Drink Local, Drink Montmartre! (WBW12) Recipe

Clos Montmartre

I have been but a sporadic participant in Wine Blogging Wednesday, the event created by Lenn (read here and here) but it is poor planning that is to blame rather than a lack of interest. And when I found out that the theme he had set for the 12th edition was Drink Local I thought to myself, I just cannot be a proud Montmartre citizen and miss an opportunity to write about the Montmartre vineyards.

Vineyards? In Montmartre? Yup, it is yet another quirky feature of this unique part of Paris I love so dearly.

Long before Lutèce became Paris, the Montmartre area (as in fact a large part of the surrounding valley of the Seine) was planted with grapevine. The Romans had built a temple there dedicated to Bacchus, god of wine, and when an Benedictine abbey was founded on the hill in the 12th century (hence the name of the metro station Abbesses), it included a wine-press that the nuns operated. The abbey was sadly dismantled during the French revolution (the very old, blind and deaf abbess was accused of conspiracy against the Republic and sent to the guillotine in 1794), but the vineyards stayed in operation, producing a white wine (“clairet”) that was sold inside the gates of Paris (the Montmartre hill was outside the city limits back then) and a lesser red wine (“piquette”) sold to the local inhabitants and joyously drunk in the numerous cabarets, taverns and guinguettes of the area.

But in the early 20th century the big bad phylloxera scourged the whole thing, and by that time the development of railway transportation had made it easy to bring better wine from other regions of France into the capital, so the vineyards in and around Paris all disappeared. In the 1920’s however, a group of artists and their friends decided to stop a real estate project on a patch of land in the back of the Montmartre hill, between rue des Saules and rue St-Vincent. They came up with a counter-project, asking that the land be used instead to recreate the Montmartre vineyards. Their project was accepted, and the area was thus replanted with grapevines in 1933, leading to the first harvest in 1934.

Le Clos Montmartre now boasts 1,556 square meters (1,850 square yards) with 2000 vine stock in 27 varietals (mostly Gamay and Pinot Noir), and produces a grand yearly total of 1,700 half-liter bottles. Every year in October, a popular Fête des Vendanges (harvest festival) is organized, with fanfare music and a parade in which you can admire (no pointing and laughing) the traditional costumes of the confréries bachiques (wine brotherhoods) and other chevaleries du tastevin (wine-tasting knighthoods) — the local Commanderie du Clos Montmartre in particular.

This is when the bad news comes in: this WBW entry will sadly include no tasting notes. Why? Well, during the festival, each and every one of the bottles is auctioned off as part of a benefit for the charities of the 18th arrondissement, thus making the Clos Montmartre wine unavailable to the general public outside of this period. Those who have tasted it give it mixed reviews: some declare it undrinkable (blaming the Parisian weather, poor terroir and loss of savoir-faire) but other oenophiles say that while its value is arguably mostly folkloric, it is a decent enough beverage. I will try to snatch a bottle during the next harvest in October!


And while doing research for this entry, I discovered that quite a number of vineyards (over 150!) have been created in the wider Paris area over the past few decades, an initiative represented and promoted by Les Vignerons Franciliens. Because European regulations restrict the creation of new vineyards, all those vineyards are in fact educational and community projects, and they are not allowed to sell their production through conventional outlets. However, I have heard through the grapevine (sorry, couldn’t resist) that if you go and visit, some vineyards will sell you a bottle or two. Additionally, the above-mentioned association presents those wines at the yearly Salon de l’Agriculture and organizes regular tasting sessions for its members.

  • Miss Lisa

    fascinating stuff! thanks so much – the station name Abbesses has always intrigued me … not enough to do any research, but still!

  • joan

    Clotilde what memories I have of that area! Precious days spent walking and walking in the rain and loving every every every minute of it. The Musée de Montmartre ..I stood for a long time “in” the Café de l”Abreuvoir. The power of place. The absolute thrill of seeing the original Lapin à Gill …Utrillo’s grave in the Cimitière Saint Vincent ~ I knew it was there..just had to be patient! As soon as I saw the artist’s palette I knew I was there!

    ah, those unforgettable memories..

  • We have to admit that is more “piquette” than wine…! A former montmartroise.

  • Farid Zadi

    Nice post, very informative. I’ve visted some of these places. Although as someone from Lyon, I don’t associate Paris with terroir so much, thanks for reminding me that it does exist to a certain extent.

  • sam

    I am glad I am not the only one with a good excuse for not being able to actually taste my most local wine. And to think Lenn was giving me some gentle grief for it.

