The Guggenheim of wine

Cite du Vin, a high-tech museum in Bordeaux devoted to global wine, is aimed at attracting tourists to the historic wine region

On June 1, Bordeaux's newest attraction will open on the banks of the river Garonne - the Cite du Vin or City of Wine.

The  US$81-million (S$113-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.

The design, by Parisian architects XTU, was chosen from a shortlist of five. "The four others could have been anything - an airport, a hotel - and we didn't want a wonderful, empty box," says director Philippe Massol.

Nicknamed the Guggenheim of wine, the Cite du Vin is not aimed at buttressing the reputation of Bordeaux's vintages or the region's.

Rather, it wants to position the city as the capital of winemaking across the world, the only place that brings an industry spanning about 80 countries together in one gleaming new site.


The design for the Cite du Vin is inspired by a snifter of Burgundy swilling around a glass. PHOTO: BORDEAUX TOURISME/ INSTAGRAM

It uses 20 different multimedia installations to tell the story of wine in a distinctly French way. Here are some highlights - and do not worry, there is a bar or two on site too.

Tour Of The World's Vineyards

The first exhibit is an exhilarating mash-up of footage shot by a helicopter crew hovering above vineyards around the world. It is an immersive experience shown across three giant screens.

"We've been filming across five continents for the last year," says exhibition designer Roger Mann, noting how exciting it is to see the contrast between the vast plain- like vineyards of Australia and California, the hilly steppes in France and the strange, curvy plantings in French Polynesia.

The Terroir Table

The 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?

Man Is The Gardener

One wall at the Cite du Vin is festooned with stylised vines, from which dangle an assortment of iPad-sized touchscreens. Visitors can handle them and explore different varieties of grape on each tablet - its flavour characteristics, how it is used by winegrowers and the diseases or challenges around cultivation.

All Aboard!

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

The Gallery Of Civilisations

"Walking in here, it's as if you've been shrunk and are inside a big wooden crate - 10 rooms that walk you through 3,000 years of history via 10 significant moments (in wine)," says Mann. These include a hieroglyph-spattered tribute to Egyptian vintages and the story of how Prohibition took hold in early 20th-century America.

The Buffet Of The Five Senses

It is not legal in France to include wine in the exhibition itself, so this section is the closest visitors come to a snifter before a restaurant upstairs. 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.

Famous Fans

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

The Chair Of Despair

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

The Art Of The Good Life

An enormous banquet table is the climax of the exhibition and is intended to treat the food served alongside wine with appropriate gravitas. "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," says Mann, who calls it "one of the nicest things in the exhibition".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline 'The Guggenheim of wine'. Print Edition | Subscribe