Images of stuffy châteaux and sniffy owners have long pervaded wine tourism in France. Unlike winery visits in the New World, the cellar-door experience in some parts of Europe is a non-event unless you have an appointment – and even then you will be offered only one wine for tasting.
Now, in an effort to embrace wine tourism with wide-open arms, Bordeaux has announced a start date for the construction of an international wine culture and tourism center in the heart of the 1,000-year-old city. The European Union, the city council and a number of producers, including Bernard Magrez and Domaine Clarence Dillon, have together pledged more than 63 million euros ($76.4 million).
Bordeaux was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2007 because of its historic architecture, but construction of the ultra-modern, riverside wine museum will whisk it into the 21st century. In May, a panel of judges led by the city’s mayor, former prime minister Alain Juppé, selected a proposal from French architects X-TU and English interior-design firm Casson Mann. Their design is intended to evoke the movement of wine being swirled in a decanter, "opening up to reveal its rich palette of aromas, atoms, accents, colors and cultural qualities."
Wine, say the designers, is a "timeless elixir, filling us with that ineffable, disorienting sense of wholeness, intangible yet profoundly sensual, a voluptuous wave without beginning or end, a communion with the supernatural." As well as continuing the worked-up wine metaphor, the golden, Champagne-like color chosen for the exterior of the center aims to blend with the area’s Gironde-stone buildings and the waters of the Garonne River.
The 18-man selection jury said they had been won over by "the architectural audacity of the winning design," as well as the quality and originality of the proposed interiors.
The wine center will be built in an area known as the "Ironworks Site," located in Bordeaux's industrial district, Bassin à Flots. This 15,000-square-meter (3.7-acre) property belonged to the port of Bordeaux until the city acquired it in 2011. It is now undergoing a major regeneration. Warehouses on the site of the museum will be demolished to make way for the futuristic building.
A 35-meter (114-feet) belvedere on the top floor will provide spectators with panoramic views as they drink a glass of wine. "Magic binoculars" will enable them to experience both local vineyards and those in the New World. The lower floors will house 3,500 square meters (38,000 square feet) of permanent exhibition space, a 750-square-meter (8000-square-feet) temporary exhibition area, a reading room and a 250-seat auditorium.
Roger Mann, co-director of Casson Mann, says that like the building, the interior concept of the Centre Culturel et Touristique du Vin will be fluid. "Curving paths will guide people-flow," he explains, while the displays "will be woven into the architecture to create a rich narrative about wine."
Visitors will be able to engage in interactive activities as they move through different zones, guided by an iPhone-like device available in eight languages. Highlights will include a "theater of experts,” in which wine professionals appearing as holograms will provide advice.
A "wine at the heart of civilization" gallery will be constructed to look like an archaeological excavation and will be built from the same wood as wine crates. "With stories and images imprinted on the inside, it will look back 4,000 years to trace the human and cultural history of wine," says Mann.
Elsewhere, visitors will be able to join in a banquet with wine-loving guests such as Napoleon, Picasso, Chaplin and Voltaire; fly over the world’s vineyards in the movie room; learn about yeast cultures; enter giant wooden bottles to explore the different characteristics of wine; and hear about wine's "relationship to love, conviviality [and] spirituality."
The building will be surrounded by a garden, "providing a smooth transition between the landscaped urban environment of the Quai des Vins [wine, food and yachting show] and the wild, natural character of the river."
Shuttle boats will leave from a dedicated quay, encouraging tourists to visit the great vineyards of Bordeaux. The museum planners hope visitors will leave with more than just a greater understanding of wine, explaining that "wine is about peace, acceptance of others, the meeting of civilizations."
The Centre Culturel et Touristique du Vin is expected to attract 425,000 people each year. Building will start early next year, and the opening is planned for 2015.