Wine museums: Drinking with culture

What if you decide to visit a wine collection during your vacation or, better yet, a museum entirely dedicated to the amazing world of wine, for a change?

When we say “wine is a culture”, we are not just repeating a huge cliché, we are stating a simple truth. Wine is not only vineyards and cellars, but also history and art. It is an important part of a people’s culture, significant as well as symbolic.

Let’s start with three interesting wine museums, each quite different.

The first one that I strongly advise you to visit is in Spain. If it was a car, I would compare it to a Rolls Royce, the queen of all cars: elegant, tall, sumptuous. It’s the Bodega Dinastia Vivanco Museum, an exceptional destination perfect for all wine lovers, young or old. Located in Briones (La Rioja Alta), on the banks of the Ebro, not far from Logroño, it is not only a collection of fine and precious objects related to the world of wine. It’s a real cultural center, where all aspects of the relationship between human beings and wine have been explored, so perhaps defining it as a simple “museum” is a bit simplistic.

The building is surrounded by vines, and at the entrance there is an educational “garden of vines” where the visitor can learn to recognize the grape varieties native to this part of Spain: tempranillo, garnacha, mazuelo, viura, malvasia… same grape varieties used by the Vivanco family in their wines.

Inside, the huge exhibition space is divided into several floors that follow a didactic route, explaining everything related to grapes and wine, from the cultivation of the vine to the service of wine at the table. The presentations include tons of photos, videos and above all a collection of ancient and modern precious objects: paintings, sculptures, glasses, carafes, corkscrews.

As an international center of wine culture, the Museo Bodega Dinastia Vivanco also includes a documentation center and a publishing house. Each year, the museum organizes many events around wine: workshops for adults and children, tastings and courses. (Vivanco, Carretera Nacional 232, 26330. Briones – La Rioja. Spain).

Moving to Italy, to Codroipo, in the Grave DOC region of Friuli in the north, we find Piero Pittaro and its cellar. He is a renowned wine producer not only for his wines but also for his personal museum, where over the years he has amassed a collection of wine-related artefacts from around the world. A section of his cellar is entirely reserved for his many series of exquisite glasses and bottles for wine and spirits, each of them handmade, some very old and priceless, and other quite rare items such as the “liquor cellars» which are small cellars designed especially for travellers.

But the most unusual and unique collection of its kind is that of… walking sticks! Designed for both men and women, in a variety of materials and many unique shapes, some of them have little hidden corkscrews or even bottles.

In this surprising museum you can also find a reconstruction of a typical Friulian kitchen with its tools and furniture, and even an authentic Venetian gondola to illustrate the historical role of Venice in the manufacture and trade of glass. (Vigneti Pietro Pittaro, via Udine 67, Codroipo, UD, Italy)

The third and final wine museum I want to talk about is located in Italy’s Veneto region, specifically in Valpolicella, and it’s a slightly different kind of museum. In the village of Negrar, the cooperative Cantina Valpolicella di Negrar recently created a space dedicated to a specific viticultural technique, the most important of this domain: the appassimento (drying process of wine grapes). If you want to understand how the great Amarone and Recioto della Valpolicella wines are made, this is the right place to start.

    Cantina Valpolicella di Negrar

In a large room, all the different traditional methods of drying grapes are reproduced: the hanging system, the trellis, floor drying and the wooden box system. Of course, this section is part of a larger, more traditional educational tour offered in the winery itself, but nowhere else in the region will you find an information space like this.

And while I have to admit that you might not come from a far country all the way to Veneto just to visit this museum, their wines which you can taste at the end of your visit – or those which you will find in other wineries nearby – definitely worth a visit. After all, you are in Valpolicella…(Cantina Valpolicella di Negrar, via Ca Salgari 2, Negrar, Verona, IT)

For more photos of these beautiful museums, check out the photo gallery below.

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Elisha A. Tilghman