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Only in America: Biltmore Estate Wine Company

27 Mar

With a state-of-the-art winery in North Carolina, a French winemaker and a majority of its grapes transported from California, the Biltmore Estate Wine Company (www.biltmore.com) is a veritable Only in America story.

Biltmore is special in other unexpected ways: It’s the most visited winery in the U.S. And it sells more than 2 million bottles of wine yearly.

The winery benefits from its location on the impressive Vanderbilt estate in Asheville, N.C. The 250-room French Renaissance château, originally home to entrepreneur George W. Vanderbilt and his family, draws some 1 million visitors annually, two-thirds of whom also visit the winery. Many, of course, take some wine home.

While Vanderbilt had a great interest in wine and an impressive wine collection, vineyards weren’t planted on the estate until almost 60 years after his death. First planted were the French-American hybrid grapes, which date to 1971. They were followed by Vitis vinifera  in 1978. The winery itself opened in 1985 in a converted dairy barn. The first Biltmore wines were served at the White House in 1997 for the Governor’s Dinner.

Because not much was known at the time about producing wine on a commercial scale in North Carolina, Vanderbilt’s heir William Cecil consulted with agricultural experts at NC State University, Cornell and the University of California at Davis. In a region in which temperatures can sometimes surprise–in January 1985, for example, the temperature dropped to -27 degrees for three days and the wind chill was -70 degrees!–there was much to learn.

Today Chardonnay, Riesling, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are grown on the estate. Biltmore sources about two-thirds of its grapes from California, and is the largest purchaser of Vitis vinifera in North Carolina

Its wines are available in 26 states and D.C. and online. Or, if you prefer to shop at the source, perhaps a trip to Asheville is in order.

RECOMMENDED WINES

In 2011 three Biltmore wines–Blanc de Blancs sparkling, Sauvignon Blanc and Century red–were designated Best of Class in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Wine Competition. At a recent tasting with French-trained winemaker Bernard Delille at the Lincoln in New York City, I thought the two Century blends, which were originally made for the centennial in 1995, offered good value. I suggest you start sampling Biltmore’s wines with them and then branch out.

Biltmore Century Red Wine NV American (SRP $15.99): A fruity, Italian style blend of Sangiovese and Merlot, with grapes from Cienega Valley, Sonoma and Lake County. Aromas and flavors of cherries and plums. Food friendly.

Biltmore’s Pairing Suggestions: Prime rib, barbecue ribs and cherries flambé

Biltmore Century White Wine NV American (SRP $15.99): A sweet blend of aromatic Gewürztraminer, Muscat Canelli, Riesling and Symphony from Mendocino, Monterey and North Carolina. Symphony is a cross of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris. It’s one of dozens of new grapes bred by Dr. Harold Paul Olmo, professor emeritus of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California, who thought the varietal exhibited “a symphony of aromas and flavors.” The aromas and flavors of this particular wine include roses, tropical fruit, lime, lemon, honeydew and lychee.

Biltmore’s Pairing Suggestions: Aperitif, Chinese, Vietnamese, sweet and sour dishes, coconut shrimp, pear tart and coconut cake

By Sharon Kapnick

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