The most visited winery in the United States is not in Napa or Sonoma but nestled in the mountains of North Carolina. The Biltmore Winery has been producing wine since 1971 as part of the lavish Biltmore Estates built by George and Edith Vanderbilt. The estate boasts about 1 million annual visitors from around the world, with at least 600,000 of those gracing the immaculate winery and tasting room. That’s a lot of wine enthusiasts tasting and exploring. I had the opportunity to visit with winemaker Sharon Fenchak about the success and vision for these North Carolina wines.
The Biltmore Century Collection features the estate’s top-selling wines. The Century White, created in 1999, began as a limitedproduction wine available exclusively in the tasting room. The wine was created to celebrate the Biltmore’s 100th anniversary and legacy of the estate. But its popularity made it a permanent part of the portfolio. The Century Red was added a few years later. Fenchak said, “These wines work as a collection [bought] together since one offers those a sweet white option and the other a dry red.”
The red and white this week are summer-friendly wines. The red is ideal for serving with a prime rib on the grill or barbecue, and the white on its own as a refreshing aperitif. My tasting was at its best with the red slightly chilled.
- NV Biltmore Century White Wine, California/ North Carolina (about $16 retail)
The nonvintage Biltmore Century White Wine will be a favorite for those of you asking for a semi-sweet wine to enjoy this summer. Fenchak couldn’t agree more with the reasoning behind this blend and its production.
“We wanted to make an aromatic wine that, when you just smell it, you would want to drink it.”
It’s a blend of aromatic white grapes, gewurztraminer, Muscat canelli, Riesling and symphony. All of these grapes bring a balance, Fenchak says, that “would create a sweet white wine with balance of acidity, sweetness and alcohol — producing a wine that was refreshing and not syrupy like some sweet wines can be.”
As production grew for the winery they began buying fruit from growing areas in California as well as an addition of their own indigenous grapes. “Certain grapes just can’t grow with the rain and humidity of North Carolina but we knew the taste and blend we wanted to create.”
The Century White is 98 percent from California’s Mendocino and Monterey regions and the remaining 2 percent from Biltmore’s North Carolina vineyards.
- NV Biltmore Century Red Wine, California (about $16 retail)
This wine is a fruity, Italian-style red blend of sangiovese and merlot.
“We knew from the feedback in our tasting room people wanted an approachable red wine,” she says.
Fenchak’s vision was to combine just the right grapes for a “fruity but balanced wine.”
She also wanted to create a food-friendly wine that matched the flavors but didn’t compete. For this wine the juice is fermented in contact with the skins, allowing for the uniqueness in the color and balance of flavors. They then press and transfer it to French and American barrels to age 10 months to 18 months.