When one of my best gal pals and I started talking about traveling to Asheville in early November, she and I decided Christmas at the Biltmore (and the Biltmore Winery, in particular) would be the way to go… but neither of us wanted to spend crazy amounts of money to make it happen.
The two of us set a budget of $200 each and started planning our weekend, determined to stay under the limit. And you know what? We succeeded, and we had a damn magical time doing it.
The first step here was figuring out which of the Biltmore’s offered experiences we wanted to partake in during our trip and purchasing our tickets. There were so many options to choose from, but we knew that to stay under budget, we should probably limit ourselves to about three. We decided on:
- Biltmore Estate Tour – Includes a self-guided visit of the Biltmore house, the formal and informal gardens, and the conservatory, AND a complimentary wine-tasting for adults (more on that last part later) – $65 each
- Red Wine & Chocolate Tasting – Featuring locally produced artisan chocolates from French Broad Chocolate and a selection of red wines from the Biltmore Winery – $25 each
- Candlelight Winery Tour – Includes an intimate tour of the historic winemaking building, followed by a light pairing of estate wines and local cheeses – $20 each
- Lunch at the Stable Cafe – A girl’s gotta eat when she’s gonna be tasting wines all afternoon and evening, right? We ate a big breakfast before we drove to Asheville, then got this late lunch, and that was enough for us – $20 each, with tip
- Room at an AirBnB – Yeah, we weren’t boujee enough to spring for an on-site hotel room, so we found an AirBnB just a mile south of the Biltmore Estate at a reasonable rate – $50 each
- Gas – Might as well include everything we spent money on, right? – $10 each
The total came to $190 each for the whole experience, including a place to sleep after we were done frolicking around this wine-filled winter wonderland. We were in business.
First up: the Biltmore Estate tour
Having never visited the Biltmore before, we pulled up to the estate and audibly gasped. The house’s exterior was all done up for the Christmas season, starting with a tree more than 50 feet tall standing proudly on the front lawn. Everywhere we looked, there were wreaths, garland, ornaments and string lights, glinting merrily in the sunlight. I can only imagine how the house must glow in the evenings once the sun has gone down.
Every bit of this estate was magnificent, and almost too elegant. We opted out of the audio guide, choosing the self-guided house tour. It still took us about an hour and a half to make our way through every floor and room of the home – during which time, we saw 55 impeccably decorated Christmas trees. By the time we were finished exploring the grounds, our feet were tired and we were ready to sit down and grab some food. Which brings me to…
Next: lunch at the Stable Café
We’re frugal people, that much is certain. But we also wanted a hearty meal that would fill our stomachs before we spent the afternoon sipping vino at the Biltmore Winery.
My travel partner, Kara, needed some gluten-free options to choose from, and thankfully the Stable Café had plenty of options to choose from – and most of those options rang in at under $20. She ended up ordering the House Smoked Turkey Sandwich on gluten-free bread ($15.95) and I got the Seared Portabella (also $15.95), for a reasonably priced and delightfully filling meal.
Then, the moment we’d been waiting for: the red wine & chocolate tasting
We made our way from the estate down to the Biltmore Winery, where we found our guide for the Red Wine & Chocolate Tasting we’d been excited for since leaving Charlotte that morning. Our guide led us from the winery’s gift shop out toward a European-inspired clock tower, then into the historic wine-making building. He brought us through a bright tasting room, where the tables were prepared with dozens of place settings including four glasses of wine and four chocolates.
First, he led us past these tables to a mezzanine overlooking the wine fermenters. The air smelled vaguely acidic due to the fermenting process, which he outlined for us. He briefly overviewed the history of the winery itself and the process of making red wine before leading us back into the tasting room, where everyone (yours truly included) immediately whipped out their phones to snap a photo of the selection laid before us.
Our chocolate and wine pairings started with the lightest (milk chocolate and Pinot Noir) and ended with the darkest (a dark chocolate truffle and Malbec), and our guide talked us through the flavors we should note in each pairing. Then he encouraged us to mix and match the chocolates and wines as we wished, making note of how each might impact the other’s flavor.
Our only grievance was that we weren’t offered water with the tasting to help us cleanse our palates between pairings. Aside from that, the experience was as delectable as we had anticipated, and we left satisfied.
Sadly, a let-down: the candlelit winery tour
After the red wine and chocolate tasting, we were debating whether we should book the wine and cheese hour or the candlelit winery tour. Because I’m gluttonous, I was leaning toward the wine and cheese hour initially. However, the woman I spoke to about purchasing our tickets for each event recommended we go with the candlelit winery tour, since it would conclude with a light tasting of wines and cheeses. We followed her advice and went with the candlelit winery tour, and that’s honestly the only thing I regretted about our Christmas at the Biltmore experience.
After touring the Biltmore Estate, an establishment that seemed to take pride in decorating every inch of available space beautifully down to every tiny detail, we were surprised to find that our “candlelit winery tour” was primarily lit by flameless, battery-operated tea lights. And if you’re sitting there thinking, maybe real candles would have been a fire hazard with all of that fermenting going on around you, the two random clusters of real candles throughout the tour (like those pictured above) are there to disprove that theory.
Then finally, we came to the light tasting of wines and cheeses… which looked like two slices of pre-packaged yellow American cheese and two slices of white cheddar cheese with a few Ritz crackers. Again, there was no water offered to “cleanse the palate” between tastings, but honestly, we didn’t really mind since we weren’t expecting that Kraft cheese to have much of an impact on the flavor of the few wines we tasted.
Pro tip: Spring for the wine and cheese hour instead! It cost $25 as opposed to the $20 candlelit winery tour, which would still keep the grand total of our Christmas at the Biltmore experience at $195.
Finally, our favorite part (and the best bang for your buck): the complimentary wine tasting
After our not-the-most-amazing experience on the candlelit winery tour, we were ready to take advantage of the complimentary wine tasting that came with our admission to the Biltmore Estate.
I expected them to give us a limit of four or five tastes in our tiny, taster-sized wine glasses. But we were thrilled to find out that, much like the epiphany moment that Lindsay Lohan has during that climactic scene we all remember from Mean Girls, THE LIMIT DOES NOT EXIST.
Seriously: you can ask for them to fill up that taster glass with as many of the wines on the menu as you want, as many times as you want, and they’ll do it. We spent about an hour sitting at that bar underneath a stunning ornament display, asking for details about each wine as we sipped and determined what we did and didn’t like.
We left the Biltmore Winery happily tipsy and without putting too much of a dent in our wallets, so all in all, we were pretty pleased with how the day unfolded.
We ordered a $5 Uber back to our AirBnB, bringing us to a grand total of $195 for our entire excursion. So, if you’re looking for a wine-filled winter adventure to take without spending a fortune, take it from me: Christmas at the Biltmore doesn’t have to break the bank. Happy holidays, y’all.