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Together, on the hillside

Together, on the hillside

North Carolina has more than 200 wineries and produces 1.20 million cases of wine per year. This state has won awards and acclaims at the annual Wine Competition.

By Nazarul Islam  

A Castle? A Manor? A Chateau? A Palace from the English Moors – Perhaps there was an indescribable a charm or maybe, a mystery. And, I needed to address this mystery. Two years ago I came across an epic story, and a beautiful narrative, envisioned in the book titled ‘The Last Castle’  that simply went on— to bewilder my imagination, of the largest designed chateau in the continent of America. Inside the superbly crafted granite architecture, the obvious French chateau, from the outer walls, had been transformed into a gigantic, English Palace.

Biltmore-3This magnificent structure was envisioned and built by George Cornelius Vanderbilt, the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, during the Gilded Age with the history of Biltmore Estate then spanning the Jazz Age, the Depression era, two bloody World Wars that had shaped the last century ….and beyond.

Astonishing as this may seem, a much more, welcome addition to Gilded Age history had taken place outside of the usual haunts of Manhattan and Newport. And this entire miracle was given a time frame of seven short years, to shape up. Ever since, the mountain terrains of Asheville, North Carolina have proudly highlighted the Manor’s majesty and indescribable glory.

Biltmore-4Did I enjoy reading the history book, ‘The Last Castle’? Well, I was impressed. It wasn’t complicated, after all! I have always enjoyed reading about people and places. And I revisit them often, when I write. This is one way I like to pay my tributes. I had longed to learn some insights into the Vanderbilts, but I couldn’t exactly do that. I was not granted access.

Biltmore-2I had promised to take my loving wife Nuzhat, to Asheville and share with her —the experience and excitement of a lifetime, if God would only gift her a second chance of life. She had deserved this, after her bout with, and a narrow escape, followed by survival, from the tight clutches of cancer.

It was the best gift, Nuzhat could have wished. I had read that George at 13 was devout, writing “I read my Bible this morning and began Isaiah and I think that was what made me feel so happy through the day … I have trusted too much in my own ability and not enough in Jesus.” Then, though, we make a big jump to where George begins building Biltmore — just because he can?

Biltmore-6Visiting countries and meeting people have been my favorite pastimes. In the course of my journeys across a jet set world, I have set foot into 40 countries. I have met Presidents, Prime Ministers, national leaders and people who were chose to make a difference in our world. I shook hands with George Bush, Marshal Tito, Kim Il Sung, Trudeau, Lady Diana, Mobutu , Ayub Khan, Prime Minister Lee, Mahathir, Sheikh Mujib—and had looked deep into the eyes of these celebrities, and many others.

With geography, climate and growing conditions that mirror those of the Bordeaux region in France, American state of North Carolina continues to emerge as a force in World class winemaking.

Biltmore-5North Carolina has more than 200 wineries and produces 1.20 million cases of wine per year, this state has won awards and acclaims at the annual Wine Competition, the International Women’s Wine Competition, the New York International Wine Competition, the International Eastern Wine Competition, the World Wine Championships and the Berlin International Wine Competition, proving the state can craft wines worthy of any table.

North Carolina’s mountainous terrain is ideal for producing wine. The temperate climate; its gently rolling hills and large bodies of water create warmer soil that nurtures a long growing season. And the soil itself is flecked with limestone and gravel, enhancing the fertility of a range of grapes.

Local winemakers point to the popularity and flavor of their chardonnays, chambourcins, pinot noirs, cabernet sauvignons and sparkling wines.

Many of the area’s wineries grow their own grapes. Others buy them locally, resulting in a spirit of cooperation among vintners. Several vintners have joined together to establish three wine trails in the state countryside.

The Biltmore Wineries are located within 10 miles from Center City and bridge other wineries establishments in Asheville. The mountain trails are situated in the middle of historic and lush landscapes, near dozens of quaint bed and breakfasts and close to attractions in an English backdrop, making for ideal afternoon and weekend getaways. Cheers!!

