A wine museum bridges the two Bordeaux worlds | The independent
Bordeaux, the region, is historically unrivaled as the largest and most prodigious producer of fine wines in the world.
Bordeaux, the port city on the Garonne, has played a crucial role as a center of the wine trade. Historically, however, it has lacked charm and love, and paradoxically, beyond its commercial ties, Bordeaux has had little connection with the wine producers of the wine regions that define the region and practically surround the city.
But an ambitious wine museum that opened in the city of Bordeaux on the west bank of the river in 2016 is working to change that. While capturing global wine culture in a modern, immersive and multimedia style, La Cité du Vin hopes to serve as a vital link between the urban center of the wine trade and the myriad of producers who have historically distinguished themselves.
Simply a cultural center, the Cité du Vin is brilliantly successful in many ways. As a symbol, the curvaceous, contemporary building designed by XTU, a Parisian architectural firm, swirls from the riverside, much like the Guggenheim Museum flowing uphill on Fifth Avenue. By way of declaration, it is said that conservative and narrow-minded Bordeaux is no more.
Located between the Chartrons districts, the historic center of the wine trade, and Bacalan, a wharf and a manufacturing area, La Cité anchors a growing tourist hub, which includes a huge German concrete bunker that once housed sub- sailors during the Nazi occupation and is now transformed into an underground art center.
The few wine museums I have visited around the world have never really caught the imagination. The more ambitious the museum, the more transparent its promotion for a particular region, a certain producer or the benefits of wine. The most successful were the local ones, which simply featured artifacts without forced narratives.
But La Cité consciously avoids outright promotion and celebration of Bordeaux. Instead, it takes an ecumenical approach, examining the breadth of wine culture around the world and letting history – and the people who make the wines – speak largely for itself.
“The challenge was to say to ourselves: ‘We are not promoting wine, we are promoting the culture of wine’”, explains Sylvie Cazes, who has helped advance the Cité du Vin project at the both as a member of the City of Bordeaux from 2008 to 2014, and as a member of an important Bordeaux wine family which owns, among other properties, Château Lynch-Bages.
Vinexpo Bordeaux, a large trade fair for wine held every two years, was a particular inspiration, she said.
“Vinexpo works because all the wines of the world are participating,” said Cazes. “It made it a success. “
La Cité has 10 levels, including a wine bar, boutique, exhibition spaces, special tasting areas, a theater (named after Thomas Jefferson) and, on the top floor, a panoramic restaurant with a magnificent view of the city.
But at its heart is a permanent exhibition of 19 thematic spaces that offer insight into the vineyards of the world, the development of the domesticated vineyard, the intricacies of wine making, the nuances of tasting and drinking, and presentations. history on transporting wine and enjoying it dating back to 6000BC.
Ultimately, this begs the existential question of why humans have gone to such extreme efforts to create a drink that is not essential to existence.
Upon arrival, visitors are given a “travel companion,” individual, cell-phone-sized electronic guides that connect directly to each stop on the tour, explaining in eight languages exactly what you’re watching and how to interact with it. From there, you are on your own, free to wander among the exhibits at your own pace, in your own way.
You can start with a dizzying virtual helicopter tour of the world’s vineyards, a global glimpse that spans the globe in about 15 minutes on three large, curved screens. Or you could watch winemakers discussing their vineyards, from the famous, like Dominique Lafon in Meursault Perrières, one of the great springs of white Burgundy, to a monseigneur at the wine cellar of the Alaverdi monastery in the country of Georgia, one of the cradles of the wine civilization. , where techniques have changed little over the centuries.
The videos are so crisp that at one point I found out that I couldn’t pay attention to winemaker Wilhelm Haag from Fritz Haag, a good riesling producer in the Moselle region of Germany, because the web of background – Juffer Sonnenuhr’s incredibly craggy vineyard – distracted me with C’est la beauté.
Exhibits explain how vines and grapes were domesticated, how they occupied exalted mythological positions within ancient societies, and how vines adapt to very different terrains.
Atmospheric enhancements creep in almost unconsciously when you examine the exhibit: birdsong, thunder, helicopter noise. Later, discovering the use of barrels and the evolution of wine in them over time, I suddenly realized that I smelled of oak, used in the construction of the display.
Not all exhibits are so downright historical. A buffet table offers the opportunity to ‘indulge in the sensory experience of wine tasting’, offering surprisingly effective examples of different aromas and textures, and the ability to test your nose if desired.
I especially enjoyed a lively presentation of how wine merchants through the ages have challenged themselves over the millennia to transport wine overseas to customers who wanted it. This is not strictly realistic, as one character berates a god: “You are all the same. You have eternity but no patience.
The entire tour can take around two hours, after which you are ready for the glass of wine included with entry.
The permanent exhibition is aimed at all those who wish to know more about wine. La Cité also offers two temporary exhibitions per year, in connection with other wine regions, which explore specific subjects such as wine and art, or wine and music.
In its first year, Cazes said, 445,000 visitors came to the museum, which far exceeded initial forecasts.
A particularly encouraging sign for La Cité is that the city of Bordeaux is now attracting more visitors. Once drab and dirty, with few places of interest to visit or eat, Bordeaux has undergone a transformation in the past 15 years.
The facades of its 18th and 19th century architecture, once gray with grime, shine today. An extensive new tram system provides an easy-to-use public transport network, and the narrow streets of the Old Town are filled with busy restaurants and wine bars. In truth, many wine bars are so trendy that it’s much easier to find natural wines than it is to get a bottle of good old Bordeaux.
As to whether La Cité can help bridge the gap between the city and its surrounding wine industry, tourism will play a central role in its success. The museum will serve as a starting point for visits to the Médoc, the historic district encompassing the famous districts of Margaux, St-Julien and Pauillac. Some will go by bus. Others will leave by boat from La Cité, up the Garonne to the Gironde estuary.
Tourism has not historically been encouraged in Bordeaux areas, Cazes said. Cellars were not equipped for tours and, she said, Bordeaux traders feared visitors would buy wine directly from producers rather than through their networks.
Indeed, the Bordeaux tourist office has an office within La Cité, she said, and is eager to sell tickets for tours.
© New York Times