Take a tour of La Cité du Vin
By: Kathy Kelley
Just a few months ago, On June 1, La Cité du Vin (City of Wine), a.k.a. “the world’s first wine theme park” and “a Guggenheim for grape lovers” (http://bit.ly/1qKzP1h) welcomed its first visitors. I was able to visit this amazing facility at the end of June as part of the 10th Annual American Association of Wine Economists’ Conference that took place in Bordeaux, France (http://www.wine-economics.org). Just as I provided a bit of information about last year’s visit to the Brotte Wine Museum, Chateauneuf du Pape, France (http://bit.ly/2c325uQ), I wanted to share some images from my La Cité du Vin visit with our readers.
The impressive structure resides along the Garonne River and took three years to complete and cost approximately 91.5 million U.S. dollars (excluding Value Added Tax, http://bit.ly/2cavUJU). According to the architects, the design reflects “a space shaped by symbols of identify: gnarled vine stock, wine swirling in a glass, eddies on the Garonne. Every detail of the architecture evokes wine’s soul and liquid nature” (http://bit.ly/2bcpEB9). Even from a great distance it is fairly easy to navigate to the building as it shimmers in the sunlight.
Click on the following URL to see an aerial view of the structure: http://bit.ly/2be9ep6
As I’m sure you can imagine, our group of 100+ was anxious to get inside and explore. As soon at the doors opened at 9:30 a.m. (the entrance time that was booked for us) little time was wasted before we climbed a flight of stairs to the permanent exhibit.
Though tickets (approx. $22) are sold with entrance times on the hour and half hour, there is no limit as to how long visitors can spend in the permanent exhibit. Because of our group’s schedule for the afternoon (which consisted of a winery tour and tasting and a visit to Saint Emilion, a small town in the region), we had approximately one and a half hours to explore. With so much to see and since many displays are interactive – we could have easily spent half a day or more in La Cité du Vin. With a restaurant and café on site – we could have probably spent the entire day. What I describe below is just a portion of what we saw during or short time in the permanent exhibit.
Learning about some of the basics
One of the first displays that we visited was called e-vine. The handheld audio device that we received at the exhibit’s entrance allowed us to scan codes on the display and learn about topics such as biodiversity and specific grape varieties. For example, by scanning the code on the Viognier leaf I could either listen to a narrator talk about the grape, aromas, wines made from the grape, main producing countries, and similar or read the text that appeared on my device’s screen.
Wine portraits: The six major wine families
Other displays in La Cité du Vin also had this level (or greater) degree of interactivity. After entering the wine portraits display (below), we were encouraged to enter one of six bottle-shaped booths, each focusing on one of the “six major families” (http://bit.ly/2bt2moE): dry white, red, rosé, sparkling, fortified, and sweet.
I first chose the sparkling display. By touching the screen I could make “bubbles” and pull up a menu of related topics that included production methods, economic importance, history, and sensory characteristics.
A tête-à-tête with wine experts & testing my wine knowledge
Imagine being able to have a one-on-one (sort of) with some of the world’s most renowned wine experts. During my visit, I had the opportunity to learn from Olivier Poussier (winner, world’s best sommelier, 2000) about the intricacies of wine. While he did all of the talking, it was a pretty interesting way of learning about his thoughts and his approach to enjoying wine.
I also got the chance to test my wine knowledge. After selecting one of the four levels of difficulty, ranging from young audiences to expert, I answered 10 true/false and multiple choice questions. Again, an interesting and interactive way to learn about wine.
“The Buffet of the 5 Senses”
Anyone visiting the La Cité du Vin would expect a display or two on the senses and wine, thus “The Buffet of the 5 Senses” exhibit. Do you want to really experience the aromas of what can be detected in wine? This can be achieved by leaning into a funnel connected to a bell jar that is filled with lemons/lemon oils, honey combs, etc. By simultaneously pumping a black rubber squeeze bulb and breaking in through the nose – visitors can experience the pure essence of these and other “everyday smells” such as pencil shavings and mint.
How important is wine to cultures and economies?
Interested in learning about how wine economies across the globe differ? Perhaps you are even interested in learning about how wine has impacted culture and how the industries have evolved in old and new world wine countries. Or, perhaps you would like a refresher on how climate impacts what grape varieties are grown in different regions and where they originated. In the worlds of wine display visitors can spin different globes and learn about these topics specific to various regions and/or countries. The corresponding information is then projected on the screen attached to the globe.
By spinning the wine and economy globe and positioning the screen in front of western Europe – I could see symbols that represent the extent to which the wine industry impacts each country’s economy.
How Bordeaux has changed over time
Not only do visits learn specifically about wine, but how Bordeaux has changed in appearance, size, and purpose since the Middle Ages. In essence, “how a great commercial port gave birth to a land of mythical wine” (http://bit.ly/2bzwoZe).
In the “Bordeaux: the city and its wine” display, visitors can place one of the four different chess-piece like figurines, each representing a specific period in time, on the interactive board. A series of corresponding digital images and text then appears on the screen above. For example, by placing the figurine that corresponds to the medieval period (that I have circled in red, see image below) on one of the white circles on the interactive board (at the point of the red arrow) I was able to explore the city as it would have appeared prior to the 16th century, including the port of Tropeyte, which (as you might guess), wine was “the main export product” (https://nda.revues.org/2577#tocto1n2).
A tasting and a view
How else could you end a tour of this much anticipated, experiential wine theme park? With a wine tasting of course. The entrance fee includes a tasting of one wine or, for those who don’t imbibe or children, grape juice. Never had the chance to try Chinese, Croatian, or Greek wine? You can taste one of these at the Belvedere – a tasting room 115 feet above street level.
Though wine glasses are not allowed on the deck surrounding the tasting room, visitors can enjoy a nearly 360 degree view of the Garonne River and the surrounding cityscape.
Plenty of souvenirs available to commemorate a visit
Just as you might pick up a souvenir at a traditional theme park, there are plenty of items for purchase at La Cité du Vin. In addition to the tradition gift shop and the types of items you might expect to find, visitors can walk through Latitude20 and view more than 800 wines with selections from Syria, Ethiopia, Namibia, Peru, Bali, and Tahit. If buying a bottle doesn’t appeal, there are 50 wines that are sold by the glass.
Again, that is just a portion of what you will find when you visit La Cité du Vin. Just like visiting a theme park – visitors would benefit from planning their day in advance. To prepare for your visit, click on the link to La Cité du Vin: http://www.laciteduvin.com/en. In addition, the following article published by the Decanter provides information on traveling to Bordeaux, finding the La Cité du Vin, and a helpful presentation of the floor plan: http://bit.ly/2bfEVeC.