When you hear “wine in the United States,” what comes to mind? Napa? Sonoma? Yes, those are huge wine destinations. But you might be surprised to hear that Antler Hill Winery at the Biltmore Estate has its own claim to fame. It’s actually the most visited winery in the country!
Helping contribute to this top spot is that fact that a visit to the Biltmore comes with a free visit to the winery. Given the cost of admission to the North Carolina estate, it isn’t “free” so much as it’s “included” in your ticket. But, you need to get your money’s worth!
If planning a trip, there’s no reason not to stop in to sample the estate grapes.
History of the Biltmore
The Biltmore is located in Asheville, North Carolina. Some may recall it as a staple of Grace Kelly’s 1956 movie The Swan, but Millennials will know it as home to Richie Rich. It has cameos in many other movies over the years, primarily due to its ostentatious grandeur. It’s a modern-day castle!
It should be no surprise to those with U.S. history knowledge that the home was a brainchild of the Vanderbilt family. George W. Vanderbilt conceptualized the home, which became America’s biggest when it opened in 1895. It boasts 250 rooms and 8,000 acres in a classic French Renaissance château-style.
Visitors can experience the gardens, outdoor activities, and equestrian center, along with the four-star Inn and Antler Hill Village. The Village is home to several restaurants and small shops, along with, of course, Antler Hill Winery!
History of Antler Hill Winery
A good segue into Antler Hill Winery is a quick discussion on agriculture at the Biltmore, as it’s really this focus that led to the grape-growing. George Vanderbilt had a vision of making the estate completely self-sufficient. Even the gorgeous fields of sunflowers were planted for a reason – to feed the deer and birds. Sustainability at its finest!
A key piece this self-reliance was the growth of dairy at the Biltmore. They needed dairy for milk, manure, and money. As a result, the Vanderbilt family grew a huge dairy business in the area, delivering it in vintage milkman fashion. When that industry began to decline in the 1950s and 60s, it was time to sell it.
And what better to do with a dairy operation than turn it into a winemaking business? True to its dairy roots, Antler Hill Winery now lives where the dairy operation used to be. The tasting room even used to hold cattle. But I promise, it doesn’t smell like a farm!
In the 1970s, George Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A.V. Cecil, began pioneering winemaking at the Biltmore. It was his dream to have a winery. All the best French châteaus have wineries. So, too, should the Biltmore!
The first grape he planted was Moscato. When it came time to sample the fruits of his labor, it was disgusting. He gifted it to his friends but didn’t give up. A trip to France later, the Biltmore Estate had a seasoned winemaker and a robust operation.
After changing the location of the vines on the estate, they were able to grow a solid batch. Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon were the first harvests that survived.
Fact is, the area isn’t perfect for grape growing. For such a large winery operation, the on-site vineyard is only 94 acres. Thus, only 15% of the grapes now come from the area. The rest are from California. And through this partnership, Antler Hill Winery is able to produce over 170,000 cases of wine per year.
What to do at Antler Hill Winery
First, Get Your Free Samples of Wine in the Tasting Room
This one’s a given. It’s free! Or…included.
You’ll enter the winery through chilly stone tunnels that help set the tone. As you make your way up the stairs, you’ll come to an expansive shop with a huge wine bar. Continue through the shop to the tasting room.
The best part about the complimentary tasting is that you can try as many of the wines as you’d like. This isn’t always common at wineries. So, take advantage and sample any you think you might like. Or some you might not usually try. My favorites were the Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc, Limited Release Tempranillo, and Syrah.
You’ll be amazed by the options! And if you happen to have children, a designated driver, or someone who prefers not to imbibe, they can always ask for the grape juice.
The wine hosts are entertaining and knowledgeable, despite the look on our guide’s face (below). His dry sense of humor complimented the wines perfectly! We had a great time.
In addition to complimentary tastings, Antler Hill Winery provides several upgraded wine tour options.
Here are a few to give you a sneak peek:
Behind-the-Scenes Winery Tour & Tasting
You can get a more in-depth lesson in Antler Hill Winery’s operation on their behind-the-scenes experience. For only $10 per person, you can take a guided tour of the production facility with a private tasting at the end.
One of the most impressive things you’ll learn is the continued focus on sustainability. For example, the mulch produced at the end of the fermentation process is used out on the farms. And when barrels reach the end of their lifecycle, they’re sold to breweries and distilleries. I think it’s safe to say that George Vanderbilt would be happy with his continued legacy.
Vine to Wine Tour
On this tour, you actually get to visit the vines and learn about how they make it into the bottle! And, of course, you get a grand tasting to accompany your new-found knowledge.
Offered on Saturdays and Sundays, this will run you a little more, as it’s an exclusive experience. Be prepared to pay $85 per person in addition to your admission to the Biltmore.
Wine & Cheese Hour
A relatively new addition to the offerings, this event takes place on Friday and Saturday evenings. For $25 per person, you can taste wine and cheese pairings in a social environment at Antler Hill Winery.
Red Wine & Chocolate Seminar
An extra $20 for wine AND chocolate? You know you want to! With this experience, you’ll learn the science behind the pairing and have a lot of fun doing so!
Celebration of Sparkling Wine
Get a tour of the champagne bottling room and a tasting of all available sparkling wines – with pairings! You can book this offering Sunday through Thursday evenings. But space is limited, so make sure you reserve ahead. It’s only $25 per person!
Plan Your Visit!
Whether you choose to simply sip on the delicious wine at the complimentary tasting, or you decide to book a more engaging experience, Antler Hill Winery is sure to impress. Make sure you take the time to check it out on your next trip to the Biltmore!
To plan your Biltmore Estate visit, check out their website for all the details.
To plan your Antler Hill Winery visit and tours, we recommend you start here.
Interested in more wine on the East Coast of the United States? Check out our post on Virginia wine to find out why Virginia is for wine lovers! Cheers!
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We can’t thank Antler Hill Winery enough for their support during our visit. While our admission to the Biltmore Estate was self-funded, our behind-the-scenes tour was complimentary. As always, views and options are solely our own.
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