasting

Included in our Biltmore Estate admission was a free tasting at the Biltmore Winery. I knew Biltmore had a winery, but they don’t have distribution on the West Coast, so I had never had any of their wines before, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect… On walking into the winery, you are immediately struck by how big it is. There are at least 6 islands, with tasting space for at least 20 people at each island. Wow!

On Our Way to the Winery – Jon on a Mission

It wasn’t super busy, and we were led over to an island with about 8 other people.  The interesting thing about the Biltmore tasting is that you can taste everything if you want. And it is no small selection – they have 24 wines on their complimentary tasting menu! I figured that since I wasn’t driving, I would take them up on the offer!

The Biltmore’s Tasting Room

The Tasting Room building used to be the estate’s dairy barn.  The wooden beams on the ceiling and the steel cross bars are leftover from the dairy days – I don’t know why they decorated the steel structure with white banners, I think it looks weird.  I think that they should have tried to retain more of the original dairy barn features, because you would never guess that it was a dairy barn when you walk into the building now.

Our server was a young man who looked to be about 21. I wondered if the Biltmore wines are the only wines he’s ever had. He was friendly and knew the answers to basic questions about the wines, but was stumped when I asked him anything more in-depth.  I imagine our server sees mostly tourists, and not many tourists who are serious about their wine, so he probably isn’t used to questions like mine.  He commented a couple of times on the detailed notes I took. I didn’t think they were that detailed – certainly not as detailed as what I’ve included below, this is after I went back and expanded them a bit. So, without further ado, my take on the Biltmore wines (and see Dad, I didn’t try them all!)

Whites

  • Sauvignon Blanc – This wine was very floral, like a Viognier, with a grassy flavor. Not my favorite.
  • Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc – didn’t try, assuming it would also be very floral
  • Reserve Chardonnay 2009 North Carolina – Very buttery. I prefer a crisper stainless aged Chardonnay, but Jon liked this one.
  • Chardonnay Sur Lies – the server explained that Sur Lie means that the yeast settles on top for a couple of months, like beer. This wine was light, with a hint of carbonation. Interesting, but not a knockout wine.
  • Pinot Grigio – This one had a honeysuckle nose, with a light citrus flavor, a slight tartness and a hint of honey. Pretty decent!
  • Riesling – This wine was honey sweet and syrupy, with not crispness at all. I was not a fan.
  • Century White – I didn’t try this one.
  • Chenin Blanc – This wine was sweet with a slight syrupy feel. It tasted of pineapple and honey.  It was decent, but I like my Chenin Blanc more on the crisp side.
  • Limited Release Chenin Blanc – Our server told me that this wine was sweeter than the regular Chenin Blanc, but I found it to be less sweet. It has more of a tropical fruit taste, without the honey of the regular Chenin Blanc. I liked this one quite a bit!
  • House White – This wine was very floral, and sweet at the same time. An interesting combination. Our server told us that it is a blend with Malvasia, which is a sweet white. I hadn’t heard of Malvasia grape before – it originated in the Mediterranean and is typically used in white blends, sweet wines, and some dessert and fortified wines. I didn’t love the Biltmore House White, but I’ll have to keep an eye out for this grape in the future.

Rosés

  • Century Rosé – This is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and Grenache. This wine has a very light taste of strawberry. It was good, but almost didn’t taste like a wine – more like a fruit juice.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc de Noir – This wine was a light melon flavor. It was very enjoyable!
  • Zinfandel Blanc de Noir – This wine was very good, with raspberry and tropical fruit. It was sweet, and I imagine it would be a wonderful summer wine with chocolate!
  • 2012 Festival of Flowers Rose – This wine was sold out, so we didn’t get to try it. The name implies it is a floral wine, which I’m not a bit fan of, but the description said it is sweet and fruity. I guess I’ll never know.

Reds

  • Pinot Noir – This Pinot was very light and seemed watered down and lacked much flavor. It was pretty disappointing.
  • Cardinal’s Crest – This wine was a blend of the kitchen sink – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Grenache, but it works! It has a taste of blackberry with light oak. It is fairly tart, it needs to age just a bit to settle some. It would be a great wine with a meal, the perfect spaghetti wine!
  • Merlot – I didn’t try this one.
  • Sangiovese – This wine smelled strongly of smoke, and had a berry and plum flavor. It was ok, but not spectacular.
  • Century Red – This wine is a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot. Jon didn’t like this wine, but I did. It has the taste of plum and vanilla and smoke on the nose.
  • Syrah – I didn’t try this one.
  • Zinfandel – This wine has a lot of berry taste and tart acidity with a light mouth feel. The tasting notes described it as having tobacco and caramel aromas, which I did not get from it though. It was decent, but not great.
  • Limited Release Merlot – This wine was very bitter on the back of the throat. It was heavily oaked, and I didn’t like it at all.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon – Jon didn’t like this one, which was odd as he typically likes Cabs best. I thought it was nice, as it was not very oaked.
  • House Red – I didn’t try this one either.

The winery has some premium wines that you can taste for a fee, but we decided not to.  Maybe if the complimentary wines had been a bit more impressive…  All in all, I thought that the Biltmore wines were very drinkable, but not great wines.  I liked the Rosés the best, perhaps because a Rosé is supposed to be a light, refreshing summer wine, and it doesn’t need the structure to age.  It seems that Biltmore still has a way to go in order to get to where many of the Oregon, California and Washington wines are. And that’s ok, since wine tasting wasn’t the focus of this trip. And we had plenty of historic sites still to come!

