Food Cluster (Wine) Gamble

Courtesy of ATOUT FRANCE-France Tourism Development Agency


One can imagine a tired, hungry Roman soldier stopping for a moment to relax, shaking the dust off his sandals to contemplate his future, nibbling on a hard, dry cut of cheese and an even harder, dryer biscuit, washing them both down with sweet red wine from the mother country. He seats himself along the shore of the Garonne River, in a land referred to as Burdigala, today known as Bordeaux (from the French au bord de l’eau, meaning “along the waters”) in southern France.

He realizes the soil beneath his feet is perfect for growing wine grapes, the temperate, marine climate is ideal and water is available, not only for watering the grapes, but also for transportation down the Garonne River, into the Gironde Estuary and finally the Atlantic Ocean. He decides to turn his sword into a plowshare, gather his fortune, invest in land, plant vines, most likely from the Rioja region of Spain, build a processing and packaging facility and create an industry.

If not a Roman soldier, maybe a Roman merchant, farmer or mariner. Whoever it was and whatever his trade, history records that the development of the Bordeaux wine region dates back to ancient Romans. In 71 AD Pliny the Elder recorded the first evidence of vineyards in Bordeaux. Today, it is considered the wine capital of the world, with some 7,400 wineries producing approximately 75 million cases annually, valued at over two billion dollars and home to Vinexpo, considered the world’s primary wine trade show. It is also now home to the world’s primary Wine Museum and Cultural Center…..La Cité du Vin.

The inauguration of La Cité du Vin (the city of wine), perched along the banks of the Garonne River, took place on Tuesday, May 21, 2016, welcoming the presence of over 1,000 guests, including François Hollande, President of France and 200 journalists. It’s “dedicated to the universal, living heritage of wine.” Even though they tout the world of wine, in reality, because of its location, barely a popped cork from the most recognized wine industrial cluster in the world, they are, in fact, reinforcing their domination of the international wine industry.

The Parisian architectural firm XTU created a most unusual exterior design, a curving edifice, adorned with 3,000 iridescent aluminum panels that reflect the Garonne River, reaching 10 stories into the Bordeaux sky (some say resembling a swirling glass of wine, others a large, curled metallic snake, a bit on the plump side). The English museum scenography company Casson Mann created an interior journey through time in 144,000 square feet of space, traveling from 6,500 BC to the present, utilizing 3D images, decoration, aroma diffusion and a novel hand-held tour guide that speaks eight languages (French, English, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Japanese and Chinese), providing an understanding of the wine-growing culture and history on five continents. Highlights of the overall experience include:

Courtesy of ATOUT FRANCE - France Tourism Development Agency

Le tour du monde des vignobles
Courtesy of ATOUT FRANCE – France Tourism Development Agency

More than 120 audiovisual productions.

The 250 seat Thomas Jefferson Auditorium for performances, concerts, screenings, conferences and debates.

Three tasting areas including an immersive multi-sensory space and educational workshops for young audiences

The Belvedere, on the eight floor, providing a panoramic view of Bordeaux, featuring a chandelier made from thousands of wine bottles and a 33 foot long oak counter, where you can rest your elbows and enjoy a glass of wine.

A reading room, offering a variety of materials related to the world of wine.

A boutique store offering a wide selection of gifts and souvenirs, all wine themed.

A food area on the seventh floor including Latitude 20 (featuring New World wines produced in countries located between the 20th parallel north and south), the Wine Cellar (offering more than 14,000 bottles of 800 wines, including 200 from France and 600 from 80 countries around the world), the Wine Bar (open for lunch and dinner, food paired with wine) and the Snack Bar (providing breakfast, lunch and snacks, featuring global tapas and a large selection of homemade breads).

An information area on the ground floor to learn about and schedule a visit to surrounding vineyards and wineries, including water shuttles up the Garonne River.

Freely accessible gardens that create a link between the La Cité du Vin, the Garonne River and the historic roots of one of the world’s great wine regions.

Planetes Vin Courtesy of ATOUT FRANCE-France Tourism Development Agency

The La Cité du Vin is economic development on an impressive scale. The projected cost of the three-year building project is $91 million, 19% from 83 private companies, 81% from public funding (City of Bordeaux – 38%, the European Union via the European Regional Development Fund – 15%, the Bordeaux Metropolitan Authority – 10%, the Bordeaux Wines Council – 7%, the Aquitine Region – 7%, the French government – 2%, the Gironde Department – 1% and the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce and Industry – 1%, which also is the founder of Vinexpo).

No public funding is planned for operations, hopefully covered by revenue from ticket sales, store sales, event rentals and patron support. When fully operational, the hope is for $42 million in economic activity per year generating 750 permanent jobs, 250 of those direct. Approximately 450,000 visitors are expected annually. A five-star, 150 room hotel and shopping center will complement the development.

A bord! Courtesy of ATOUT FRANCE – France Tourism Development Agency

The project was initiated in 2008 by the La Cité du Vin Preparatory Association and the City of Bordeaux, the building’s eventual owner. An endowment fund was created in 2011 to accept private donations. In 2015, the Association handed over development and promotion to the Foundation for Wine Culture and Civilizations, founded by the City of Bordeaux, the Bordeaux Wines Council and the Crédit Agricole Aquitine Bank.

