Everything you need to know about Paris' urban vineyards

This article was created by National Geographic Traveler (England).

Today is Sunday and the hillside around Sacre Coeur is packed with people. But they are not worshipers, nor are they the usual Montmartre crowd taking selfies with panoramic views of Paris stretching from the cathedral's high ramparts. Today, our mission here is to discover wine. It's mid-October, and the annual Fête des Vendanges is in full swing. The festival is ostensibly a celebration of the grape harvest from the nearby vineyards of Clos-Montmartre. However, this historic Parisian vineyard is so small that the festival brings together grape growers from all over France to showcase their products, resulting in an annual all-you-can-drink event. .

I made my way through the crowd, passing festival goers sampling oysters from Nouvelle Aquitaine along with Champagne from family-run producer Jean-Pierre Marniquet. There are countless temptations, but I'm not here to drink yet. First, take a walking tour to learn about Montmartre's winemaking history. Winemaking is a tradition with roots in Rome, but today few travelers associate it with Paris.

The Ile de France region, where Paris is located, was once France's largest wine region, and this famous bohemian district was part of it. “Montmartre was once a rural haven, a place full of dairy cows and wine and windmills,” says guide Jeffrey Finch. Geoffrey Finch is a stylish Canadian expatriate who wears a trilby hat. “It used to be surrounded by vineyards,” he explains when we meet in the nearby Saint-Pierre church. This church is his second oldest surviving church in Paris, and was once part of a Benedictine abbey built in the 12th century. “A huge amount of wine was produced in the monastery, not only for the sacraments, but also to make money. Winemaking enriched the local economy,” he explains. “Viticulture was a thriving area to get into.”

A man in black clothes and a straw hat is smiling and holding a wine bottle in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other.

The annual Fête des Vendanges celebrates the grape harvest from the nearby Clos Montmartre vineyards.

Photo courtesy of Hui Anh Nguyen, Alamy

As Jeffrey leads me through the region's steep cobbled backstreets, I learn that Montmartre's winemaking has financed much of the area's Gothic architecture. The region's wine and low rents also attracted artists. We stopped outside La Bonne His Franquette, a cafe frequented by Monet, Toulouse His Lautrec, Renoir, Van Gogh and others. The latter recreated the gardens of La Bonne Franquette in his 1886 painting La Guinguette, which is on display at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.

After the 19th century, urbanization drove winemaking out of the Ile-de-France, but the artists remained. Our walk takes us past the International City of Arts, a large residential complex. “This is one of the few remaining affordable artist residences in Paris,” says Jeffrey, who is also proud to call the Clinique, once a haven for artists and poets whose nerves couldn’t be soothed by wine alone. He also pointed out the adjacent building where Du Montmartre was located. One of the residents was Gerard de Nerval, whose habit of walking his pet lobster in the 1840s later influenced Dali, Jeffrey said. We stopped and admired the vines growing in his Montmartre garden. “It used to be a fireman’s water tower,” Jeffrey says. “Now it’s a gathering place for wine producers.”

Ile-de-France is rapidly reviving viticulture. Several villages are now included in the Champagne region, and hundreds of small vineyards have blossomed in recent decades. In 2019, the region was recognized as an official geographic designation, marking the return of winemaking in Paris, Jeffrey says.

A small vineyard in a French town. The path between the glass walls is cobblestone, and you can see nearby houses facing the vineyards.

The Ile de France region, where Paris is located, was once France's largest wine producing region.

Photo by Alexander Spatari, Getty Images

Our small group of wine-loving travelers continues on to the Montmartre Museum. Adjacent to the Clos Montmartre winery, the gardens of this local history museum offer the perfect vantage point from which to observe the oldest continuously producing vineyard within the city limits. Founded in 1933, Clos Montmartre's vines are steeply pruned across 16,748 square feet and planted with flowers and fruit trees to enrich the soil. About 25% of the vineyards are now planted with the same varieties originally grown here, with some Gamay and Pinot planted, but the majority of the crops are disease-resistant hybrids. is. All together produce around 1,700 bottles of wine per year. “Most people don't leave the area,” Jeffrey says.

And at Chez Eugène, a plant-filled bistro on nearby Place du Tertre, you can finally taste Clos Montmartre Cuvée du Sport, Fête des Vendanges, and more. The 2022 reds are young and fruity, making many in our group wrinkle their noses. “Well, I’m a little confused,” Jeffrey says. But like all the wines we try, this one is an organic, low-intervention variety now favored by savvy Parisians.

We sampled a few others, including a fruity, dry Sauvignon-like Fier Gris from the Loire and a 2022 Beaujolais from central France. Jeffrey relentlessly encouraged us to guess the flavors while giving us a crash course in French wine regions. A plate of cheese and sourdough arrives to steady the ship. Eventually, Jeffrey quotes Baudelaire. Get drunk and keep drinking so you don't become a slave to time's martyrdom! About wine, about poetry, about virtue, whatever you want. ” Outside, the streets of Montmartre seem to be echoing this, as the sounds of wine festival revelry still echo.

Published in June 2024 issue National Geographic Traveler (England).

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