Abbaye de Fontevraud

Here are some photos from a recent visit to the Abbaye de Fontevraud, originally constructed to be something of a utopian city (ruled by women, no less) by Robert d’Arbrissel.  Throughout the trajectory of its history, however, the micro-city took on a motley variety of identities, as the site of a royal tomb (housing the remains of Henry II, Richard the Lion Heart, and Eleanor of Aquitaine), monastic city, penitentiary (until 1985!), cultural center, and UNESCO world heritage site.

 

(the nearby Chateau de Montsoreau)

(champignonerie (mushroom-erie) built into the rocks of Montsoreau)

 

A Cointreau-mercial Success

Orange peel, sugar, alcohol, and water.  These four simple ingredients have come to define a beverage, a brand, a ‘cocktail culture.’  With humble roots in a  French family of boulangers, Cointreau has fulfilled the dreams of its creator, Eduard Cointreau, who created the recipe in 1875, writing:

« J’ai recherché passionnément cette liqueur dont j’ai voulu qu’elle ais la pureté du cristal et une grande subtilité du goût, grâce à l’harmonie parfaite d’esprit d’écorces d’oranges douces et amères. » 

(“I searched passionately for the essence of Cointreau.  I wanted to combine the purity of a crystal-clear liquid with the refined flavours obtained from the perfect harmony of sweet and bitter oranges.”)

But Cointreau has become more than simply the sum of its four simple parts.  It has become a marketing behemoth, standing strong across the ages and across the world.

But what is it?

When Eduard created the recipe in 1875, he wanted to build off of the success of curaçao, but he placed his emphasis on obtaining a crystal clear product (all of the other triple secs* available at the time were colored).

(*To clarify – Cointreau is a type of triple sec.  And why the name triple sec?  This category of liqueur was three times more concentrated in orange essential oils and less sweet (ie more ‘sec’, or dry) than the standard orange liqueurs available at the time.)

But its simple.  Two varieties of orange peel (imported from Spain, Brasil, and Northern Africa) – sweet and bitter – are macerated overnight in alcohol distilled from beet sugar.  The following morning the mixture is distilled, and the vapor, enriched in the essential oils extracted from the orange peels, is condensed and collected.

(copper stills dating from the 1930s that are still used today to produce 15 million liters of Cointreau per year)

(modernized stills – built in 1972 – used in the distillation of other liqueurs)

The distillate, now 85% alcohol, is blended with water and sugar (again from sugar beets, as this neutral sugar ensures that no additional flavors are added, either via the alcohol or sugar), to obtain the finished Cointreau at 40% alcohol, or 80 proof.  It is bottled on site (the most productive bottling line can whip through 10,000 bottles an hour), and ready for consumption!

(Pierrot, Cointreau’s most recognizable mascot)

But let’s not skip the marketing, where Cointreau has perhaps been most influential.  Their most enduring mascot is the image of Pierrot, originally chosen by Eduard in 1898, and the following year he appeared in the first commercial ever recorded on film.  The inverted image of a woman in the process of undressing was the beginning of a long history of sexually charged advertising campaigns, including the American campaign featuring Burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese, the last French campaign (before the advertising of alcohol was prohibited by law - le loi Evin –  in 1991) which carried the tagline “Voulez-vous cointreau avec moi?”, and the most recent US slogan, “Be Cointreauversial.”

The marketing schemes seem to be particularly influential on Americans, as the US represents the number one export market for Cointreau, followed by duty free shops.  These two markets comprise 95% of sales, and the third largest market is the domestic French market.  Perhaps the high level of consumption in the US is due to the popularity of cocktails.  This “cocktail culture” does not exist in France, where Cointreau was traditionally drunk pure as a digestif.

(Cointreau on the rocks becomes turbid as the essential oils come out of solution at the lower temperature.  Chilling the liqueur also significantly cuts the aroma and taste of the alcohol, giving the impression of a much smoother, sweeter drink)

But, despite hailing from a country without this ‘cocktail culture,’ Cointreau has become well integrated into the mixology world.  In addition to playing a key role in such classics as the Cosmopolitan, Margarita, Sidecar, and White Lady, Cointreau also has tried its hand at a bit of mixology of its own.  Their most recent proposal?  The Cointreaupolitan.  While a bit on the sweet side for my own taste, this racy, hot pink cocktail represents everything that the Cointreau brand has become – sexy, flashy, and just a little retro.

(The Cointreaupolitan – Long version: Mix 5cl Cointreau, 7cl cranberry juice, and 2cl lemon juice over ice.  Short version: Combine 5cl Cointreau, 3cl cranberry juice, and 2cl lemon juice in a shaker with ice.  Shake and serve in a martini glass)

 

Tourism by the Glass

I am working on a presentation on the Washington state wine industry for my ‘Methodology in the French language’ course (ie how to put your ideas together in French and for a French audience), and was reminded of a paper I wrote at Haverford for a class on the History of the US Built Environment.  In what is officially my first US-wine related post, I am posting the paper which, while admittedly a bit long, toys with the idea of how this particular building, the Novelty Hill-Januik Winery in Woodinville, WA, embodies the transformations in wine tourism that have, essentially, allowed this suburb of Seattle to come into its own as Washington state’s hub of wine tourism, despite its isolation from the heart of WA wine production, in the Eastern half of the state.

