On Christmas Eve 1895, George Vanderbilt opened his country home in Asheville, North Carolina to his family and friends. They were welcomed into a massive and beautiful space, a 250-room French Renaissance chateau featuring 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces, with every nook decorated to the nines for the festive holiday season.
For the previous six years, Vanderbilt had coordinated a team of skilled craftsmen, building an atmosphere of quality and hospitality in preparation for the day on which he, and those close to him, could enjoy the expansive estate and exquisite Blue Ridge Mountains. This moment set the stage for a level of hospitality that remains unmatched still today.
The Biltmore House is one of the most popular landmarks in the United States — Photo courtesy of Biltmore Winery
For the next three decades, this family of philanthropists grew, as Vanderbilt and his descendants occupied the chateau. But the events of the 1930s, as banks crashed and dust ravaged the Great Plains, took Biltmore Estate in a new direction. Under the shadow of the Great Depression, the Vanderbilt family opened the property and grounds to the public, to build tourism in the area and realize a new stream of revenue from visitor admissions.
This legacy flourishes today, as Biltmore Estate is counted among the most popular destinations in the United States. In fact, it's now a National Historic Landmark known as America's Largest Home. In 2019, 1.5 million guests visited the estate, and the staff projects that roughly 1.4 million guests will walk through the doors in 2021.
There is plenty for people of all ages to do at Biltmore Estate. Admission includes a tour of the house and access to the multiple gardens, Antler Hill Village and Farmyard, The Biltmore Legacy Building, Outdoor Adventure Center and Biltmore Winery.
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Behind the scenes at Biltmore Winery
Sharon Fenchak, winemaker at Biltmore Winery — Photo courtesy of Biltmore Winery
Winemaker Sharon Fenchak says that many people who enter the winery for a complimentary tasting haven’t had much experience with wine. They are there to enjoy all aspects of the estate, and the winery is simply part of the exploration.
About half of the guests admitted to the estate will make a stop at Biltmore Winery, around 700,000 guests per year, making it the most-visited winery in the United States. Fenchak believes that the versatile range (which can top 45+ wines) she and her team crafts “serve as an educational tool” with the capability to convert people into wine lovers, often after just one visit.
Since the 1970s, there have been vineyards on the estate, a cultivation history that has adapted throughout the decades, including influence from sixth-generation winemaker Philippe Jourdain, who had a hand in overseeing the development of Biltmore wines and the building of the winery in 1985.
Biltmore Winery in Asheville, North Carolina — Photo courtesy of Biltmore Winery
Currently, six varieties grow in the Biltmore vineyards: cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot, riesling, and viognier. Fenchak says that new varieties are constantly tested, but that weather conditions in North Carolina perpetually challenge the Biltmore vineyard team.
“Here we have interesting – which I say in quotations – weather,” says Fenchak. Humidity, rain and hurricanes can create unfavorable growing conditions. “You have to be very creative when you are a winemaker dealing with North Carolina fruit.”
To offer guests a wide array of options in the tasting room, Fenchak and her team source grapes from around the United States, including other growers in North Carolina, as well as Washington and California.
Make the most of a visit to Biltmore Winery
The vineyards on Biltmore Estate — Photo courtesy of Biltmore Winery
When guests (21+) arrive at the estate, they're eligible to make a reservation for a complimentary tasting in the Tasting Room, which can be secured through QR codes located around the property. Capacity is limited, so this should be the first step for wine enthusiasts looking forward to the experience. A visit to Biltmore Winery is "all about gracious hospitality," says Fenchak.
"The tasting room team always wants to see someone smile," she says. The staff is trained to find a wine for everyone "from new to knowledgeable" and "wine should not be a stressful experience," according to Fenchak.
Guests at Biltmore Estate can book a complimentary tasting at Biltmore Winery — Photo courtesy of Biltmore Winery
The influence of the winery is evident elsewhere around the property. Guests have access to 15 restaurants and walk-up eateries – from fine dining to food trucks. Some menus boast estate-grown produce, meats and, of course, wine from Biltmore Winery.
There are plenty of opportunities to "let out a deep breath and relax, and taste some wine," says Fenchak. Note that to dine at Biltmore Estate, guests must have purchased a daytime ticket, a Biltmore Annual Pass or booked an overnight stay at one of the estate’s lodgings.
Biltmore Winery in bloom — Photo courtesy of Biltmore Winery
For something extra, wine lovers can book overnight accommodations at The Dairy Foreman’s Cottage, which was built in 1935 as a home for Biltmore Dairy employees and their families. Within a stone’s throw from the winery, this cottage can accommodate up to five guests, has tasteful modern updates and benefits from an abundant woodland setting – an exquisite way to make the amenities of America’s Largest Home feel a bit like one’s own.