The Romans had established vineyards in Paris more than a thousand years ago. Maybe this was the starting point of the very vibrant present day French wine industry and culture. The earliest vineyards declined gradually as the Parisian urban development progressed. The last of these Roman plantations disappeared finally during the wreckage that occurred during the invasion of Paris at the time of the Franco Prussian war around 1870. They had all gone.
There is a new vineyard in Paris though. It came to exist due to totally different circumstances. It is all a bit of a secret actually. Few people know about it and few visitors have taken the trouble to find it. It lies just behind the Sacre Cour Basilica on the west side and hides in its shadow. It is called the Clos Monmartre and was created much later in 1933. Find it in the 18th arrondissement at the corner of rue des Saules and rue Saint Vincent.
It was established by the officials at Montmartre City Hall. A commercial construction company had expressed an interest in building some houses on the vineyard’s present site. This was actually a rubbish disposal location where tramps often stayed and the poorer children of the City had played. The development was opposed by the local authorities. Under French law, it is prohibited to build on any vineyard site. The council decided to create one of their own therefore on the waste tip. The wine would be produced commercially and the profits would be given to local charities.
The local district is beautiful nowadays and contributes much to the national culture of France in this secluded little corner of Paris.
The area is quite small occupying only 1500 square metres. There are approximately 2000 vines vigorously thriving to this day. Strangely, the vines grow on a north facing slope so they do not receive the strongest sunlight. Wine production, however, is flourishing in the Kent county of England which is much further north than Paris. The Clos Monmartre is wonderfully tended and supports many wildflowers. It is a secured location but easily viewed by visitors from the surrounding pathways outside the protecting fence work. It is the only vineyard in Paris.
I went to try and find it for myself on a splendid spring day in 2017. I wasn’t quite sure where it was but I reckoned I had got close to it. Some passing American tourists stopped and asked me where the vineyard was. I guessed a bit and indicated a direction that I thought was right. We all went down that way and joined together to admire the view and take our photographs.
This Parisian vineyard lies in a quite charming and beautifully preserved area on the edge of the much less graceful Pigalle district. The two locations rest back to back and seemingly flatter each other. They seem to be the epitome of the combined kitsch and charm of the Monmartre district of Paris. The buildings surrounding the vineyard are the mark of older classic French architectural style and poise. There are some shops, cafes and museums that contribute to the local presentation.
The populist French painters are well represented in this location too. It was where many of them produced their work. There seems to be a cultural union somehow with them and the present day wine production from the Clos Monmartre. It is all such a seductive scene to survey on a beautiful spring afternoon.
There is an annual five day grape harvest festival in France in the autumn; La Fete des Vendanges. Grapes are taken from the Clos Monmartre during this period to the local cellar at the Monmartre City Hall. Here they are pressed, fermented and bottled. The wine is sold locally in Paris and experts describe it as being of medium quality. There are about 1000 to 1500 bottles auctioned each year and they go for quite high prices to reflect their rather unique status. The profits are used though for non commercial purposes and support local Parisian charities. The bottles are labelled ‘Clos Monmartre from the Cuvee de L’Amour’. They are surely a wonderful souvenir of Paris for visitors to take home with them.
A visit to the City vineyard, Clos Monmartre, makes a magnificent interlude for tourists passing by Paris. It is a great symbol of one of the mighty agricultural industries of France surrounded by classically distinct Parisian architecture and subtlety.