The city of Asheville boasts of the Chateau on the Hill; its inside reminding us of the historic Victorian era—finding its unique place and acceptance in the United States. Living up to my promise, I visited the American wonder yesterday with my wife Nuzhat, a cancer survivor. From the history and the vineyard to the gardens and the grounds, Biltmore is much more than a house. Built over a six-year period from 1889-95, George Vanderbilt’s French Renaissance chateau remains the largest private residence in America that offered us a scintillating experience.

Depending on one’s convenience, the trip to Biltmore can last anywhere from a single afternoon to several days. Obviously, a visitor is entitled to know each of the estate’s features to best plan a tour.

My Trolley Bus rides into the Estate were smooth. The vehicles were clean and polished. A journey started on the white Trolleys from the Parking Lot, to the proverbial Castle, the Biltmore House. I was surprised to find most first-time guests had arrived from other countries, in spite of the chaos and travel restrictions caused since last year.

I had started touring Vanderbilt’s extraordinary house. Opulent beyond imagination, the Biltmore House covers four acres by itself, totaling 175,000 square feet. A total of 250 rooms contain priceless antiques and art from masters such as Renoir, 65 fireplaces, an indoor pool and a bowling alley. I wonder if my fellow guests could spot Napoleon’s chess set, inside the huge mansion.

Biltmore-1I must take this opportunity to mention that outside of the Biltmore House are acres of beautiful gardens, each an individually themed display. We explored the Italian Garden with its three symmetrical pools and classic statuary, the glass-roofed conservatory that grows tropical plants and orchids year-round, and the 15-acre Azalea Garden, for just a taste of the estate’s botanical beauty.

Nuzhat was reluctant to visit the winery because of religious and cultural constraints which prohibit her from visiting places where alcohol is consumed. With a little bit of persuasion, she agreed to accompany me inside these premises. Next, we had stepped out of America’s biggest home and into America’s most-visited winery, a destination that has welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. A guest can take e time to tour the cellars, fermentation room and corking area, and then taste samples of Biltmore wine. Or ask about the Red Wine and Chocolate Tasting that’s offered daily.

Another interesting location happened to be the Pedestrian-friendly Antler Hill Village – right next to the Winery—which is a bustling center of activity, with live entertainment on the village green, food, shopping and more. Named after one of the Vanderbilt family dogs, Cedric’s Tavern offers classic fare in a relaxed pub atmosphere. Or enjoy ice cream and gourmet coffee at the old-fashioned Creamery.

A visitor can also experience Biltmore through a variety of outdoor activities: hiking, biking, kayaking or horseback riding; tours by carriage ride or river raft; lessons in how to fly fish, shoot sporting clays or drive a Land Rover through off-road obstacles. The Outdoor Adventure Center is the perfect jumping-off point for an exploration of the estate’s 8,000 acres.

The forest created around Biltmore had sparked the beginnings of American forestry. Because of its success, President Lyndon Johnson had deemed it the “Cradle of Forestry in America” by an Act of Congress in 1968. Anytime except winter, you can take off on a guided trail and tour life in the late 1800s, complete with an antique saw mill and historic cabins.

Biltmore-8Once, the entire facility, had originally measured 125,000 acres, Vanderbilt’s widow entered into sale deeds with the Federal Government of USA, much of the land around the estate to the federal government to help create what is now Pisgah National Forest.

To any ‘guest’ visitor looking for a more adventurous Asheville experience, Pisgah affords travelers the chance to explore hundreds of miles of local trails. You can hike, bike, ride horses and more, and feel free to bring Fido: Dogs are welcome on all trails throughout the forest.

I will end this piece, with an excerpt from the book titled: The Mystery of the Biltmore House:

“Good grief,” Michael said as he sat down in one of the 64 enormous upholstered chairs. “My feet don’t even think about touching the floor.”

“This table is longer than the bowling alley,” Trent said. He shielded his eyes with his hand and peered down the long wooden table as though he couldn’t see the other end.

“If you wanted someone to pass you the salt shaker it would take thirty minutes for it to get here,” Wendy agreed.

(Carole Marsh, ‘The Mystery of the Biltmore House’)

[author title=”Nazarul Islam” image=”https://sindhcourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Nazarul-Islam-2.png”]The Bengal-born writer Nazarul Islam is a senior educationist based in USA. He writes for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America. He is author of a recently published book ‘Chasing Hope’ – a compilation of his 119 articles. [/author]