Strolling through Montmartre, you could easily miss it–a vineyard–in the middle of Paris. And not just any vineyard. but the oldest vineyard in the City of Light: Clos Montmartre.
Vineyards have flourished on Montmartre since the Romans built a temple here dedicated to Bacchus, god of wine. A Benedictine abbey was created on the hill in the 12th century but destroyed during the French revolution. Fortunately Clos Montmartre was spared. But in the early 1900s, phylloxera destroyed the vines and the vineyard was left uncared for. Then, in the 1930s, a group of local artists, including the famous draughtsman and illustrator Francisque Poulbot, petitioned the government to grant them the land so they could replant the vines. The plan was approved and Clos Montmartre was renewed in 1932.
I love Montmartre. On our visits to Paris, it is the neighborhood where we’ve stayed. Winding streets and lovely views are immeasurably enticing. Sacre Coeur aside, the neighborhood became immensely popular following the release of the film, Amélie.
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On all our visits, we’ve enjoyed self-guided walking tours using: City Walks in Paris: 50 Adventures on Foot (revised edition).
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One of our favorite walks begins along Rue Lepic, the site of the lovely art deco cafe where Amélie worked, Café des Deux Moulins. As you meander up Rue Lepic, you’ll pass the flats that several famous painters, Van Gogh, Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec, called home. Continuing up the hill (a good workout, I should add), you’ll see the historic Moulin de la Galette, a windmill–still in operation–that inspired Renoir’s famous painting, Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette.
At last you’ll arrive at the corner of rue des Saules and rue Saint Vincent where the working vineyard is situated against a colorful backdrop of vine-covered homes.Clos Montmartre vineyard stretches over 1,556 square meters (1,850 square yards) on a steep hill, grows 27 varietals (most Gamay and Pinot Noir), and yields 1500 half-liter bottles per year.
However, the wine is only available for purchase (and drinking!) once each year at annual Fête des vendanges (grape harvest party). The Clos Montmartre harvest party has taken place every October, except during World War II. In autumn, the grapes are harvested and brought down to the basement of the town hall in the 18th Arondissement, where they’re pressed, fermented and bottled. Each year’s wine labels are painted by local artists and the money raised from sales of the $50 half-bottles goes to charity.
Francis Gourdin, has been Clos Montmartre’s oenological advisor since 1995. He leads guided tours during the festival and explains to visitors that although it’s not easy to make good wine in such a polluted spot, it’s not impossible. Those who have tasted Clos Montmartre give it mixed reviews, but the bottles are considered collector’s items and are a great souvenir from a fun charitable event.
If you have the good fortune to be traveling to Paris a week from now, Fête des vendanges will be held October 8-12. You can get more information about the festival here.
How to get to Clos Montmartre:
Street address: 14-18, rue des Saules, 75018, Montmartre, Paris
Metro line: 12
Metro stop: Lamarck-Coulaincourt
Note: The Montmartre Vineyards are usually closed to visitors. If you are unable to visit during Fête des Vendanges, entry to the vineyard can be arranged through the Montmartre tourist Office at Place du Tertre, if you are in a group of 12 or more. Once inside, you will pay for a tasting, although the tour is free.
Take the road less traveled, Beth