Bordeaux Cité du Vin – Next Chapter?

by Paige Donner

There’s a lot to love about the Cité du Vin in Bordeaux. 

1. The structure :  Divine

Cité du Vin Bordeaux photo by Paige Donner copyright 2019 SAM_0029

Photo by Paige Donner © FoodWine.photography

2. The infrastructure : modern, lots of digital technology, full of bells and whistles. 

Cité du Vin Bordeaux photo by Paige Donner copyright 2019 SAM_0072

Photo by Paige Donner © FoodWine.photography

Cité du Vin Bordeaux photo by Paige Donner copyright 2019 SAM_0038
Cité du Vin Bordeaux, Photo by Paige Donner © FoodWine.photography
Cité du Vin Bordeaux photo by Paige Donner copyright 2019 SAM_0046
Cité du Vin Bordeaux, Photo by Paige Donner © FoodWine.photography
Cité du Vin Bordeaux photo by Paige Donner copyright 2019 SAM_0056
Cité du Vin Bordeaux, Photo by Paige Donner © FoodWine.photography

But the elephant in the room is the programming. 

Cité du Vin Bordeaux, Photo by Paige Donner © FoodWine.photography

When it comes to the Programming of this first-of-its-kind World of Wine cultural center, there is much to be desired.  I would consider it a work-in-progress. A Work In Progress of which we are only on its first chapter. 

Digital vs. Human & Tactile

I was privileged to visit this now-iconic structure during its construction phase (see blog archives on LocalFoodAndWine ) and eagerly watched its evolution.  This was during the same phase and time period that my groundbreaking article on Wine & Climate Change was published in the New York Times

When the forces behind the Cité du Vin assured me that the focus of this Wine Culture and Educational Center would not be solely on Bordeaux but would, rather, embrace all wine regions of the world, it seemed as though the role this structure was willing to play in the world of wine was commensurate with Bordeaux’s stature as one of the epicenters  – historically, culturally, commercially – of the Wine World. 


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BUT… transferring this experience of wine culture and civilizations into a thoroughly digitized experience is not exactly measuring up to people’s hopes and expectations. 

For Example: At this week’s Vinexpo Bordeaux, all ticket holders to Vinexpo could visit the Cité du Vin with complimentary entry. Informal canvassing of both visitors to Bordeaux and local residents yielded these sorts of answers: 

“My kids didn’t like it. There were too many screens. And you had to use those little iPhone like gadgets to understand any of the displays and installations. We try to limit our kids’ exposure to too many digital screens.”

“I go from time to time to hear the lecture series. Or when they throw a soirée for one of the new temporary exhibits. Otherwise I really have no reason to go.”

“That last theater, semi-circular, just before you exit the permanent exhibit is gorgeous. But the animated film I watched there, the one about the young boy voyaging across the world in the 18th century, felt like the kinds of things I watch on Youtube.” 

“The re-enactment of those historical figures, (one of which is played by Pierre Arditi) is very strange. I didn’t understand the context or the relevance?”

“Too many digital screens talking at me all at once. It gave me a headache.”

“I loved the scent/aromas installation. It was the one tactile experience of ‘wine’ that I was able to have there.” 

So… Not a scientific poll… but just an informal canvassing of visitors to the center. 

Next Chapter, Please…? 

The good thing is that the space and the infrastructure is there. 

So it will be easy to continue to develop programming that is more engaging, perhaps less about the aristocracy of French wine culture and who’s who in the wine world, and more about the soul of wine. 

Wine is the soul of civilization. 

And, hence, the people and families who cultivate it and carry it forward for the next generations, are the soulkeepers. 

It would seem that in this great structure of the Cité du Vin, whose programming, as it currently stands, is largely soulless, there is much room for evolution. 

Thoughts & Suggestions

For the second Vinexpo Bordeaux in a row, they have put a spotlight on the subject of Climate Change as it relates to wine. As one of the first journalists to write on this topic, back in 2011 for the New York Times, I have witnessed the wine community first balk at this issue and now, 8 years later, come to embrace it.

Thank goodness the New York Times International edition was so forward looking back in 2011 and risked, as a paper of record, tackling this topic. Wine Spectator, of course, ignored my story pitches on this topic for 7 years, all the way up until they decided to get behind the topic for the 2017 Vinexpo Bordeaux, where they cast themselves as panel leaders on a discussion of climate change, placing themselves front and center.

Interesting tactic. First refuse to acknowledge that it’s an issue, then dismiss as unqualified all the experts and journalists who were first to bring the issue to light. Ahh… the siren song of the Bully Pulpit. 

Notably, the Cité du Vin has not one installation or presentation about the effects of climate change on vineyards around the world. Neither is there an installation about the disappearance of groundwater, say in the Central Coast of California, or the droughts in Australia. Since these are all issues that are key and highly pressing, I find this omission embarrassing (for the Cité). Historically, too, it is fascinating since the warming of Earth’s climate back in the 13th c. is well documented and yielded a flourishing of vineyards in southern England, a bit similar to what we are witnessing today. 

Wasted Expert Human Resources

Another suggestion is to use the monumental human resources at hand in Bordeaux. And I do mean monumental. Bordeaux has an impressive expat community. Many of the members are experts or somehow involved in wine. Just off the top of my head I know that Decanter, Wine Spec and a James Beard Award recipient (author and photographer) all call Bordeaux home and have for decades now. They are not just transitional visitors but have or are raising kids and planting families there.  I know that the same can be said for Japanese and Chinese expats, too. 

So why was none of these resources tapped for the developing of programming at the Cité du Vin? 

I love watching Pierre Arditi in his iconic Le Sang de la Vigne tv show. But his face isn’t recognizable to an international audience, and neither are any of the other ‘wine aristocracy’ faces featured throughout the installations as they currently stand. But isn’t an international audience what the Cité du Vin is trying to speak to? At least that is what they say…

And not to cut to the quick about this point, but financing for the Cité du Vin was not wholly French. Not at all. In fact, the first money in was American. As is often the case for such cultural endeavors in France. So if the financing of this wonderful potential of a soulkeeper structure for the civilization of wine was harvested from myriad international sources, perhaps hearing a cacophony of voices emanating from it is, quite simply, the very least that  it  – and the larger community of wine lovers and enthusiasts – deserve. 

Cité du Vin Bordeaux photo by Paige Donner copyright 2019 SAM_0077

Cité du Vin Bordeaux, Photo by Paige Donner © FoodWine.photography

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Listen to Paige’s podcast, Paris GOODfood+wine, on Spotify, iTunes, Soundcloud, iHeart Radio and more.  @parisfoodwine  @Bordeauxfoodvin

Contact Paige for collaboration, speaking, photography:  PaigeDonner.info

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