Tourism By the Glass: Reshaping of the Wine Industry by Redesigning its Spaces

Passing through the short strip of industrial warehouses on Highway 202 out of Woodinville, Washington, one might initially mistake the concrete façade of Novelty Hill-Januik Winery (NHJ) for a part of this industrial monotony.  However, upon closer inspection the deliberate landscaping becomes apparent, as does the wide driveway inviting passerby to pull into the 100-space parking lot that stretches along the length of the concrete structure.  Most striking from the parking lot is the starkness of the simple, linear façade against the downward sloping landscape, which begs the question of what lies below.

If the designers hopes are realized, the visitor’s interest is piqued and he passes through the cave-like entryway to find himself awash in a contrast of warm wood and cool concrete, still emphasizing the linearity of the façade.  It is here that the intent of this space becomes clear.  The design of NHJ embodies the emphatic adoption of tourism by the wine industry.  Though consumers traditionally had limited access to the winemaking process,[i] this began to change significantly as wineries learned that tourism could be a profitable adjunct to their business, promoting the appeal of wine in general and their vintages in particular.  In the United States, this shift began as early as 1935, just two years after the repeal of Prohibition, when tourism was suggested as a means to teach the public about wine so as to instill a deep love and respect for the product.  After World War II, the travel industry began to swell, and wine tourism followed. [ii]  The infrastructure of the winery had to be changed in order to incorporate those factors meant to attract visitors, including reorganizing space to support tours, tasting and sales rooms, and increasing the aesthetic appeal of winery spaces.[iii]  NHJ expands this focus on the consumer by creating a space providing not only amenities for the visitor, but also an invitation to learn about the winemaking process through the organization of space and its aesthetic components.  However, a boundary is simultaneously drawn between consumer and producer to ensure the maintenance of professionalism and efficiency in the process.

Tom Alberg, the owner of NHJ, deliberately chose the location for his winery with an eye toward the importance of the wine tourist.  In a press release marking the opening of the winery, he cited Woodinville as “rapidly becoming one of Washington’s most exciting wine producing and tasting destinations for quality wines.”[iv]  This rapid growth is surprising as Woodinville is located across the state from most of the vineyards that supply grapes to its wineries.  Elsewhere, wineries and their associated vineyards are typically located in the same region, if not on the same property.  So why are there over seventy-five wineries and tasting rooms located in this small city of 11,350 people?[v],[vi]  The answer lies in Woodinville’s proximity to and accessibility from Seattle, about twenty miles away.  In a study of the success of tourism in wine regions, Getz and Brown found that the second most important factor in determining a visitor’s likelihood of patronizing a winery was having “a lot to see and do in the area.”[vii]  There are several direct, highway-linked routes from Seattle to Woodinville, whereas the wine country of Eastern Washington is isolated from populous Seattle by the looming Cascade Mountains.  This accessibility, along with the historical presence of Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, which was established in Woodinville in 1967,[viii] initially made Woodinville a magnet for the tasting room and winery outposts of Eastern Washington winemakers.  Once wine began to flood the area, Getz and Brown’s sixth most important factor, the presence of many wineries in an area, became a driving force for the success of the Woodinville wine industry, drawing still more wineries to the area.[ix]  NHJ is located on the main thoroughfare into Woodinville’s most concentrated wine district, as well as on the way to Chateau Ste. Michelle, which continues to draw large crowds for wine tasting as well as its summer concert series.   This strategic positioning emphasizes the focus of the winery on catering to the tourist – not only is it easy to find for those who are looking, but it is also easy to stumble upon.  This piggybacking on the success of Woodinville’s wine tourism industry is one way in which NHJ embodies the history of wine tourism and makes the wines of Eastern Washington accessible to the state’s more populous western side.

Alberg wanted the architecture of the building itself to “enhance visitors’ knowledge and appreciation” of their wines.[x]  This aim recalls the original reason for establishing wine tourism, as one speaker at the 1935 Conference of Vintners and Allied Interests advocated for winery visitation on the grounds that visitors would be “imbued with the lore of wine and learn to know it.”[xi]  While many destination wineries have relied solely upon aesthetic appeal to attract tourists, the design of NHJ fosters this educational aspect of the tourism experience, while maintaining a functional division between workspace and tourist.

