Genuine tourist attractions in French wine country have long been few and far between. But the March 14 opening of La Winery, a $27 million wine center near Bordeaux could change that. The brand-new facility is the brainchild of Phillipe Raoux, a fourth-generation wine merchant specializing in direct marketing.
Located in Médoc, just a stone's throw from the Margaux appellation, Raoux said the 64-acre property was modeled after tourist-friendly Napa Valley landmarks. But he stressed that this is where the similarities end.
"First of all, we don't make any wine here," he said. "Secondly, our range includes up to 2,000 products from all over France and other parts of the world." The emphasis is largely on estate-bottled French wines.
Local wine producers are regarding the new tourist center favorably, hoping it will draw more visitors to the area. While wine-themed attractions have struggled in other regions (such as Napa's Copia: The American Center for Food, Wine and the Arts), La Winery might stand a better chance. Copia has had trouble finding its footing since tourists in Napa can just visit the wineries as easily as they can visit Copia. But Philippe Dambrine, president of the Médoc Wine Council, said he has only received positive feedback about La Winery, as it isn't perceived as a threat to the châteaus, many of which don't open their doors to tourists anyway. "It's situated on a main road, away from the D2 Médoc Wine Route, so it's not at all in competition with the more traditional prestigious wine estates," he stressed.
The site has a wine cellar, amphitheater, tasting room and a restaurant. Its contemporary tone is immediately set at the entrance by the "Sun Tree," a 6-ton stainless-steel sculpture. Created by Japanese artist Susumu Shingu, the orange-colored artwork also serves as La Winery's logo. La Winery also plans to offer various modern art exhibitions throughout the year.
But La Winery is first and foremost about promoting wine, French and foreign alike. Upon arrival, visitors are invited to sign up for a tasting of six wines for $20. During the session, their impressions are recorded and analyzed by a computer program to determine the taster's "wine profile." The six categories--Trendy, Eternal, Sensual, Aesthetic, Gourmand and Forceful--are illustrated by a series of smileys, which then correspond to wines sold in the shop.
A team of eight tasters--comprising four experienced wine drinkers and four laymen, to keep in touch with general consumer tastes--are in charge of selecting the wines sold at La Winery, also available through mail-order (including international shipping to the United States). For a wine to make the grade it has to get the thumbs-up from the entire tasting committee.
Bottle prices range from a $4 red AOC Bergerac to a $1,300 1963 Taylor Port. The tasting room features a wine bar offering samples by the glass ($4 to $13) and themed tastings geared toward neophytes or connoisseurs. Just across the courtyard, La Winery's restaurant Le Wy specializes in food-and-wine pairings, with prices of Bordeaux-style cuisine ranging from $12 to $32. Visitors may also buy lunches for enjoying on the site's picnic areas.
Raoux said he is already considering a similar project near St.-Emilion, which is generally a stronger tourist draw than Médoc.
Address: Rond point des Vendangeurs, D1, Arsac en Médoc
Phone: +33 (0)5 56 390 490