What would Paris be without an entire museum dedicated to the manufacture and subsequent enjoyment of wine? Well, we finally paid a visit to the aptly-named Musée du Vin Paris on our last visit. And we were pleasantly surprised by what we found inside!
Now, I’ll be honest. The Museum of Wine doesn’t sound like it would be that interesting, even to an avid lover of wine like myself. I tend to prefer museums that cover a range of topics, time periods and interests. A museum dedicated to one very specific, narrow-niched theme seems like it would get dull fast. But I’m quite pleased to say that our initial hesitation was quickly put to rest.
First off, the admission prices were quite fair. The self-guided tour, with an accompanying audio guide, was €10 per adult at the time we visited in September 2016. (According to their website, this has recently been raised to €12.90.) But there was an additional tour option available too – one that included wine tastings. This price list is still current:
We did consider adding the wine tasting to our entry ticket. But in the end, we opted to just tour the museum. After all, there’s no shortage of great places in Paris to enjoy a good glass of wine. We were planning to go for supper right after the tour anyway, otherwise we might have gone for the full experience.
The Museum of Wine was a little tricky to find. It’s within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower, just on the other side of the Seine. But it’s tucked away at the end of a dead-end street, so it’s easy to miss. But we ended up finding it after a bit of poking around in the right general area.
The museum was the brainchild of the members of the Echansons Council of France. This council, dedicated to the promotion of fine French wines, established the museum in 1984 as part of their mandate. The museum, set in old limestone quarries dug between the 13th-18th centuries, now houses a collection of over 2200 pieces!
Items include a collection of corkscrews, bottles of different shapes and colors, decanters, artifacts depicting Bacchus, the god of wine, among many other pieces.
One of the more unusual pieces in the museum is Le Cordon de Saint Francois de Paule, which translates to the Cord of Saint Francis de Paule. Saint Francis was the founder of the Order of Minimes. Part of the habit worn by members of the order included a belt, or cord, knotted with five knots. This cord, which belonged to the saint until his death in 1507, was protected by the convent until the Revolution. It was then moved to the church of Notre-Dame-la-Riche in Tours for safety.
It was returned in 1798 and authenticated twice, before going back to the church of Notre-Dame-la-Riche. Now, my French is a little bit rusty, but my understanding from the plaque next to the cord indicated that this relic is shared, and the fragment here will be offered to the Carmelite Convent in Tours.
Now, you may wonder what any of this has to do with wine. Well, it was the Brothers of the Order of Minimes of the Convent of Passy who built three vaulted rooms in these quarries to store their wine.
The museum restaurant now occupies these vaulted rooms.
So, what other delights does the museum house? Well, there are a few rooms dedicated to items that have been used in growing and harvesting grapes. The room below focused mainly on storage and transport containers. I loved the intricate brand in the upper right hand corner of this photo.
While the vast collection was interesting, the numbering of the artifacts was a bit confusing as they weren’t sequential. This led to a lot of “hunting around” when the audio guide pointed to a specific numbered item. But this is a minor criticism, as they have a lot of pieces to display.
They also had an onion-shaped heater, used specifically in manufacturing cognac. Non-filtered wine was brought to the boiling point in two stages, and the vapour would pass through a coil and condense. The first and last parts of the condensed steam were rejected, leaving only the “heart” or spirit of the wine in the middle of the process.
These models are showing the champagne-making process. The bottles in the back of the room are being “riddled.” After the champagne has aged, the bottles are stored upside down at a 75-degree angle. A “riddler” comes and gives the bottles 1/8th of a turn – a mere flick of the wrist. This forces the dead yeast cells to settle into the neck of the bottle so they can be easily removed.
There are even a few famous faces at the museum. Such as Napoleon, who happened to love wine. His favourite was Chambertin from Burgundy, which he even had delivered to the battlefield.
Then there was Louis Pasteur, who probably had the biggest impact on French wines. In the 19th Century, the industry’s reputation was damaged by various diseases that altered or destroyed the natural flavours of the wine. French wine exports suffered greatly. Napoleon III commissioned Pasteur’s services to study the wines in the region to determine a course of action. Pasteur’s methods of applying heat and reducing exposure of the wines to bacteria in the atmosphere led to the solution: pasteurization.
By the end of the audio tour and walkabout, we realized we had actually learned more about wine than we expected to. The museum was low-key, at least when we were there (there was one other couple in the museum besides us) so we didn’t have high expectations. But we found the museum to be interesting, humorous, entertaining and educational. It was one of those “hidden gems” that not a lot of people seem to know about, but is worth making the time for.