France’s new ‘Disneyland of wine’ sets heads spinning

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PARIS — It has already been dubbed an “adult Disneyland” and “the amusement park of our dreams” by US college students.

But the Cite du Vin — a new museum in the French city of Bordeaux dedicated to the history of wine — is not quite the palace of bacchanalian revels of online fantasy.

The €81-million ($90-million) attraction, which opened its doors this week in the capital of the world’s most prestigious wine region, offers visitors the chance to taste 20 emblematic wines from across the globe.

But it is not encouraging them to try them all on the same day.

Instead, the museum — which claims to be the first of its kind — said it wants to show how wine has shaped and enriched our world.

Its director Philippe Massol said wine has changed landscapes and influenced cultures for more than 8,000 years.

“Wine is a unique product which wherever it has appeared has altered the way people live,” he told AFP.

“It has created its own ‘wine civilizations’ and that is what we show through an immersive experience of smell, touch and taste.”

DISNEYLAND OF WINE: A man tries out a sensory exhibit. — AFP

Such is the thirst for the project online, however, that many on social media — particularly in the United States — insist on seeing it through the bottom of a glass.

“France just came up with possibly the best tourist attraction in history,” according to one American Twitter user.

While the College Candy news Web site, which claims to reflect “everything college girls dream about,” called it “the amusement park of our dreams.”

Massol said the aim of the striking glass and aluminium edifice on the banks of the Garonne river was more sober — although it does involve having a glass or two.

Having followed the story of the “drink of the gods” across the millennia, visitors will be invited to sample some of the ambrosia for themselves in an eighth-floor bar with panoramic views of the city and the vineyards beyond.

Fittingly, the spectacular 55-meter high building has already been compared to a giant wine decanter.

People looking at bottles of wine. — AFP

However its architects Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazieres prefer to see it as a lighthouse, saying its “sensual” swirling form “reflects the way one whirls wine in a glass” before you taste it.

Its innovative wooden skeleton was a nod to the “gnarled trunks” of the vines, they said, whose grapes — in Bordeaux’s case — produced famously balanced and buttery wines.

As well as providing a launchpad for tours of some of France’s legendary wine growing areas including the Medoc, Saint-Emilion, Pomerol and Sauternes, Massol said the Cite du Vin aimed to “give a different view of wine across the world, across the ages, across all cultures and all civilizations.”

Every year a “guest wine region will spend the summer at the Cite du Vin to showcase its cultural wealth and its history,” he added.

The first of those will open in July dedicated to the wines of Georgia, the “cradle of viticulture.”

People take part in a digital exhibit as they visit La Cite du Vin (Wine Museum) when it opened its doors to the public in Bordeaux on June 1. — AFP

With a cellar of 14,000 bottles drawn from 80 countries, which will also be for sale, there is little chance of the Cite du Vin being drunk dry.

Bordeaux’s mayor Alain Juppe — who many tip as France’s next president — was the driving force behind the project, which hopes to attract 450,000 visitors a year.

“The idea of creating something that would embody Bordeaux’s place as the world capital of wine has been going around in my head since 1995,” he said.

“We decided to make the leap in 2008,” he said, claiming that although costs overran by 30% that was “very low compared to other comparable grand projects.”

Admission to the Cite du Vin costs €20 ($22) and includes a glass of wine. — AFP