Paris might be the last place you’d think to find a wine-producing vineyard, but there is one (just the size of a city block) tucked away in Montmarte! In the shade of Parisian apartment blocks, the twisted stems of hillside grapevines is a curious sight to see. It’s so small, that many people walk by Le Vignes des Clos without realising what it is. But, it’s not as unknown as one might think – when the grapes are harvested, the annual Fête des Vendanges pulls in half a million festival goers to Montmartre!
The Rebellious Origins Of Le Vignes Des Clos
Wine growing in the Montmartre region dates back to Roman times, and continued well into the 19th century. But, as the city underwent a major renovation under Baron Haussmann in the 1850s, disaster struck. A major phylloxera aphid infestation known as the Great French Wine Blight decimated many wineries nationwide in the second half of the 19th century. Montmartre was hit hard, and rendered practically vineyard-free. Where once many vineyards covered the hills of Montmartre, industrialisation and phylloxera transformed the neighbourhood.
The location of the vineyard was previously the home of cabaret singer Aristide Bruant. Next door was Renoir’s home (now the Montmartre Museum). When Bruant died, the city bought the land.
Francisque Poulbot And Let Clos Montmartre
But, a ray of hope appeared in 1933. The undeveloped plot of land, which was then used as a playground for kids, was in the middle of a development war. Real estate developers were attempting to buy the land, whilst a collective of local artists led by Francisque Poulbot, a French artist and illustrator, was trying to block it. Adhering to a French law that nothing can be built on a vineyard, the city sided with Poulbot group, who planted grapes, dashing any hopes of any buildings being developed. The vineyard has remained on site ever since.
While its origins were born from rebellion, so too are its winemaking practices. For a French wine to be certified Appellation d’origine protégée/côntrolée (AOP/AOC), a French winery needs to conform to certain standards. For example, Pinot noir must be used for reds in the Bourgogne region. The Clos Montmartre has all kinds of grape varieties growing, making it somewhat of a wild card in the wine making industry.
La Fête des Vendanges (Grape Harvest Festival)
Every October is the Fête des Vendanges, a 5-day grape harvest festival. The grapes are harvested, and moved to the cellars of the local town hall, where the winemaking process begins. The event has been held every year since 1934, growing in popularity.
The Fête des Vendanges is a major event in Paris, attracting around 500,000 attendees. It is considered the third largest Parisian event, after Paris Plages and La Nuit Blanche. The Fête is celebrated with parades, music, exhibitions, and food and drink tastings.
Wine From Les Vignes Des Clos
The grapes originally planted were pinot noir and gamay varieties, although over the years, disease-resistant hybrids have been replacing the original vines. While not an organic wine, the grapes are hand-picked, and pesticide use is kept to a minimum. After the Fête des Vendages, the winemaking process occurs in the cellar of the 18th arrondissement mairie (town hall). The grapes are pressed, fermented and bottled, and sold at auction for €20-€40.
Only 1000-1500 bottles are produced from this small winery annually, and the profits are put back into funding projects for the neighbourhood. One project is named after the vineyard’s founder, L’Oeuvre des P’tits Poulbot (Children of Poulbot), which helps children in need in Montmartre.
The wine is not considered a good wine. The conditions are not optimal, with the vineyard facing north instead of the desired south for optimal sun. But, the vineyard is known more for its rebellious artistic spirit, kitsch, and exclusivity. For those reasons, the wine is highly sought after, and considered a collector’s item. The design on the bottles are worth the price of the wine alone, as each year, a new round of local artists are commissioned to design the labels.
While you can’t visit the vineyard any time, it does open in October for tours by owner Francis Gourdin. But if you can’t make it in time for a tour, anybody who walks past is free to peek through the fence to see rows upon rows of grape vines in the shade of the Haussmann buildings next door. It’s a fascinating glimpse into not only the the history of wine in the area, but as a reminder of Paris’ rebellious spirit.
The vineyard is located on the corner of Rue Saint-Vincent and Rue Des Saules in Montmartre.