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La Cité du Vin – an international wine museum in Bordeaux?

Published 01 June 2018

There is fierce debate among the Fondation pour la Culture et les Civilisations du Vin teams, our visitors, and the cultural and scientific figures associated with us: can La Cité du Vin be considered a museum? A museum of the world’s wines, an international wine museum, a museum of wine cultures and civilisations...
What is a museum? In what way is La Cité du Vin a museum or not a museum? How is the concept of a museum viewed in France? And abroad? How is museum culture changing? We will try to provide answers to all of these questions with the valuable expertise of Laurence Chesneau-Dupin, the Fondation pour la Culture et les Civilisations du Vin Cultural Director and Chief Heritage Curator.

In what way is La Cité du Vin not a museum?

According to the dictionary definition, a museum is a ‘place or building containing collections of artworks or cultural, scientific or technical goods for the purpose of conserving them and presenting them to the public’. If we adhere to this definition, the definition of a museum is based on the concept of a permanent collection. However, La Cité du Vin does not have a permanent collection of physical artworks, but rather a Permanent tour, which offers an approach that is no less cultural, artistic or scientific, but is nevertheless virtual and intangible.

La Cité du Vin would therefore be closer to an interpretation centre, a particular type of museum not dependent on an established collection, whose aim is to increase awareness and understanding among the general public of a unique heritage that cannot be gathered together in a traditional museum, preferably by drawing on the visitor’s emotions and experience.*

In what way is La Cité du Vin a museum? 

However, in some aspects or elements of what is on offer, the dividing lines are more blurred and La Cité du Vin is akin to a museum, or at least adheres to museum culture.
In addition to the permanent tour, La Cité du Vin organises major temporary exhibitions twice a year. Original works are presented to visitors within these exhibitions. The Fondation’s teams work with guest curators and in partnership with major museums in France and abroad.
Furthermore, many museums offer a cultural programme and mediation activities. At La Cité du Vin, our programme is part of our DNA and not just incidental to the Permanent tour, allowing us as it does to draw on particular threads and take a more in-depth look, exploring various subjects in various ways, from scientific conferences to entertainment shows.  Mediation activities are not limited to young audiences, but are accessible to all.

Legal status and subsidies

From a legal perspective, a museum is not necessarily a public institution – it can be run by a private organisation, foundation, association or similar. The term is not protected.
To ensure a certain code of ethics, in 2002 the Ministry for Culture created the ‘Musée de France’ classification and awarded it to 1,216 public and private museums (on 1 January 2016) where the conservation and presentation of their collections to the public was in the public interest.
However, it is the status of public institution which entitles them to subsidies, and not the designation of ‘museum’.
La Cité du Vin, which is managed by the Fondation pour la Culture et les Civilisations du Vin (a private accredited charitable foundation), is not a public institution and therefore does not receive any subsidies. Legally, La Cité du Vin could haven chosen to call itself a ‘museum’.

Perception in France vs. the rest of the world

The perception of the word ‘museum’ by the general public is not the same in France as it is in English-speaking countries. In France, museums can seem intimidating and excluding to young audiences. The term ‘Cité’ would be viewed as more open, universal and accessible.
In contrast, the word ‘museum’ is more widely used with fewer inhibitions in English-speaking countries such as the USA or Great Britain, even where there is no permanent collection.

A movement towards a new-generation museum?

In 2014, UNESCO recognised the ‘Gastronomic Meal of the French’ as a piece of intangible heritage.
We at La Cité du Vin view wine as a cultural, universal, living heritage.
Will the boundaries begin to shift over the coming years? Could an intangible collection be considered a permanent collection? Will the public view of museums also change? Is there a movement towards a new-generation museum? The debate is far from over and the question remains open.

Feel free to let us know your views on this real social issue!


* S. Chaumier and D. Jacobi ‘Nouveaux regards sur l’interprétation et les centres d’interprétation’ /
M. Bessard and N. Robine ‘Les centres d’interprétation dans leur relation à la recherche et à la diffusion’, in: La Lettre de l'OCIM, no. 119, September-October 2008.