France's 8-Year-Olds Head Off to Wine School

Through field trips and kid's passes, a château and the Cité du Vin museum are showing the future sommeliers of France that wine can be cool. But how do you teach tasting to third-graders?
France's 8-Year-Olds Head Off to Wine School
To host a tasting soiree for children, you need soft drinks, sugar, salt and water "to make adults and kids understand how all senses take part," said a Cité du Vin representative. "It’s both funny and didactic." (Courtesy of Cité du Vin)
Jul 28, 2020

When we look back on grade-school field trips, we remember the planetarium, the wildlife refuge, the open-air living history museum with the butter churns and wooden looms. We do not recall any visits to facilities for the production and promotion of alcoholic beverages. But in France, as they'll tell you, wine is much more than a drink. Now, some organizations with a passion for the culture and science of vin are making sure the next generation knows it—even if they're too young to drink it. This summer, Bordeaux wine mecca Cité du Vin is promoting wine education with free passes to under-18s, and smaller wineries are welcoming enfant somms as well.

Château Canet, in the bucolic Minervois region of southern France's Languedoc-Roussillon, has a stately 19th-century maison, 111 acres of vineyards and cellars full of Syrah and Chardonnay—lots to explore. Owner Floris Lemstra realized it would make for a great real-world classroom where groups of schoolchildren could learn all about viticulture, so he now takes several groups of kids each year on a brief journey through vineyard maintenance to harvesting to bottling, with plenty of time set aside to poke around the vines and check out cool contraptions like the stainless steel vats in the cellar.

School kids learning at Château Canet
A hundred-acre vineyard is also a convenient spot for some socially distanced learning, which Château Canet has been providing this year. (Courtesy of Château Canet)

“Teaching them about wine and alcohol is a little abstract at eight years old. However, we believe that demystifying wine and its consumption is important,” Lemstra told Unfiltered. “Explaining at an eight-year-old level that wine can be pleasant, but is also an alcoholic beverage with its drawbacks is, in our opinion, an important message.”

Lemstra pointed out that inviting local youngsters is also a way to educate them about their own community. According to him, many of their families or relatives work in the wine industry. “Children are the future, and wine is a huge part of our—and their—culture, economy and daily life,” he said. “It is always a joy to see the curious looks on their faces of discovering something that has always surrounded them, but they didn’t really know much about.”

Cité du Vin, Bordeaux's grand wine museum, is also cultivating young enophiles. It's offering free admission to anyone under 18 through the end of August in hopes of encouraging French families to visit. The museum got creative by going virtual during the COVID-19 shutdown, but even though it's back in business, the summer crowds of foreign tourists are largely absent.

School kids learning at Cité du Vin
I'm getting notes of Teddy Graham, Cocoa Puff, blackberry, crunchberry … The Buffet of the Five Senses exhibit is "one of the favorites" at Cité du Vin, said museum rep Solène Jaboulet. (Courtesy of Cité du Vin)

“Some people may think Cité du Vin is not a place for kids because of its theme,” said Solène Jaboulet, Cité du Vin’s director of marketing and communications. “However, once they’ve visited, they realize it is as well suited for kids as any other museum.”

The keys to making wine engaging for kids, according to Jaboulet, are interactivity, immersion and gaming. In addition to its other themed tours, Cité du Vin has one geared toward kids that puts their imaginations to the test—soaring on an airplane above vineyard landscapes, sailing aboard a ship with a Roman crew and even trodding in the shoes of a winemaker. Other exhibitions and workshops teach kids to identify aromas, colors and tastes like sweetness, acidity and bitterness.

“All these ingredients contribute to making Cité du Vin a place where everybody, whatever their age or cultural background, enjoy discovering an important part of our history and heritage,” said Jaboulet.

School kids learning at the Cité du Vin
But wine isn't just for kids! Here, a grown-up gets in the spirit at Cité du Vin. (Courtesy of Cité du Vin)

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