Inside the Cité du Vin: The World's Biggest Wine Museum

Inside the Cité du Vin: The World's Biggest Wine Museum

Following a successful partnership in 2019, Sotheby’s Wine returns to Bordeaux to present an online auction benefit for the Cité du Vin in February 2024. Sarah Belmont meets Géraldine Thomas, Director of Development to discuss the museum’s activities, history - and future.
Following a successful partnership in 2019, Sotheby’s Wine returns to Bordeaux to present an online auction benefit for the Cité du Vin in February 2024. Sarah Belmont meets Géraldine Thomas, Director of Development to discuss the museum’s activities, history - and future.

I n the Ancient world, wine was to mortals as ambrosia was to the Gods. And Greek mythology firmly emphasized the heightened enjoyment of wine within the place it is consumed, preferably in the presence of nymphs and satyrs. While such mythical deities are unfortunately indisposed today, Sotheby’s Wine is enthusiastically channelling their spirit in the Wine and Dine Experiences / Benefiting the Wine Culture Heritage / Cité du Vin sale in Bordeaux on 12 February 2024, an event in support of the new-generation, interactive Cité du Vin Museum, the world’s biggest museum devoted to all things wine.

Following the successful inaugural collaboration in 2019, Sotheby’s is once again pairing with the museum to offer bidders the chance to secure sensational, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, as well as a selection of ex-cellar bottles, some of exceptionally rare formats. The proceeds from the sale will support the Cité du Vin’s mission to continuing with its dynamic program that encompasses 8,000 years of global wine heritage, science, and culture.

La Cité du Vin (ANAKA-Cité du Vin-XTUarchitects)

In this auction, winemakers around the world have donated some of their finest vintages, as well as their time and hospitality, to make up the 60-lot sale. As well as the fine wines, there are also some unmissable experiences on offer courtesy of prestigious vineyards, ranging from exclusive dinners at Michelin-starred restaurants to overnight stays. For instance, how about a curated selection of Château Cheval Blanc 2008, paired with a private tour and tasting for six guests at the namesake estate? Or maybe a similar experience at the Château Latour, in the Medoc region, or the Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, in Tuscany?

Géraldine Thomas, Director of Development, Cité du Vin (Photograph: Anaka/Cité du Vin/ XTU architects)

“We are happy with this new collaboration with Sotheby’s Wine whose expertise and reputation will draw international attention to our activities”, says Géraldine Thomas, the Cité du Vin’s Director of Development. “And we are very grateful to our generous donors! The selection is so exceptional and varied that it would be impossible for me to pick a favourite lot over another.”

Since opening its doors in 2016, the Cité du Vin has become a major attraction in Bordeaux, a city steeped in wine-making history. With a 14,000 square meter eco-friendly building, designed by Anouk Legendre et Nicolas Desmazières of XTU architects, the museum has been dubbed by some as a “Guggenheim of wine”, a description no doubt inspired by its stunning curvilinear shapes that evoke “the sensuality and the immateriality of wine”.

“Our mission is to make wine accessible to the as many people as possible. The Cité du Vin provides a universal approach featuring wine as world cultural heritage”
- Géraldine Thomas, Director of Development, Cité du Vin

But the Cité du Vin is also a foundation, committed to educating visitors, from professional oenophiles to the culturally-curious, through state-of-the art technology and interactive installations. “Our mission is to make wine culture accessible to as many people as possible” says Thomas. “There are other wine museums in the world, but they usually focus on the region where they are located. The Cité provides a universal approach featuring wine as world cultural heritage.”

The 'Winter' stage of the Via Sensoria experience at Cité du Vin (®ANAKA_Cite du Vin_GEDEON Programmes_Atelier Sylvain Roca)

Patronage has, from day one, been indispensable to the museum’s cultural development. Without charity fund-raising, the foundation would not have been able to upgrade its third-floor 'permanent display' into a 'permanent exhibition'. The reason for this change stems from surveys, which revealed the public’s desire to learn more about the actual process of wine making. “We also wanted to include a stronger focus on ‘the living’, because nature is the starting point of everything, wine comes first and foremost from a plant”, continues Thomas.

