A world of wine at Cité du Vin, Bordeaux

I am still in the South West of France after Monday’s visit to Cognac and Hennessy’s Maison and today we went to Bordeaux’s flagship wine production museum Cité du Vin.  It is interesting to compare the visitor experiences.

Cité du Vin combines fantastic modern architecture with video, projection and interactive exhibits to present the whole world of wine production, consumption and the links to culture, food, religion and of course the Bordeaux region. There is a shop, restaurants, a viewing gallery and a tasting space.  It is all very beautiful, detailed but oddly hard to take in.  There may simply be too many exhibits and while visitors have the freedom to explore, the visit feels oddly shapeless compared to the guided tour at Hennessy.

We were handed an individual audio guide device powered by NFC.  There are symbols on every video exhibit and the device synchronises to each one when brought up close.  The device then provides audio in many languages and starts the video (or joins the video if someone else has already started the individual section). Videos last between one minute and six to seven minutes and there are lots of them!

There are some really wonderful exhibits especially those exploring smell and they are memorable but there are also lots of interviews with winemakers, chefs, coopers and others from the wine trade,  A four minute video from a Croatian wine maker feels rather similar to another winemaker from the Mosel region of Germany: its about handwork, sunshine, terroir and traditions handed down from family to family.  

Another excellent exhibit presents a series of dining tables on which food is projected and opposite your seat is a life-sized projection of dinner companion; in my case a french chef explaining the importance of elegance and proper treatment of wine to enhance the experience. 

Everything is very detailed and perhaps a bit earnest.  My favourite exhibit involved a spinning projection exploring the dark side of wine and drunkenness across the ages.  

The designers have done many things well and world builders could certainly learn from them.  There are however several things I missed:

  1. I needed an overall goal for my visit.  This would have given me purpose and would have allowed me to link the excellent exhibits to a more meaningful whole.
  2. The whole experience is oddly antisocial and there are few opportunities to experience things together with others.  This is a common feature of audio guides which tend to isolate us into our own little bubble.  I am wondering whether future augmented reality technologies will allow more interaction with other people.
  3. Although there is lots of choice, individual choices feel inconsequential.  I needed a guide to help me choose.
  4. I’m holding this expensive audio device and I think it could do more to shape the overall experience.  I really missed the connecting thread that was provided at Hennessy.
  5. I wanted to be able to engage and contribute more.  The most powerful exhibits were the ones where you put your nose in front of a funnel and squeezed a rubber bulb to smell a particular characteristic smell/taste.  I loved this and wanted to bring more of myself to other exhibits.

I’m spending a lot of time visiting museums, galleries and flagship stores as part of my overall exploration of world building.  Do let me know if you see a particularly well designed visitor experience or have ideas to make them even more effective?

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