Biltmore estate was built to last and so is its winery

It takes a lot to build a legacy. Hard work, vision, long-distance planning, and a tight-knit circle of family and friends to keep it all together. Although America's history is relatively short compared with that of Europe, we've still got a legacy or two. And some even come with a castle.

George Vanderbilt's massive Asheville, N.C., estate was fashioned after three French chateaux and took six years to construct 91889-1895) There are 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, and 65 fireplaces covering four acres of floor space. The building of this "country home" incorporated a community of craftsmen and workers, its own brick factory and woodworking shop plus a private railway spur.

The 8,000 acre estate is still in family hands today. And Bill Cecil, president and CEO of the Biltmore Company, is working hard to build upon an existing heritage.

A winery was constructed in 1985. And it does a good job. Visitors can tour the winery and/or purchase Biltmore wines at the wine shop. A guided tour of the winery and complimentary wine tasting is included in the estate admission. The tasting is fun and those that pour enjoy their jobs!

The Biltmore Estate Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008 is made in the traditional champagne method and is a delightful and frothy sparkler with exquisite lemon verbena perfume ($25). The Biltmore Reserve Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley is all satin and cherry and vanilla ($25). And the Biltmore Reserve Chardonnay 2011 from North Carolina ($15) is a show-stopper … bright acidity, toasted nuts, with creamy mouth feel and just the barest kiss of oak. Exquisitely balanced and a real crowd pleaser.

If you visit, foodies will enjoy The Bistro at the Winery and its locavore focus. The Stable Café that is located on site in — you got it —-- refurbished stables, is also accessible with estate admission. They offer a three-course candlelight pre-fixe dinner from Nov. 9 through Dec. 31 ($39 for adults/$16 for children) that boasts savory autumnal accents such as sage jus, pumpkin seed pesto and butternut squash risotto.

Christmas starts Nov. 3, 2012 at the Biltmore and runs through Jan. 1. The estate displays a massive 35-foot Christmas tree and spectacular decorations. I've visited several times. If the Biltmore doesn't get you humming Christmas carols, nothing will. The Biltmore is a "destination" but it also an experience, especially during the holidays.

The drive to Asheville runs approximately 7-8 hours from Baltimore and there are many lodging options including an Inn on the Biltmore Estate (

You can make a spirited weekend of wine, food and history as a Christmas present to yourself in advance of the "holidaze." Better yet, you can even bring some of that Christmas cheer home.

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