A taste and toast of Biltmore

Biltmore leads a thriving wine industry in the Old North State

ASHEVILLE — A visit to America’s premiere estate is certain to transport you back to a time of opulence and grandeur, but with careful efforts perfected over the last 128 years, it also showcases the best of North Carolina agriculture.

When George Vanderbilt began construction on his country home in Asheville in 1889, he had a vision not only to build the largest private residence in the United States but also to leave a lasting and sustainable legacy.

The construction of the main dairy house and village in 1900 secured the Biltmore Estate as thriving farmland, but it was Vanderbilt’s grandson, William Cecil, who would propel the estate into a future agriculture powerhouse. In 1971, Cecil planted his first grape vines at Biltmore that would later open a winery and a number of on-site restaurants where the public could experience Vanderbilt hospitality first-hand.

Today, as the leaves change on the rolling landscape, the estate is still tempting guest’s appetites.

Fresh harvest flavors from Biltmore gardens fill the estate’s seven sit-down restaurants this fall. Pre Fixe meals include pan-seared North Carolina mountain trout at Cedric’s tavern, apple cider glazed pork tenderloin at the Bistro, and a maple glazed carrot cake at the Village Social.

Executive chef Mark DeMarco says the Taste of Biltmore — running from Sept. 1 through Halloween, is an opportunity for collaboration and innovative dining.

And paired with estate wines, the Taste of Biltmore showcases some of Biltmore’s award-winning vintages in a new and unique way during North Carolina Wine and Grape Month.

Sitting inside the newly renovated Premiere Tasting Room in Antler Hill Village, winery manager Sean Wilborn said there is no better time than the fall to experience the winery that he manages.

“The winery is a crucial part of a visit to the estate; obviously the house is No. 1, but the winery gives guests a reason to keep coming back,” said Wilborn, an Atlanta native who relocated to Asheville a year and a half ago, “with wine and culinary we are always trying to create new and different experiences.”

With more than 50 bottles to choose from, Biltmore Estate Winery is just one piece of an evolving and expanding wine industry in North Carolina.

Since 2013, North Carolina wineries have produced 96 percent more cases of wine, from 569,000 nine-liter cases to 1,115,000 cases. The state has also seen increases of more than 40 percent in wages paid to employees and taxes paid to federal, state and local governments.

According to the N.C. Department of Agriculture, the majority of in-state wineries rely on sales at their tasting rooms or direct sales to restaurants and retail stores. As such, tourism is a significant part of revenue for many of the state’s wineries.

An estimated 1.9 million people visited North Carolina wineries last year alone.

And as the industry grows, so does the Biltmore. In April, the estate completed a three-month renovation to their cellar and tasting rooms, adding a premium wine bar where Vanderbilt’s old dairy barn once stood.

“I always like to remind people that we’re a grower in addition to a producer — right here on the property,” Wilborn said sitting at the end of a refurbished wood table in the new tasting room.

Chardonnay is the estate’s primary grape, offering a base for some of the winery’s premiere sparkling wines and reserves.

The Biltmore’s golden Reserve Chardonnay, fermented in French and American oak barrels and aged for six to eight months, is a sole product of the green-skinned grapes grown near the Inn — with notes of pear, caramel and a smooth vanilla finish.

In October the winery will release a rare edition sparkling Chateau Reserve Blanc de Blanc produced from a single 2015 North Carolina vintage.

“We’ve been without this wine for a while, and that’s a testament to its scarcity — only the best fruit goes into that wine, from estate and locally grown Chardonnay,” praised Wilborn.

And with cooler weather on the horizon the bold Cabernet Sauvignon — blended with 13 percent North Carolina grapes and boasting a balanced plum, black currant and rosemary aroma — matches well with roasted chicken and turkey offered across the estate.

Last Saturday, DeMarco partnered with Flat Rock Playhouse for a Shakespearian Feast in Cedric’s Garden, and on Oct. 6 food and wine marry in the Champagne Cellar for a Wine Dinner with Chef Noriko Oda. DeMarco reminisced about a roasted half hog served last week.

“We used an estate-raised Berkshire pig in a very simple presentation, letting the pork speak for itself,” recalled DeMarco, who has been with the estate for 13 years, “great flavor, roasted for 12 hours, fall off the bone … our agriculture team has just done wonders.”

“The Berkshire pig is the original breed from George Vanderbilt, that they worked down to decide this is the pig that we want to raise here on the estate,” Wilborn chimed in, “they’ve brought that back.”

“Right, that was one of the first Berkshires we’ve had in about 90 years,” said DeMarco.

As with so many things on the Biltmore Estate, the food and wine stay true to the origins of the Vanderbilt agriculture legacy — and the Taste of Biltmore is truly a toast to North Carolina’s finest offerings.