The use of glass in the building conveys a literal and figurative sense of transparency in the winemaking process.  From the tasting room, floor-to-ceiling glass windows expose hundreds of oak barrels stacked and resting patiently as they await the release of their contents, red stains on the oak the only evidence of the product within.  Down the hall, across from the private event room, a matching wall of glass permits viewing of the fermentation room, lined with enormous stainless-steel vats that protect the infant wine from the outside world as it is transformed into alcohol.  The workspaces are located a floor below the observer, literally giving viewers an overview of the winemaking process.  The view provided by these windows is such that the visitors can observe the different stages of the journey from grape to bottle, but are still isolated from the activity.  This separation reflects another historical trend in winemaking – the increase in scale of winemaking as demand for the product has grown.  In pre-WWII United States, wine consumption averaged two liters per year, but by the 1990s was up to about seven liters per year.[xii]  Larger batches create a struggle for producers of high-end wines as they aim to maximize efficiency through the use of industrial methods while maintaining a sense of artisanship and quality in their wines.  By using the design of the winery to invite visitors to witness the making of wine, NHJ strives for transparency in its methods, thus demonstrating pride in the quality of their technique and products.  At the same time, the distance between the visitor and the process that the windows ensure helps to maintain efficiency, as extraneous bodies will not be present inside of the production areas.  This separation is a vestige of the sense of secrecy in the wine industry that existed before tourism was integrated into the spaces, and limitation of public access to the more “proprietary areas” of the winery remains common even in wineries designed to welcome visitors.[xiii]  This separation establishes a sense of expertise, where the winemaker possesses a body of tacit knowledge unattainable by the public even though they can watch the process from a distance.

The architecture of NHJ leads visitors outdoors to the terraced garden which continues the theme of linearity seen in the structure itself, connecting the interior and exterior spaces.  The gardens are a prominent feature of NHJ, and represent an intention to express the relationship between earth and wine.  More specifically, the landscape design uses a descending series of terraces to “evoke the low hills and agricultural environment of the ‘other Washington’” – east of the Cascades.[xiv]  In so doing, the designers were able to abstractly import the missing portion of the winemaking process – the growing of grapes – to the winery.  Since NHJ is located over 150 miles from its estate vineyard, viticulture is the one aspect of the wine that is not made transparent to visitors by the physical space.  Instead, NHJ’s prominent gardens serve to conjure an image of the vineyards of Eastern Washington.  In this way, space again serves as a quasi-educational tool to expose visitors to the methods of winemaking while maintaining distance.  In this case, the division between process and tourist is not meant to aid efficiency or demonstrate technological prowess, but is a function of consumer demand.  As wine tourism became more prominent, proximity to consumers became more important than proximity to grapes, especially in Washington where accessibility of the vineyard regions is compromised by the presence of a prominent mountain range.

Prior to opening the NHJ facility in 2007, Alberg processed Novelty Hill wines in a nondescript warehouse in Woodinville.  The space had no signs and did not accept public visitors.  The transformation from this purely functional space to NHJ, with its deliberate aesthetic and focus on educating the public while maintaining a professional division between production and consumption, is emblematic of the broader shift in the wine industry from a focus on production to a greater emphasis on tourism.


[i] Sean Stanwick and Loraine Fowlow, Wine by Design (West Sussex, UK: Wiley 2006), 19.

[ii] Thomas Pinney, History of Wine in America: From Prohibition to the Present (Berkely, CA: University of California Press, 2005), accessed February 20, 2011, http://site.ebrary.com/lib/haverford/docDetail.action?docID=10088448&p00=wine%20history, 217-218.

[iii] Pinney, History of Wine in America, 218.

[iv] Novelty Hill-Januik, “Opening of New Novelty Hill-Januik Winery in Woodinville Marks Important Milestone in Washington Wine Tourism: State-of-the-Art Destination Winery Opens June 8,” press release, 4 June 2007, http://www.noveltyhillwines.com/pdf/NH-J-open-Jun-07.pdf  (22 Feb 2011).

[v] “Woodinville Lifestyle,” Greater Woodinville Chamber of Commerce, http://www.woodinvillechamber.org/Lifestyle.aspx (22 Feb 2011).

[vi] “About Woodinville: Demographics/Statistics,” City of Woodinville, http://www.ci.woodinville.wa.us/live/demographics.asp, last modified January 4, 2011 (22 Feb 2011).

[vii]Donald Getz and Graham Brown, “Critical success factors for wine tourism regions: a demand analysis,” Tourism Management 27 (2006) 152-153.

[viii] “Washington Heritage,” Chateau Ste. Michelle, http://www.ste-michelle.com/winery/washingtonHeritage, (21 Feb 2011).

[ix] Donald Getz and Graham Brown, 152-153.

[x] Novelty Hill-Januik, press release.

[xi] Pinney, History of Wine in America, 217.

[xii] Stanwick and Fowlow, Wine by Design, 18.

[xiii] Stanwick and Fowlow, Wine by Design, 19.

[xiv] Clair Enlow, “A Winery Before its Time,” Landscape Architecture (2008) 44-45.