The Biltmore wines are all reasonably priced, so I did walk away with 3 bottles – my favorites from the tasting.  As we were only on the second day of our trip, I knew we would have an opportunity to drink them before we got back on the plane to come home…  I bought the Limited Release Chenin Blanc, the Zinfandel Blanc de Noir, and the Cardinal’s Crest.  We brought home a couple of their logo glasses too, to remember the trip long after those bottles were gone.

The Grand Tour – Day 2 – The Biltmore Estate

On our second day, we woke up around 7:30 in the morning and Jon went for a run. I did some leisurely lounging around and getting ready for the day (I believe in actually being on vacation when I’m on vacation). Then, we headed out for our big attraction of the day – The Biltmore Estate! I had dreamed about the Biltmore for a long time, and had never had the opportunity to visit, until now! And my mom still hasn’t gone (not that I would try to make her jealous)!

George Vanderbilt, who built the Biltmore, was the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Granddaddy Vanderbilt had amassed a fortune in wealth from shipping and railroad businesses and investments. Upon his death, he left the majority of his wealth to George’s father, who grew it more, and then died nine years later. Which leads us to George. George inherited all his father’s money, and never really had a career, other than being a socialite (the Paris Hilton of the Victorian era!) George got $7 million and the proceeds from a $5 million trust fund. When you think about how much that would be in today’s dollars, he was doing pretty well!

So George took a vacation to Asheville and the Blue Ridge Mountains with his mother, and fell in love with the beauty of the area. He wanted to build a grand, self-sustaining estate in the image of the great French Chateaux. So he dove right in, buying up the land – 125,000 acres in all That’s 228 square miles, in case you can’t imagine how big 125,000 acres is.  I can’t imagine it either.  He didn’t go any less grand with the house – it has over 250 rooms (with 43 bathrooms!) The house itself is 175,000 square feet (over twice the size of Hearst Castle) and is the largest privately owned home in the United States.  The construction of the house started in 1889 and it was completed in 1895.  Keep in mind, he was a bachelor at this time – he must have had a lot of friends he wanted to invite over!  He didn’t marry his wife until three years after he moved into the house, in 1898, and they only had 1 child.

Even though the estate now only consists of (only!) 8,000 acres, it is HUGE! When you drive in, you drive 2 miles through the woods (along the creek) to get to the parking lot, then take a shuttle to the house (about another mile). When we got there it wasn’t very busy yet, so after taking the shuttle to the house, we walked up to the end of the formal lawn, up the stairs to a vista point and got some photos with very few people in them! Jon thought the main lawn and foundation were a bit boring when compared to the rest of the mansion (I have to admit, the fountain is rather plain).

The Biltmore Estate

Next, we went down and toured the formal gardens.  One area has several formal fishponds and statues. I made friends with a koi in the fish pond – I think he wanted to come home with me!

The Formal Koi Ponds at the Biltmore

A Closer View of the Koi Pond

My Fishy Buddy

One of the Many Cherub Fountains at the Biltmore

Biltmore’s Formal Garden

The Biltmore also has an Azalea Garden with over 1,000 azaleas plants and hundreds of varieties. The garden is the life’s work of Chauncey Beadle, who came to Biltmore in 1890 on a 30 day contract, and ended up staying on the estate, working for the Vanderbilt family until his death in 1950. Seeing so many azaleas (and the estate has a lot of rhodies too) reminded me of home (with higher humidity). Once we were done touring the grounds near the house, we went inside.

The mansion itself is a self-guided tour that takes you through many of the home’s 250 rooms. You can also pay extra for additional guided tours. As we went through, we saw lots of the home’s features. The grand dining hall had 70 foot high ceilings and a pipe organ! There is a bowling alley and an indoor pool.  The indoor pool at Hearst Castle was way nicer though – you can check out my post on our visit to Hearst Castle here. George Vanderbilt owned a library of over 23,000 books! He kept a list of all the books he read since the age of about 12 – when he died he had read 3,169 books!  I think I have just under 200 books on my Goodreads account, but I could read a lot more if I didn’t have to work 40 hours per week – hey, if anyone wants to be my anonymous benefactor, I’m taking applications! We toured bedrooms that were very opulent, but then there were a lot more bedrooms that were plainer (kind of like the dormitory bedrooms for rich people). We went through two hallways that just had door after door of bedrooms!  You can’t take photos inside, so here are a few more of the beautiful exterior of the home.

This is the Outside View of the Grand Staircase at Biltmore

The Front Door and Above of Biltmore Estate

Unfortunately for George and his wife Edith, he died in 1914 from complications from an appendectomy at the age of 51. Edith was left with their teenage daughter Cornelia. Edith sold 85,000 of the original acres to the national government to establish the Pisgah National Forest, and then over time sold more of the acreage to support herself. In 1930, the family opened the home up to public tours, although they still lived there until 1956. Now, no one lives there, although the family still owns the estate.

Driving Through the Formal Garden

Strangely, when you leave the Biltmore House to tour the rest of the estate (and get to the winery), you have to drive through the Formal Garden.  It feels really odd to be driving through this beautiful garden with tourists walking all around you.  Then you drive for another roughly 5 miles to get to Antler Hill Village. This is the Biltmore Estate’s shopping mecca. We stopped for the winery, because how could you be at Biltmore and not try their wines!? A tasting is included in your estate admission, which I was expecting to be a cursory tasting of a couple of wines. Not so – they had over 20 wines on the menu, and you could taste them all if you wanted!  Jon was driving, so why not!?  I will post about my Biltmore wine tasting separately next!