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Tastings: Biltmore Winery by Little & Associates

Asheville, North Carolina: A converted dairy barn regains its historic presence.

by Kristen Richards
March 14, 2002

In the late 1800’s, George Washington Vanderbilt commissioned architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design his 250-room chateau and 125,000-acre estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Today (at only 5,000 acres) the Biltmore Estate stands as the largest single residence in the United States. (Last year, National Geographic Traveler named it one of the 50 “must-see” destinations and one of 10 national wonders in America.)


The Estate’s dairy barn was enlarged and converted into the Biltmore Winery in the 1980’s. The conversion, however good the intent, clouded the original features. Aesthetically, there was no historical mystique or grandeur to tie it to its history or site. The space needed to incorporate the “allure” and elevate the level of experience to that of the main attraction – the Biltmore Mansion. Charlotte-based Little & Associates Architects was commissioned to redesign the retail space and the overall tour experience.


A detailed survey of customers and staff revealed elemental design challenges. Leading the list of concerns was limited space – the shopping experience was rushed and cramped, and there was no easy way to transport wines from storage to the sales floor for stocking purposes. Added to that was the need to correct poor orientation and circulation from the self-lead tour to the wine tasting to the retail area – visitors were unclear about the flow.


The design team’s most important challenge was to resolve these concerns with respect to the winery’s interests – that sales increase (per visitor) and that there be a significant return on their investment. It was important to restore the winery according to some of the basic historic architectural principles that had been compromised by previous renovations. “The project sought to reintroduce clarity to the original design, and return the building to some of the basic principles established by Hunt," says project designer Jeffrey A. Kenoff, AIA.


The existing architecture was utilized as a precedent in the design of the new addition, and architectural materials and details were re-used where appropriate. Wood arches in the pavilion came from an arched dormer in an area clock tower. Many of the same materials such as stucco, brick, and wood were incorporated into the addition. Even the structural system and shape of the roof were replicated from the original design. Stone pavers from the original courtyard were removed, cleaned, and re-used as the tour patio flooring. Decorative windows and doors were reclaimed and composed to form a new exterior wall. Demolished cedar shake roofing and copper gutters were reused on the new entry portico.


Smaller venues -- a premium tasting counter, cooking demonstration area, general merchandising, tabletop décor display, and a ten register cash wrap -- are uniquely expressed through fixtures, lighting, and finishes. The final result is a design that balances old and new construction. Through function, circulation, detail, and image, the renovation sets the framework to celebrate the original design, and creates a new perception of the wine on display – and for sale.


A key indicator of the overall success came when a visitor was overheard telling a staff member that the renovations and addition “look as if they have always been there.”


A team of architects, engineers, interior designers, merchandising specialists, and construction cost consultants made a winning combination. “The interactive and collaborative process between the client and the design team not only fostered the project’s success from a retailing standpoint, but also ensured its architectural impact and importance,” says Steven Starr, Little & Associates’ Director of Restaurant & Specialty Retail.


The Biltmore Winery received an AIA Honor Award in 2000, and was completed in May 2001.


Size: 49,975 square feet (plus 4,000-square-foot addition)


Little & Associates Design Team: Steven Starr (Director-in-Charge), Jeffrey Kenoff, AIA, Wesley Stephens

Electrical Engineer: Beacon Engineering

Mechanical/Plumbing Engineer: R3 Engineering

Structural Engineer: Wright-Gibson Group

Food Service Equipment Consultant: Trimark-Foodcraft

Construction Cost Consultant: Richard Rutherford Associates

Contractor: McCarroll Construction, Inc

Display Fixtures: Suss Woodcraft

Photographer: Don Dubroff Photography (704-321-0410)


Little & Associates, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., has offices in Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia, Research Triangle Park, NC, Silver Spring, MD, and Washington, DC. The firm specializes in six industry sectors: Office, Community and Education, Financial, Retail, Facilities Management, and Interior Architecture. The firm’s range of services include Architecture, Engineering, Interior Architecture, Land Planning, Graphic Design, Facility Management, Technology, and Virtual Environments.


(Photo: Don Dubroff Photography)
Approach to the Biltmore Winery.

(Photo: Don Dubroff Photography)
The Winery entrance.

(Photo: Don Dubroff Photography)
The patio and clock tower.

(Photo: Don Dubroff Photography)
Wine retail displays.

(Photo: Don Dubroff Photography)
Food demonstration area.


© 2002