  • Alisa

    Although this may sound (in writing) sarcastic, IT IS REALLY NOT.
    There is almost nothing I like better than clicking on a link, and having a brotherhood, in full regalia, starring back at me. Sure there is humor in it. But even more, all the cultural ideology that makes it possible for these brotherhoods to continue with dignity, adds to the list of things I love about this country (France).

  • Your papounet

    Here’s a real scoop : when Clotilde was born, we lived in the Rue des Vieilles Vignes (the Street of Ancient Grapevines) in Courbevoie, a suburb west of Paris (where we still live, about 30 meters from this previous flat…) The name of the street stems simply from the fact that here also, in Courbevoie, there were grapes, and wine was made, in the (good?) old days.

    Incidentally, the name “Courbevoie” comes from the latin Curva Via, “twisted way”, because there’s always been a particularly impressive meander in the River Seine there, and the Romans thought it worthy of a special name. When you think of it, we go way way back in History, don’t we ? ;°)

  • Elvira – Oh, is it that bad? :)

    Sam – Just like you, I hope to be able to add the tasting notes sometime in the months to come… Hope you manage to find some time to try a glass of Crushpad’s production!

    Alisa – How about we go together to the harvest festival in October? You’ll get to see the real costumed guys!

    Papa – Amazing, you know I never ever thought of that? To me, “ruedesvieillesvignes” is all in one word! :) And here’s another scoop: apparently they have a small vineyard in the Parc de Bécon! Who would’ve thunk?

  • gerard

    Just coming back from dinner at a friend’s in the center (relatively speaking) of Paris, I had to bicycle up to Montmartre, if you can imagine the challenge. We tasted Lynch-Bages 2000, La Lagune 95 and Ducru-Beaucaillou 93, plus a minor Gewurztraminer to go with the coffee ice cream….
    My favorite artist-winemaker is André Ostertag.

  • Under the heading of “bizarre trivia”: A friend who lives across the street from Metro Abbesses once told me that the Montmartre wine is known for its strong diuretic qualities. (Not sure that is a good thing!)

  • Raphas

    I live in Courbevoie and I have been to the Parc many times although I didn’t know they had grapes

  • wonderful post, clotilde! didn’t know you were a montmartroise..and i just had to mention in Murder in Montmartre my next book, metro Lamarck-Caulincourt, the vineyards, Saint Vincent cemetary with three-deep burial plans descriptions on pg 244. alors, my detective Aimée’s culinary skills extend to jambon-beurre…on a good day

  • rp

    That was a cool and well written post. The thing that jumped off the page for me was where you say that European regulations prohibit the creation of new vineyards. If I had known that before, I would have understood much more quickly, and much more easily, why France rejected the new proposed constitution!

  • Lil

    sounds like heuringer in vienna, i’d definitely give it a try the next time i am in montmartre… absolutely love strolling in the neighbourhood!

  • I’ve spotted vines in a park just off the top of the hill adjacent to the Buttes-Chaumont, and also in Belleville Park. Guess the moment the french see a steep hill, they only think of one thing it needs.

  • jessica

    Wonderful blog, I found it while Googling “Clos Montmartre”, as I am coming to Paris in October, and the festival happens to fall on my last days there. I think I’ll go, we should meet and try to taste some of this diuretic wine! May I ask a terribly ignorant question? You say the abbey was dismantled…was the Temple to Bacchus torn down by the Christians? Thank you :)

  • Jessica – The abbey was dismantled by the revolutionaries, who confiscated the properties of the clergy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_revolution

  • jessica

    Ah, I understand, Clotilde. It was not clear to me at first reading that the Abbey was housed in the same temple to Bacchus. My misunderstanding. Thank you so much for the link – my high school European history retention has not served me well. Much reading to do before I travel!

  • Anita

    Salut Clotilde! Votre blog est un vrai plaisir a lire. Je viens de le decouvrir et voir cette poste et je suis coureuse si tu connais les dates de le fete de vendage de cette annee? Je vais bientot demenager a Montmartre de New York et j’aimerai bien aller quand je suis a Paris en octobre.

    Autre question, hors sujet: Est-ce que on peux trouver des “Sweet Potatoes” a Paris?

    Merci pour le conseil! A plus!

  • Anita – Here’s the official website for the harvest festival; it states that the 2009 celebrations will be held between Oct. 7 and 11.

    As for sweet potatoes, you can find them in France (patates douces), but they’re not the exact same variety as in the US, and they’re imported from Israel, so not a local produce.

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