By Karen Schaffner
As retailers struggle to create meaningful experiences in their stores, new museums like Bordeaux’s La Cité du Vin are a great source of inspiration. I recently visited this striking new museum on the banks of the Garonne River. The museum, which opened in early June, brings wine to life through an immersive, sensorial approach, in a building that has transformed the city’s riverfront. Because La Cité du Vin is in Bordeaux, you might expect it to focus on the wines that have made the region famous, but the museum celebrates wines from every region of the world.
The homage to wine begins with the building. The exterior of custom-printed glass and iridescent aluminum panels shimmers in the Bordeaux sunlight. The building’s fluid shape has been compared to knotted vine stocks, wine turning in the glass, or even a garden slug. Whatever image it conjures, the 144,000-sq. ft., 10-story building is hard to ignore.
Inside, wine lovers will have the most fun they’ve had outside of their favorite Chateau. The heart of the experience is a permanent 32,000-sq.-ft. high-tech installation by British designers Dinah Casson and Roger Mann. Here, 20 multimedia exhibits combine to create a thoroughly entertaining experience.
Video images of winemakers from the world’s major wine-making regions answer visitors’ questions about wine; large digital screens display dramatic video images of the world’s great wine regions, with the imagery carrying over to the viewing benches; and on blank white tables, projectors display dinner settings, food, and wine lists.
At the Five Senses buffet, visitors can smell the different aromas associated with wine through bell jars with atomizers attached.
Exhibition designer Gary Shelley, a director at Casson Mann, described the objective of the interactive space to The Globe and Mail: “We were tasked with taking what is essentially nerd content and making it accessible and enjoyable for the general public. The result is an exhibit without objects, one that concentrates on storytelling using digital technology. It is, I believe, a poetic experience.”
The museum includes a boutique showcasing a selection of wine, books, limited edition items, gifts and souvenirs linked to the world of wine. There are also several tasting rooms and an exhibition area of temporary exhibits.
On the seventh floor, Le 7 panoramic restaurant serves seasonal regional fare accompanied by a list of more than 500 wines from around the world.
The final phase of the journey takes visitors up to the Belvedere for a free wine tasting and a 360° view of Bordeaux.
La Cité du Vin is run by the Fondation pour la Culture et les Civilisations du Vin, a foundation recognized as being of public interest by Ministerial Decree in December 2014.
Karen Schaffner is VP of content at Shop!