Sunday Sips: Riesling From Biltmore Estate

I’ve been so focused on imported wines in my career that it slowly crept up on me that all 50 states in the US make wine. I’ve made a commitment to buy and write about producers from at least two states a month. These first two months of the year I focused on Michigan and North Carolina. Today’s wine is the second of the six wines I bought from Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. The estate was started in 1895 by transportation magnate George Vanderbilt. It was his grandson, however, William Cecil, who decided to create a winery on the property that his grandfather purchased in the late 19th century, Biltmore in Ashville, North Carolina. They have 8,000 acres.

Cecil planted French-American hybrid vines to start but eventually visited France and decided vinifera was the way to go. He hired Philippe Jourdain, who was a winemaker with a long family history in the craft. They planted 150 acres of vinifera. The first wines were bottled in 1983. George Vanderbilt and the succeeding generations of his family all see themselves as stewards of the land, protecting this slice of heaven on Earth for future generations. Recently they created a “solar panel installation that offsets more than 20% of the estate’s energy needs. The 9-acre, 1.7-megawatt system features 7,000 solar panels and uses advanced technology to perform even on cloudy days,” according to the website. They also collect all the corks they use and together with a company called Terracycle, repurpose them. They see sustainability as a three pronged effort – social, environmental, and economic. In addition to water management, energy efficiency, buying local foods and produce and recycling all kinds of projects, Biltmore was the home of the first forestry program in the US.

Today, Sharon Fenchak is the winemaker on the estate. Tonight I drank their Biltmore Estate Riesling. I really enjoyed this pale lemon hued wine with hints of citrus and hay, as well as some grass and fennel notes, as well as grass and fennel. It was nicely balanced with the right amount of acidity, offset by some residual sugar and saline. I paired it with a spicy Italian sausage dish and the aromas and flavors complemented one another. I bought the wine from their online shop for $15. I have never been to North Carolina or to Biltmore.

The winery is located in the Blue Ridge mountains on George Vanderbilt’s 8000 acre estate. The entry in Wikipedia about George Vanderbilt outlines that the family made their money in shipping and then railroads and other businesses. apparently Vanderbilt was very interested in creating a sustainable estate even in the late 19th century. He hired famed architects and landscape designers as well as experts in forestry management. It seems the more recent generations of the family have proudly continued this tradition. I can’t wait to visit.

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