The Foundation’s mission is defined as, “acknowledging, celebrating and promoting wine as an icon of our universal, living heritage.” The Foundation is fortunate to have the backing of the Clarence and Anne Dillon Dunwalke Trust and Prince Robert of Luxembourg, who owns and operates two of the most prestigious estates in Bordeaux: Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion. The American Friends of La Cité du Vin is committed to raising the profile of La Cité du Vin in the United States and, probably more important, raising cold, hard cash.


Hours of Operation (June – December, 2016):

June 01 – August 31…..Daily 09:30 am – 07:30 pm

September 01 – 30, 2016…..Monday – Friday, 09:30 am – 07:00 pm; Weekends, 09:30 am – 07:30 pm

October 01 – 31, 2016…..Monday – Friday, 10:00 am – 06:30 pm; Weekends and School Holidays, 09:30 am – 07:00 pm

November 01 – December 31, 2016…..Tuesday – Sunday, 10:00 am – 06:00 pm; School Holidays, daily 10:00 am – 06:30 pm

Closed Christmas, December 25, 2016

Located in the Bassins à Flot district in Bordeaux, La Cité du Vin is roughly a five and one-half hour drive or one hour flight from Paris.

Cost: It’s free-of-charge to enter the building, providing visitors access to the restaurants, wine cellar, boutiques, reading room, terrace, landscaped garden and tourism information center. The tour areas (Permanent Tour, Belvedere and Temporary Exhibitions), Workshops and the Thomas Jefferson Auditorium require an entrance fee. There are three primary ticket options:

Permanent Tour Ticket (Adult Price: $25): The Permanent Tour offers an immersive, multi-sensory experience captured within 32,000 square feet of space, featuring 19 different themed areas, the majority of which are interactive. A hand-held tour guide, fluent in eight languages, guides the visitor through time and space, exploring the evolution of wine and its civilizations. The Tour also includes access to the Belvedere.

Temporary Exhibition Ticket (Adult Price: $9): The Temporary Exhibition Ticket provides visitors with the opportunity to discover art exhibitions designed by prestigious guest curators. Available for three months in the autumn and spring, the exhibitions tackle a specific topic from the world of wine and its civilizations, bringing together a variety of disciplines such as fine arts, design, photography, sculpture, cartoons, history and ethnography.

Workshop Ticket (Adult Price: $17): The Workshop Ticket provides a variety of wine related educational experiences. A few of the Workshops are:

Discovery Workshops: Designed for people who are a little uncomfortable with the culture of wine tasting. Presented in an environment that will make them both comfortable and confident.

Wine and Delicacies Workshop: Addressing the often challenging dilemma of what wine goes with what food.

Blending Workshops: Highlighting the magic of proper blending to create that unique and beautiful wine.

There are also a number of passes and annual ticket options. It all comes across as a tad confusing, but I am confident, in time, the process will be simplified. Disneyland started with individual ride tickets and eventually evolved to day passes. Much simpler for all concerned.

Projects of this scale are high risk. Ask the people of Napa, California about their own, similar project. Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts opened on November 18, 2001. It closed on November 21, 2008. The project was named Copia after the Roman goddess of wealth and plenty. Possibly another god would have served them better. Initial funding for the 80,000 square foot building, was $55 million, along with a $78 million bond. The right people and organizations were involved: famous vintners Robert and Margrit Mondavi, even more famous chef Julia Child, the University of California at Davis, the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, the American Institute of Wine & Food, as well as various investors from Napa and the San Francisco Bay Area.

The projected annual attendance of 300,000 visitors never materialized. With 4.5 million tourists visiting Napa in 2001, the figure seems realistic. But Copia peaked at 220,000 visitors in 2002, with only 150,000 visitors in 2007. Apparently tourists would rather visit an actual winery than an institution promoting those wineries. Critics believed that Copia failed to clearly define its focus. Was it a museum, a cooking school or a promotional center for wine? One has to remember that the most valuable and difficult word in Food Cluster marketing is focus. Is Copia a valuable history lesson for La Cité du Vin? Or has Bordeaux been blinded by its own success, ready to step on a slippery rock and tumble into the Garonne River?

Most of the economic development professionals reading this article will not have access to a family trust, a prince from Luxembourg or eager beaver government agencies willing to invest millions of dollars in their cluster showpiece. Stand alone facilities promoting an industry (i.e. Copia and La Cité du Vin), expected to carry their own financial load, can be a monumental challenge, even within a Food Cluster based on consumer products and Food Tourism.

They do make sense as an additional attraction within a Food Park, increasing traffic for the participating manufacturing companies and retail facilities and reinforcing the cluster brand. They provide a location to host the restaurant and gift shop and to manage the direct marketing program, all vital to the success of the Food Park. They should be self-supporting. With proper planning and consultation, your Food Cluster project should be a wise investment, not an Food Cluster gamble.

Let’s Talk: Give me a call at 509-539-3575 or send me an email at to discuss Food Clusters in general or yours in particular.

Gary A. White, President,
P’Chelle International

No Comments

Post A Comment