Friday, December 2, 2011

Biltmore Winery

Going from milk to wine... the classic coming of age story:

Biltmore Ice Cream still sold at Antler Hill Village
First Milk...When George Vanderbilt first envisioned his Biltmore estate it had a two fold purpose: a relaxing vacation home for his friends and family and a productive agricultural investment.  After completing the home in 1895, he immediately went to work on the farm and dairy.  He researched with great care the best and most productive dairy cows ultimately importing 100 head of Jersey cows from Britain’s Channel Island of Jersey.  The Jersey breed is a popular dairy cow due to the high butterfat content of its milk and high output to size ratio which means a farm can have more cows in a smaller space.  

When Vanderbilt launched Biltmore Dairy Farms, he intended it to be an internal operation for his estate only with surplus milk being donated to the Asheville area hospitals.  However, with the Vanderbilt knack for making money, he expanded the company into home delivery.  The dairy thrived and Biltmore cattle were awarded blue ribbons at national Jersey Shows numerous times.  As the Farm grew, the Biltmore Dairy Truck was a regular sight around North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia.  

Due to growth of the SUPERMARKET, Biltmore Farms sold the main bulk of their over 1000 head of Jersey cows to Pet Milk, Inc. in 1985.  The family farm still maintains a herd of Jersey cattle in Mills River, North Carolina with bloodlines tracing back to the original nineteenth-century cows purchased by George Vanderbilt.
Thus, our tour guide retold the history of the most visited winery in America.  The Vanderbilts and prize cows.  Who knew?
The Heart of Antler Hill Village
Then Wine...George Vanderbilt’s grandson, George H. V. Cecil converted the original dairy barn into the Biltmore Winery in 1985.  Planting his first American-French hybrid grapevines in 1971, Cecil experimented with the feasibility of winemaking in North Carolina, but taking a page from his grandfather's book, he was determined to keep the Estate self-supporting.  

Former milking room; now wine vat room

Hiring  Phillippe Jourdain as winemaker in 1977, Cecil brought the sophistication and experience of six generations of winemaking from Provence, France.  Although, before Prohibition, North Carolina had the most vineyards in North America, the first wines from Biltmore paled in comparison to California wines.  Jourdain replanted with all french vines and plugged onward.  

Today, winemakers, Bernard Delille and Sharon Fenchak use 15% Biltmore grown grapes and 85% other American regional grapes to produce over 140,000 cases of wine each year selling approximately 55,000 cases at the winery to its one million visitors each year.  Whoa!  That's a lot of wine!  Again, who knew?

After our complete and thorough history lesson, we arrived at the good part... 

Greg enjoying a taste of the Biltmore Zinfandel
The tasting room!  (For those adults traveling with children, kids are allowed on the tour and are offered grape juice in the tasting room.)  The set up in the tasting room provided ample space to sample wines with just a handful of people around one sommelier.  Our personal pourer was extremely helpful and knowledgeable about the Estate's wines and provided us with a list of all the wines available for trying.  We started with a sip from the lighter and sweeter whites and worked our way to the heavier and drier reds.  It was difficult work, for sure!   

All that history made Emma thirsty!

Greg preferred the zinfandel.  I favored the pinot noir.  Wyatt and Emma deemed the grape juice the best they had ever tasted.  Anabel walked Ginger through the Antler HIll Village having no interest in the winery.  What a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.  

George H. V. Cecil accomplished his goal of a self-sustaining winery.  All the people enjoying the free tastings purchased at least one bottle ($10-$20 each) of wine.  We purchased eight with Christmas gifts in mind.  Greg and I both love giving each other wine for Christmas!
As they say, "It's five o'clock somewhere."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for reading and commenting! Heaven knows, I need some interaction...