A few days ago, I would have given a dollar-cost for the 20-Euro admission price to La Cite du Vin which opened earlier this month in Bordeaux. With the U.K. exit from the EU, monetary exchange rates have gone into such flux, let it be that admission to this extravagant show case of wine history and culture is 20 Euros.
I wasn’t there for the opening, but every report indicates the place is a great success. In some ways, I feel as if I’ve been there. During the ten years of its creation, I have passed the construction site several times, a couple years ago annoyed at the road deviations it caused.
Wine and food museums have never enjoyed a long life, but this one seems destined to last. There is a successful precedent in Romaneche-Thorins where Georges Duboeuf used Disney teams to create his Hameau du Beaujolias, still going very strong after a couple of decades. In fact, I noticed a year ago that it has expanded tastefully and considerably.
The Bordeaux project is much more ambitious. Even the shape of its building defies the most traditional of classic architecture. It resembles a stemmed glass on a pedestal with wine swirling to its upper lip, seven stories above ground, a formidable presence on the edge of the Garonne where not long ago a line of tired and dilapidated warehouses reminded of the early days of wine shipping.
La Cite offers visitors virtual and interactive tours of wine culture and history around the world and throughout time, with special activities aimed at children. We Americans can take pride in the Jefferson Auditorium (for screenings, presentations, and concerts) funded largely by the efforts of New York philanthropist Robert Wilmers, himself owner of a Bordeaux wine chateau.
Now that it’s open, I’ve been assured that it’s a great place to eat, taste, drink, and buy wine from just about everywhere. Sante.
Having just read a very impressive WINE SPECTATOR story about a very impressive wine man who did many impressive things, I have to add a few comments about my experiences with Robert Mondavi. The SPECTATOR article alluded to Mondavi’s influence abroad but didn’t provide detail about his overseas impact.
During the 1980s, when the Mondavi influence was fast rising, I was working in Heidelberg and Strasbourg and given an opportunity, as an American, to present keynote speaker Robert Mondavi to members of the International Wine and Food Society gathering in Strasbourg. During those few days, though his name was already well known, few members had actually met him, so I was privileged to introduce him to the Hugels, Humbrechts, Trimbachs, and others in the Alsace wine hierarchy.
A couple of years later, some of his staff and family came to Heidelberg on a marketing visit to Europe, to include presenting California wines to the liquor store managers for the US. Forces stationed there. With them were several Calif0rnia wine professionals from such wineries as Cakebread Cellars, Stags Leap, and others, because the Mondavis were there to show California wines, not just their own. My interactions with them led to my meeting with Mondavi representatives in several places where they were seeking a foothold — Munich, Basel, Colmar, for example.
Another time, because of my access to Parliamentarians in the Council of Europe, I was instrumental in helping him appear before several EU committees to discuss pending wine legislation that would, if passed, impact all member nations. Of principal interest to the Parliamentarians was the Mondavi practice of integrating the arts and education with the production and consumption of wine. They were especially interested in the winery artist, concert, and culinary programs and used much of his input to defeat proposals from some countries to put skulls and crossbones or other warning notices on wine labels.
While in Strasbourg, he agreed to provide wine in a restaurant where they would be matched with a typical Alsace dinner menu. Guests came from the British-American community, a Rhine Valley wine lovers’ group, and local politicians. The only glitch came in the kitchen (and was unknown to the guests) when the French chef adamantly refused to serve the Pinot Noir with a salmon dish. With the help of Mrs. Mondavi, we calmed him, and the diners were amazed at how well this red wine went with a fish.
The last time I saw him was also in Strasbourg, where we prevailed on the Lord Mayor to host an honorary dinner for him in City Hall, where he had a chance to chat informally with politicians and members of the media.
His message was always California, always keep learning, keep teaching. I was proud to see U.S. wines inching their way into European wine shops, and I give Robert Mondavi most of the credit for that happening. I still keep a separate storage area for our California wines.
Wine and the use of wine won some high-level endorsements this month in a couple of WINE SPECTATOR revelations. While we strive for secularism in these columns, we can’t overlook pronouncements by the Pope — especially when they deal with our favorite beverage. In a public benediction in St. Peter’s Square earlier this month, the Holy Father said that “wine expresses the abundance of the banquet and the joy of the feast.”
And not far away, in the Halls of Parliament, a national Senator who sits on the Italian Agricultural Commission described a bill he has drafted and proposed to teach the history and culture of wine to school children ages 6 – 13. Along side him, a member of the Enology Association of Italy pointed out that “We have more vines than churches.”
The school program would offer instruction once a week on History and Civilization of Wine and while focusing on history, how wine is made, and how it fits into society, would also include “teaching the value of drinking with intelligence and moderation.”
Pope Francis even went so far as to say that “it would be an embarrassment” to run out of wine before the celebration has finished, and he reminded that at His Mother’s urging, Jesus turned water into wine after the wedding wines had run out in Cana. “Wine is necessary for the feasts,” he said.
The Parliament seems favorable to the Senator’s bill, which, for the record, does not include tasting wine as part of the curriculum. Nothing in the transcripts I read indicated who would teach the classes or where the teachers would get their training. Apparently, then, there will no wine in the school cafeteria or as part of the school lunch program.OLDER POSTS »