What I Did On My Summer Vacay

It was rather last minute: we had to drop off two of the boys near Asheville NC for summer camp, and I asked the Husband if he would be willing to stay an extra day to see Biltmore. I researched B&B’s, picked my favorite, he booked us, and we were off.

We stayed at the Wright Inn and Carriage House, an stately 1899 Victorian in the historic Montford district of Asheville. We booked the Griffin room, named for the architect of the house, and surrendered to the charms of this elegant, quiet neighborhood and it’s lovely homes. We were within walking distance of an upscale Carribean restaurant called Nine Mile (where we enjoyed a splendid dinner), as well as the northwest edge of downtown Asheville.

Biltmore was meh. I only had so much patience for the crowds, the lines, and viewing room after room of turn-of-the-century decor. I mean, what does anyone need with 250+ rooms? The gardens were much more compelling, although I was supremely disappointed that they weren’t selling seeds of any of the Biltmore plants, although they did have a (standard, boring) garden shop. Major oversight?

The winery, now, that was compelling. I waited in line to do my free tasting and sampled about ten of their wines. I didn’t realize they had any vines on the estate, but in fact they’ve been growing them for a number of years now, even though they only produce about 15% of the fruit for the Biltmore wines.

I was stunned by one wine in particular. Named for the most breathtaking room in the house, the Louis XV red is a cabernet franc, made with a single fruit that is typically a blending grape. I’ve never had a decent cab franc, ever, and was shocked to see the bottle with it’s gorgeous label showing the painstakingly restored black and red tapestry that adorns the room where two generations of the Biltmore family were birthed and raised. That one room is clearly the megastar of this house crammed with luminaries, so I never would have expected a cab franc to be the most boasted-about wine at Biltmore.

The Louis XV is quite new, and it definitely needs a year or two to settle down (I doubt I’ll have that much patience), but the structure and body of this wine is astounding. You don’t get free tastings of this one on the tour, but after seeing the bottle displayed prominently in the front of the store I struck up a conversation with one of the oenophiles who worked there and was immediately engaged in a lively conversation about the wine, after which he escorted me to an empty counter where he smoothly obtained a covert sample for me. I was doubtful but game, and the flood of blackberry, new leather, black pepper, lemongrass, and yes, even the sturdy tannin bite were a delight I won’t soon forget. If you can get it in your local store, you must.

I also purchased the only sparkling wine made of 100% Biltmore estate grown fruit, the Chateau Reserve 2006 Blanc de Blancs Brut. Fabulous, a second surprise. I didn’t know Biltmore had it in them. There were two lovely Spanish wines (always a favorite of mine): a limited release Malbec (almost sold out) and a Temprenillo; I brought home the Malbec but wanted both. Finally, I so enjoyed the Zinfandel that I made it my final selection and forced myself to stop, having racked up more than $100 worth of wine. Biltmore has gained a new customer.

I decided that I wanted to see Chimney Rock on the way home the next day, so we detoured about 45 minutes south and paid $14 to drive up the mountain. I was a little shocked at the price (not as shocked as I was at Biltmore’s price, which is $50/per person, although you can get deals online and through your B&B, which we did) but completely taken with the park itself. It’s a bit touristy, but we immediately headed out the Hickory Nut Falls trail and left the tourists behind. It was an easy, beautiful three-quarter mile hike out to the 400 ft Falls, and the breathtaking views are well worth the effort. It would be a good trail to run as well; plenty wide enough. We hiked back up from the Falls, climbed the multiple levels of pretty wooden stairs to the parking lot, scowled at the tourists waiting in line to take the elevator to the top of the mountain (this is heresy to me, I can hardly believe Americans will take elevators to the tops of mountains), and hit the 450+ stairs to the Chimney. Those stairs were fine going up, but a little more hairy coming down, as they feel barely tacked to the side of the mountain in some places, and the drops are precipitous, lethal, and in full view. We enjoyed a simple but romantic lunch at the summit, then made our way back down the mountain.

We drove a while, then stopped one more time in the Hickory Nut Gorge in order to climb out on the broad, warm stones in one of the rivers that leads to Lake Lure, and wade into the shallows to feed our leftover Captain’s Wafers to some friendly ducks. From Lake Lure it was another five hours to home, and our vacay was over waaay too soon.

But I have wine, six pretty photographs (all taken on my iPhone), and some lovely memories. If I went back again, I’d do the urban tour of downtown Asheville, then spend the rest of my time on the Blue Ridge Parkway. A plan for another time.

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