Atelier 360 degres at the Cité du Vin (®ANAKA-CITE DU VIN-XTU ARCHITECTS)

Today, in response to public feedback, this foundational element of viticulture is highlighted at the start of the museum experience, whereas previously, it was confined to conferences and workshops. And it is clearly intended to reach as many people as possible as Thomas points out: “‘All of the Cité’s contents - videos, audio recordings, interactive installations - have been translated into eight languages; French, English, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, and Chinese.”

For the first-time (or indeed, returning) visitor perhaps the best way to sample the delights in store at the museum, with full benefit of the staff’s knowledge and expertise, is to attend one of the popular 'Via Sensoria' experiences that takes place between 26 March and 3 November. This ‘immersive journey through wine’ (co-created by the production company GEDEON Programmes and interior designer Sylvain Roca) is a one-hour tasting tour, with a sommelier taking guests through a chronological progression of sensory delights, with wines paired with seasonal artistic experiences, including a Prosecco Superiore DOCG for spring, and a Sauternes wine for winter.

A public table at the Cité du Vin (®ANAKA Cité du Vin, Casson Mann Maud Martinot Sim Sam)

Surprisingly perhaps, for an institution devoted to the pleasures of the grape, alcohol is not the focus of the Museum. Rather, the emphasis is on sensory experience, taste, flavour, and aromas. To that end, the teetotaller will also find much to savour in the museum, with inventive and imaginative non-alcoholic concoctions available ensuring all visitors can experience a journey of flavours and sensations. Fruit syrups, as carefully prepared and paired as the wines, are offered during 'Via Sensora' and across the Cité du Vin, the Maison Meneau’s signature hibiscus iced tea, apple and lavender-flavored Fizz, and berry syrups convey delicate nuances and depths, on a par with their alcoholic counterparts.

A visual display at the Cité du Vin (©ANAKA Cite du Vin Agence Clémence Farrell Ich Kar The Mill Ilusio)

Another striking aspect of the Cité du Vin’s approach is its people. The museum’s friendly sommeliers are as far from the traditional image of snooty oenophile as can be imagined. The sommeliers who lead guests through the ‘Via Sensora’ tour not only know their wines inside out, but have been trained in sophrology, a dynamic relaxation method based on physical and mental exercises. An unusual requirement maybe, but one that adds a profound dimension to the experience. “Our hosts help visitors keep in touch with their bodies and their feelings more than in any other classical tasting experience”, explains Thomas. “While we have them taste wines from 50 partner estates in the world, we occasionally offer tastings featuring exceptionally great vintages.”

The 'Summer' stage of the Via Sensoria tour at Cité du Vin (®ANAKA Cite du Vin GEDEON Programmes Atelier Sylvain Roca)
"We are thrilled to once again partner with the iconic Cité du Vin, bringing our international clientele a selection of extraordinary experiences and exceptional bottles from renowned wineries worldwide. Generous donations from winemakers have created an impressive array of lots, including private tours, exclusive dinners, and a curated selection of wines in various sizes, with a focus on large bottles. This auction is a true celebration of wine culture, offering a unique opportunity to connect with the people behind these remarkable wines. We expect bidders to buy several lots and make the trip of their lifetime. ”
- Frederic Guyot du Repaire, Deputy Head of Wine EMEA, Senior Wine Specialist

The Cité du Vin has recently revealed the highlights of its 2024 cultural programme. Again, expectations are exceeded, with the sheer scope and appeal of an events calendar that far exceeds the business of wine making. For instance, one can attend a talk with businessman and journalist Saskia de Rothschild or join a fascinating conference about the importance of wine in the 18th century, enjoy a tasting menu following the projection of and based on the movie 'No Reservation' starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, or take up a masterclass demonstrating how to reduce environmental impact. And that is, literally, just a taste. Clearly, the Cité du Vin is much more than just a repository of the past – it’s fizzing with fresh, exciting ideas and possibilities for the future. Cheers!

The Wine and Dine Experiences | Benefiting the Wine Culture Heritage | Cité du Vin sale takes place online on 12 February at 1500 CET


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