A quote pinned to the wall in winemaker Sharon Fenchak's Biltmore Winery office, might just sum up this mover & shaker in the North Carolina wine world: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, wine in the other, body totally worn out and screaming, ‘WHOO HOO,’ what a ride!”
By Colleen Thompson
Winemaker, Sharon Fenchak grew up in small-town Pennsylvania before joining the United States Army as a Communications Specialist stationed in Europe. After returning to the US, and earning a bachelor’s degree in food science from Penn State University, a master’s degree from the University of Georgia at Athens, and her MBA from Western Carolina University, she started her winemaking career. Under the wing of winemaker Andrew Beaty, she started as assistant winemaker at Habersham Winery in Baldwin, Georgia. She went onto Chestnut Mountain Winery in Braselton, Georgia before joining Biltmore’s team as assistant winemaker under the guidance of veteran French winemaker Bernard Delille in 1999 and was promoted to winemaker in 2003. Sharon has served as VP of Biltmore Wines and head winemaker since 2018.
How It All Started
“Both of my grandmothers lived within driving distance to me growing up. They really sparked my interest in agriculture; they loved gardening and enjoyed feeding family and friends. I was also interested in science from a young age -- fermentations fascinated me,” says Fenchak.
“When I was stationed in Vicenza, Italy, I developed an appreciation for the wines of the region, particularly Moscato. I knew then that I would begin an education in food science and pursue a career in wine.”
Challenges to Being a Winemaker
“Working for a winery in North Carolina, can be a challenge to be taken as seriously as some of our winemaking friends on the West Coast. A lot of people think about wine production in the United States and immediately think of California, Oregon, and Washington,” explains Fenchak. “I think the perception is changing as winemaking is now taking place in all 50 states and North Carolina’s wine industry is growing and evolving. An additional challenge in the beginning was being a woman in the winemaking world 20-some years ago. A lot has changed in the industry and female winemakers are more prevalent than ever before, which is great to see.”
Proudest Winemaking Moment
“When I was promoted to winemaker at Biltmore in 2003. There had only been two other winemakers in Biltmore’s history and it was a defining moment in my career. Personally, I’m also incredibly proud of the quality of our wines and how they’ve only gotten better over time. My team that works alongside me is second to none,” says Fenchak.
Changes and Adaptations Since Covid 19
"We have moved to a new reservation system for complimentary wine tastings in our tasting room. This is a change that occurred as Biltmore Winery reopened after a brief closure at the height of the pandemic, and the reservation system remains in place," explains Fenchak. "We hear from our guests that they are enjoying this more intimate tasting room experience. Reservations must be made on the day of a visit. Because our complimentary wine tastings fill up quickly, we recommend guests reserve their tasting when they arrive on the estate for the day. To reserve a tasting, simply use your mobile device to scan QR codes on signs posted throughout the estate. Guests can also visit any Guest Services location, including the Reception and Ticketing Sales Center, Biltmore House, Antler Hill Village, or the Winery."
"We are also continuing to stay connected with our Wine Club Membership through a number of virtual educational tastings that really took off during the height of the pandemic. Wine is very social and we’re enjoying keeping that social connection going with our guests by taking our Winery experience into peoples’ homes more often."
Wine of the Moment
"We will be releasing our newest vintage of Biltmore Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc this October. We haven’t had these wines in the past couple of years and I’m excited to have them back in our portfolio."
What Wines Can We Look Forward To From Biltmore
"We should be getting in our first significant harvest of Petite Manseng from our own vineyard this harvest. I’m excited to see how this varietal is coming along and see the potential of the grapes. We are also looking forward to hopefully making some good barrel fermented Chardonnay along with some North Carolina red wines."
Reasons to love North Carolina
“The mountains, access to outdoor adventure, and the people,” confirms Fenchak.
Words to Live By
“I have quite a few favorite quotes and many of them are on display in my office. One came to me when I visited my friend Saralee Kunde vineyard in the Russian River Valley.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, wine in the other, body totally worn out and screaming, ‘WHOO HOO,’ what a ride!”
I believe this quote is anonymous (I haven’t seen it attributed to anyone). Saralee passed away a few years ago but she was a great role model for the wine and grape industry. I just love this quote.