Photographer: AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Bordeaux’s $81 Million Cité Du Vin Aims to Be the Guggenheim of Wine

A high tech museum devoted to global wine culture is aimed at attracting tourists—particularly millennials—to the historic wine region. The goal is to make visitors think of wine in a whole new way.

On June 1st, Bordeaux’s newest attraction will open on the banks of the river Garonne: the Cité du Vin, or City of Wine. The  $81 million project is housed in a futuristic building said to be inspired by a snifter of Burgundy swilling around a glass, though it also evokes a cow horn used in biodynamic wine harvesting. This design, by Parisian architects XTU, was chosen from a shortlist of five. “The four other could have been anything—an airport, a hotel—and we didn’t want a wonderful, empty box,” explains director Philippe Massol by cellphone from Bordeaux. Nicknamed the Guggenheim of Wine, the Cité du Vin isn’t aimed at buttressing the reputation of Bordeaux’s local vintages or even that of the region. Rather, it wants to position the city as the capital of winemaking across the world, the only place that brings an industry spanning around 80 countries together in one gleaming new site. It uses 20 different multimedia installations to do so, telling the story of wine in a distinctly French way. Here are some highlights – and don’t worry, there’s a bar or two on site, too.

  1. The Tour of the World's Vineyards
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    The Tour of the World's Vineyards

    The first exhibit is an exhilarating mashup of footage shot by a helicopter crew hovering above vineyards around the world; it’s an immersive experience shown across three giant screens. “We’ve been filming across five continents for the last year,” explains exhibition designer Roger Mann by telephone from his office in London, noting how exciting it is to see the contrast between the vast plain-like vineyards in Australia or California compared with the hilly steppes in France or even the strange curvy plantings found in French Polynesia.

    Source: Courtesy of Casson Mann

  2. The Terroir Table
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    The Terroir Table

    This installation helps explain the idea of terroir, using video interviews with winemakers from 10 renowned regions. Vintners from Mosel, Rioja or the Barossa Valley explain how the conditions in their particular area impact vines: are they thirsty for water, perhaps, or climbing to get better light? Roger Mann installed these panels on an undulating table intended to emulate terroir. “It’s projection mapped, and the images on the table go through the season—birds, clouds, rain passes over, it’s like a digital landscape.”

    Source: Courtesy of Casson Mann

  3. Man is the Gardener
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    Man is the Gardener

    One wall at the Cité du Vin is festooned with stylized vines, from which dangle an assortment of iPad-sized touchscreens, each about the same size as a ripe bunch of grapes. Visitors can handle them, and so explore different varieties of grape in each tablet: its flavor characteristics, how it’s used by winegrowers and even the diseases or challenges around cultivation.

    Source: Courtesy of Casson Mann

  4. All Aboard!
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    All Aboard!

    Wine has been a global export since ancient times, and this scrapbook-like, immersive film looks back at several regular trade voyages through the centuries.

    Source: Courtesy of Casson Mann

  5. The Gallery of Civilizations
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    The Gallery of Civilizations

    “Walking in here, it’s as if you’ve been shrunk and are walking around inside a big wooden crate—ten rooms that walk you through 3,000 years of history via ten significant moments [in wine] through that time,” says Mann. Those include a hieroglyph-spattered tribute to Egyptian vintages or the story of how Prohibition took hold in early 20th century America.

    Source: Courtesy of Casson Mann

  6. The Buffett of the Five Senses
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    The Buffett of the Five Senses

    It’s not legal in France to include wine in the exhibition itself, so this section is the closest visitors come to a snifter before the restaurants upstairs (see below). The standout is the smelling games visitors can play through a sequence of cloches. Inside each is an item that might be used to describe the nose of a wine—strawberries, wood shavings, a flower; squeeze the rubber bellows attached, and it delivers a burst of that scent for you to inhale.

    Source: Courtesy of Casson Mann

  7. Famous Fans
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    Famous Fans

    The latter part of the exhibition moves beyond cultivation and manufacture of wine, focusing instead on the cultural associations around it. Actor Pierre Arditi hosts a video where actors play famous oenophiles like Maria Callas, Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill talking about wine.

    Source: Courtesy of Casson Mann

  8. The Chair of Despair
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    The Chair of Despair

    Yes, the Cité du Vin even includes a tribute to the gueule du bois—or the hangover. “It’s an enormous chair where you sit, alone, while artists and poets who drank too much tell their stories,” Mann explains. Only the French could turn a thumping headache into an artistic statement.

    Source: Courtesy of Casson Mann

  9. The Art of the Good Life
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    The Art of the Good Life

    This enormous banqueting table is the climax of the exhibition, and is intended to treat the food served alongside wine with appropriate gravitas (after all, UNESCO declared French cuisine an intangible asset of world heritage status). “It visually morphs through different parties, and you see food projected onto plates, wine labels and drawings—a look across many cultures and time periods,” raves Roger Man, who calls its “one of the nicest things in the exhibition.”

    Source: Courtesy of Casson Mann

  10. Restaurants
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    Restaurants

    Though there’s no chance to sample wine in the exhibition space, there are several standalone options onsite. The Belvedere on the 8th floor, which is included in the ticket price, will have a rotating selection of 20 different vintages; each will be from a particular region or country that’s partnered with the museum. Plus, local chef Nicolas Lascombes from the well-known Brasserie Bordelaise will helm the kitchen at the as-yet unnamed fine dining restaurant on the 7th floor. “We want him to cook with products from here, but with flavors from all over the world.” The wittily named Latitude 20—say it out loud, in French—is a wine store and tapas bar where you can buy bottles from more than 80 countries; the corkage fee to open one onsite is just 10 euros.

    Photographer: Mehdi Fedouach/AFP/Getty Images