World’s Busiest Tasting Room

By Posted on Nov 17 2011 | By

Is It Located In Napa, Burgundy, or Bordeaux?

Here in Virginia a typical tasting room might host a few thousand to perhaps 40,000 tasters a year.  A lot of sipping is occurring in the Old Dominion, indeed, but it’s difficult to imagine the traffic generated by the major wineries in California who annually see hundreds of thousands of wine lovers hoist a glass at their tasting bars.

Nonetheless, where might the most frequently visited winery on the globe be located?

Tick, tick, tick, tick.

Time’s up.  The answer is…North Carolina.  Say what?  Yep, North Carolina.

Tasting Room

According to the Biltmore Estate Winery in Ashville, NC, “…approximately 1 million visitors stop by to sample award-winning estate wines each year.”  One million.  How can this be?  There are about a 100 wineries in the entire state, ranking it tenth in the Nation.  California posts the number one position with over 3,000 wineries.

The secret to the Biltmore’s success is a house—called simply, you guessed it, the Biltmore House.  Let’s visit its web site and hear the story:

The celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt modeled the house on three châteaux built in 16th-century France. It would feature 4 acres of floor space, 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. The basement alone would house a swimming pool, gymnasium and changing rooms, bowling alley, servants’ quarters, kitchens, and more.

The chateau was finished in 1895 after several years’ construction and is a bona fide wonder of the world.  In 1985, the estate dairy barn was converted to a winery and tasting room capable of hosting over a hundred tasters simultaneously at five separate islands.  And it is packed every day.  It’s impressive in concept and size and is in keeping with the scope of the House and the surrounding 8,000 manicured acres.

Recently, my bride of many years, Jean, and I spent a week in the mountains of North Carolina at a delightful venue called Lake Lure.  It’s less than an hour’s drive from the Biltmore House in Asheville.  We devoted an entire day to touring the estate and winery.  It was festively decorated for Christmas displaying 57 Christmas trees, four miles of fresh garlands and tens of thousands of lights and ornaments.  Rather than describe the impressive house tour we took, simply check out this video:

After spending over two hours at the House, we drove three miles of scenic lanes to the winery where we tasted Biltmore wines, had lunch and shopped in Antler Hill Village, an upscale suite of shops with a petting farm of friendly goats, horses and other pastoral animals.

I also had an opportunity to interview one of the senior tasting room personnel.

While the web site states a million visitors a year taste the wines it’s likely a bit less.  Not every one who tours the House is going to sip the wine.  Whatever the number, it’s still impressive.  The winery produces some 200,000 cases of wine a year.  Surprisingly, about 85% of that production comes from fruit or wine from California,Washington state and Oregon.  Over forty different bottlings are produced annually, the majority of which are Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

If you haven’t visited Biltmore House, it’s well worth the trip.  The region has many quaint towns with antique shops, art galleries, beautiful golf courses and numerous other sightseeing opportunities all of which make it a memorable getaway destination.

The North Carolina state motto is Esse quam videri; To be, rather than to seem. The Tar Heel state certainly seems to be all it wants to be.

Biltmore House

Categories : HAGARTY TALES