Bordeaux’s City of Wine

A theme park for oenophiles

Gulf & Main - - Special Edition -

Awine-themed amuse­ment park may sound like the whimsy of a bedrag­gled par­ent who just sur­vived a trip to Or­lando’s theme parks—but it ex­ists. La Cité du Vin (trans­la­tion: the city of wine) sits within the famed Bordeaux re­gion of France. The adult at­trac­tion opened in May 2016 and has since been re­ferred to as both a “Guggen­heim for grape lovers” and a “theme park” by Condé Nast Trav­eler. Through the ages, Bordeaux has acted as the cul­tural cap­i­tal of wine, his­tor­i­cally con­nect­ing global civ­i­liza­tions via its port.

La Cité du Vin sits be­side the Garonne River, its strik­ing sculp­tural ar­chi­tec­ture rem­i­nis­cent of a knot­ted vine stock, ed­dies on the Garonne or even wine swirling in a glass, as the of­fi­cial web­site sug­gests. The mu­seum’s self-guided tour be­gins on the ground floor of the rounded wooden vault and winds up­ward through 20 themed spa­ces. Even­tu­ally, vis­i­tors reach the eighth floor in the Belvedere, of­fer­ing a 360-de­gree view of Bordeaux. Here vis­i­tors can taste wines from around the world as they gaze over the re­gion’s fa­mous vine­yards and the UNESCO World Her­itage Site, Port de la Lune, Bordeaux’s his­toric port city.

For more vino, the ground-floor Lat­i­tude20 Brasserie wine bar serves 50 dif­fer­ent wines by the glass and more than 800 bot­tles of wines from more than 80 coun­tries. The wine list at Restau­rant Le 7 on the sev­enth floor has “only” 500 va­ri­eties, which are served with fine dishes made with sea­sonal, re­gional pro­duce.

Al­though La Cité du Vin of­fers a boat-ride sim­u­la­tion that cov­ers wine his­tory from 6000 B.C. to the present and a ban­quet reen­act­ment of dis­tin­guished fig­ures dis­cussing their re­gional wines, the at­trac­tion is more aptly de­scribed as a mu­seum than a theme park. Free­lance travel writer Katie Ham­mel ex­plains that the gi­nor­mous wine at­trac­tion is not a grown-up ver­sion of Dis­ney­land; in­stead, it is “a very in­ter­ac­tive mu­seum that cov­ers just about ev­ery as­pect of wine his­tory, pro­duc­tion and cul­ture.” She par­tic­u­larly en­joys the op­por­tu­ni­ties to iden­tify unique scents and dis­tin­guish among dif­fer­ent wine-col­ored shades, from gar­net to ruby.

In ad­di­tion to hands-on ac­tiv­i­ties, the mu­seum show­cases im­pres­sive tech­nol­ogy. “Amid the Cité du Vin’s oeno­log­i­cal delights, it’s ac­tu­ally the clever tech that stands out,” states travel writer El­lie Aldridge. “At the start, your in­ter­est is piqued with a vir­tual-meets-phys­i­cal e-vine, where you can pair your au­dio­gu­ide with in­di­vid­ual leaves to learn more about dif­fer­ent va­ri­etals.” The holo­gram boxes in the gallery of civ­i­liza­tions also amuse when “toga-clad Ro­man par­ty­go­ers turn up to swig wine and dance in what you thought was a static dis­play.” From scent to sight, the mu­seum brings wine to life through an im­mer­sive ap­proach that ap­peals to the senses.

Those who are in­spired to tour the re­gion’s vine­yards and wit­ness the wine­mak­ing process up close can ar­range such a trip through the Wine Tours desk in La Cité du Vin’s en­trance hall. You can choose to travel by boat or coach to the fer­tile, time-hon­ored Bordeaux vine­yards.

The mul­tilin­gual read­ing room at La Cité du Vin has a large se­lec­tion of wine-fo­cused mul­ti­me­dia pub­li­ca­tions. One of the 1,200 works may catch your eye, whether it’s re­search by lead­ing sci­en­tists or pages of car­toon draw­ings.

When you need a breather from tour­ing the vast Cité du Vin, make sure to spend time in its wild gar­dens with views of the river and its quaint lit­tle quays.

In ad­di­tion to the per­ma­nent tour at La Cité du Vin, the mu­seum presents tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions and a va­ri­ety of wine-themed work­shops. Dur­ing the spring, tem­po­rary wine ex­hibits fo­cus on cul­tural and artis­tic themes, dis­play­ing art­work and ar­ti­facts from other mu­se­ums and pri­vate col­lec­tions; dur­ing the fall, a sin­gle global wine re­gion is high­lighted. (The Porto re­gion of Por­tu­gal was se­lected as the guest vine­yard for 2018, and Ar­gentina will fol­low in 2019.)

The 250-seat Thomas Jef­fer­son au­di­to­rium holds con­certs and cin­ema screen­ings, while con­fer­ence rooms hold sem­i­nars that will en­tice wine con­nois­seurs and novices alike. You can learn to dis­tin­guish var­i­ous aro­mas and how best to pair food with wine. You can also grow your palate with ses­sions such as “Some­thing for Ev­ery Taste!”, which is even child-friendly. Other work­shops dis­cuss the wines of writ­ers and mu­si­cians, but be careful which ones you sign up for—some are de­liv­ered in French only.

If you feel hap­pily drowsy af­ter­wards, join the or­ga­nized siesta with a spe­cial at­mo­spheric vine­yard sound­track of foot­steps tread­ing across the soil and shears clip­ping the grapevines. As you drift off, con­grat­u­late your­self on plan­ning an equally ed­u­ca­tional and en­ter­tain­ing adult trip. Santé.

Ali­son Roberts-Tse has been hap­haz­ardly scrib­bling in jour­nals since she was a small-town small fry. She has de­grees in com­mu­ni­ca­tions and dance from the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin, Madi­son. She now lives in Lon­don, spends time on Sani­bel and ob­ses­sively plans get­aways, both near and far.

The strik­ing ar­chi­tec­ture of La Cité du Vin sits next to the Garonne River, which car­ries vis­i­tors to nearby vine­yards on boat tours. A visit to La Cité du Vin can grow your palate with spe­cial tast­ing ses­sions and food pair­ing work­shops. Left: The mu­seum has a mul­ti­sen­sory space used for spe­cial work­shops, and its 250-seat Thomas Jef­fer­son au­di­to­rium holds film screen­ings and con­certs.

From left: Vis­i­tors en­joy en­joy 360-de­gree views of Bordeaux and its lush vine­yards over a glass of wine from the eighth-floor Belvedere; the mu­seum's ex­hibits in­clude dis­plays of wine-mak­ing re­gions from all over the world. Bordeaux’s vine­yards are close to the Gironde, Dor­dogne and Garonne rivers, as well as the At­lantic Ocean, which act to tem­per the re­gion’s cli­mate and grape-grow­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

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