You’re wine savvy, for sure. So, quick, what’s the most visited winery in America? Beringer? Robert Mondavi in Napa Valley? Kendall Jackson who has bought up many small, distressed Sonoma county wineries, or….maybe Gallo? Hold on to your spit cups. It’s the Biltmore winery estate in Asheville, North Carolina, George Vanderbilt’s famous 250-room French chateau circa 1895.
The Biltmore is not just a pretty property to visit. The estate winery produces more varietals of wine than you can imagine, many of which have garnered gold medals at reputable U.S. wine competitions. One taste and you will see why for yourself. Ambitious winemaker Sharon Fenchak of the Biltmore Wine Collection will be gracing Houston for the upcoming Woodlands Wine & Food Week, June 17-20.
Sharon will be one of the women winemakers on the panel at the The Ladies of the Vines event on June 18. Moderator Eric Arnold, lifestyle writer for FORBES, will lead the panel of winemakers, owners and experts as they guide guests through the winemaking process from grape to glass and then enjoy a winemaker lunch. We caught up with young winemaker Fenchak and here’s what she had to share about the Biltmore Wine Collection:
WHEN WERE THE FIRST BILTMORE WINES PRODUCED?
In the late 1970s. The present day Biltmore Winery opened in May 1985 and we will be celebrating our 25th Anniversary this year. When I started at the Biltmore winery in 1999, there were around 40 vineyards in North Carolina. Now, we are fast approaching 100 vineyards, so the North Carolina grape growing industry is certainly growing.
HOW MANY WINES DO YOU CURRENTLY PRODUCE?
Over 40 different wines. For the Biltmore Reserve line we buy grapes from a California supplier and produce the wines at a facility there. We have such a wide range of visitors every year to the Biltmore property that we want to capture that range with something for everyone.
WHY DO YOU THINK THE BILTMORE GETS SO MANY VISITORS EACH YEAR?
The Biltmore Winery is located on the Biltmore Estate property located in Asheville, North Carolina. Often the visitors that come to the winery have never been to a winery and we might even be introducing them to wine for the first time. Visiting the winery is a must for anyone visiting the beautiful Biltmore Estate.
WHICH VARIETALS ARE YOU GROWING IN NORTH CAROLINA?
On the property, we have a 94-acre vineyard. At Biltmore vineyard, we grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Viognier and Riesling.
YOU BLEND GRAPES FROM VARIOUS STATES TO MAKE SOME OF YOUR WINES. HOW IS THIS DESIGNATED ON THE LABEL?
We purchase grapes from different vineyards in North Carolina along with the Biltmore Estate grapes. For our North Carolina fruit, we use a North Carolina state appellation. We also purchase grapes, produce, and bottle wine in California. If we bottle a wine in California, we have a tier of wine called Biltmore Reserve, which are labeled to designate a state or geographical appellation such as Napa or Sonoma.
THERE’S SOME CONTROVERSY OVER NATURAL VERSUS SYNTHETIC CORKS. WHICH DO YOU USE?
We only use natural corks at this time. I prefer natural corks for wines that need aging. Synthetic and screw tops are best for young wines that are not held for aging like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosés and some other whites.
CAN WE BUY YOUR WINES IN TEXAS AND WHAT IS THE PRICE RANGE?
The majority of our wines are in the $10-25 range. Some of the Texas retailers who carry our wines include Austin Wine Merchant, Cost Plus World Market, Spec’s, Goode Company Texas Seafood in Houston, and many more. Here is the website to locate our wines: www.biltmore.com/our_wine/buy/retail_locate.asp
DO YOU PRODUCE A SPARKLING WINE?
We presently produce six different sparkling wines. Two sparkling wines are available in Texas–the Biltmore Blanc de Blanc made from Chardonnay grapes and our Pas de Deux made from Muscat Canelli grapes. All of our sparkling wines are made in the traditional method with secondary fermentation taking place in the bottle. Martha Stewart named it a ‘best sparkling pick’ in one of her magazine editions.
ANY GOLD MEDALS OR AWARDS?
We are very proud of our many wine awards. The following are some of the gold medal awards we have received for 2009/2010 wine competitions: Antler Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competiton; Biltmore Red Zinfandel, 2009 San Diego International Wine Competition; Biltmore Reserve Cabernet Franc double gold, 2009 North Carolina State Fair Wine Competition; Biltmore Century White, 2010 Houston International Wine Competition.
Don’t miss the chance to say hello to Sharon and taste her wonderful wines! Other must-visit events during Woodlands Wine & Food Week include the Sips, Suds and Sliders event featuring Texas beer and wine, sliders and live music, and the Grand Tasting & Chef Showcase presented by Texas Monthly. Fifty chefs from all over the world will showcase their talents for guests and judges as they compete for the national Waterford Crystal Chef of Chefs Award. There will be over 500 global wines including Texas based Messina Hof, McPherson Cellars and Fall Creek, 50 restaurants and a live and silent auction. For the full schedule of tasty events and ticket information, visit: www.wineandfoodweek.com.