Nothing says Bordeaux quite like a creamy neoclassical château. Which is precisely why, when it came to the design of the city’s state-of-the-art wine museum La Cité du Vin, XTU architects decided to do something completely different. “They said, ‘This building is about Bordeaux having to look to the future, so it needs to be revolutionary, even futuristic,’” says the president of the Cité’s Fondation pour la Culture et les Civilisations du Vin, Château Chauvin’s Sylvie Cazes. This gleaming, 13,000sq m curve of aluminium was inspired, I’m told, by the swirl of wine in a wineglass. In some lights it looks like a huge slug, rearing up against the skyline, in others a beautiful spacecraft – either way it makes a statement.
The real achievement, though, is what they’ve done inside. Because the museum’s army of designers, engineers, curators and archivists have used all manner of tech to bring the oft rather impenetrable wine world to life.
Armed with headphones and an iPod-like gadget, I roamed halls full of interactive exhibits. In one zone, I unlocked the mysteries of terroir, breathing the scent of wet earth and meeting virtual winemakers from Burgundy to China. In another, I nosed perfumery-style smelling stations, played with interactive maps and boned up on the place of wine in Japanese manga. In a slightly spooky section on wine and gastronomy, I “dined” with a virtual Hélène Darroze, while further on, I delved into wine’s relationship with art and religion. But my favourite exhibit was the simplest: a room showing spectacular helicopter footage of vineyards round the world.
Included in the €20 ticket price is a drink in the panoramic Belvedere bar on the museum’s top floor. Here, 35m up, visitors can choose a taster from a selection of 20 wines from all around the globe. I watched the sun go down over Bordeaux with a glass containing two fingers of white from Georgia.
This vast building also has a restaurant, a concert hall and exhibition spaces with a whole programme of one-off tastings and exhibits on themes like music and wine. There is so much – possibly too much – to see and do in La Cité du Vin. It is very impressive. But after two and a half hours of helicopter footage, holograms and smelly-vision, I found myself longing to escape all this twittering technology and breathe the fresh air of a real vineyard. I was also gasping for a drink. In that sense, La Cité du Vin had well and truly done its job.