Not many metropolitan cities can boast a vineyard, but it seems only fitting that one exists on the bucolic hills of Montmartre. The area was once covered with vineyards, but like the urbanization of all cities, real estate and other forces transformed agricultural land into residential property. No stranger to wine, Montmartre has been home to a Roman temple dedicated to Bacchus and a 12th century Benedectine abbey with a wine press and vineyards. According to parislogue.com, “Although the abbey was destroyed during the French revolution the vineyards remained. Wines continued to be produced from these grapes right up through the early 20th century, when a phylloxera epidemic wiped out all the vines.”
The current vineyard was created in 1933, according to the wishes of a local association called “Le Vieux Montmartre.” The wines are pressed in the cellar of the Montmartre town hall. The house of Henry IV’s favorite (and officially recognized) mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrées, stood in the location of the current vineyard until the beginning of the 19th century. d’Estrées apparently became a key diplomat working for peace between Catholics and Protestant Huguenots–not bad for a woman in the 16th century, let alone a mistress!
By the 1920s, the land had became fallow, used as a playground and frequented by the homeless. The land was reportedly saved by artists, who pushed to have the land converted to vineyards instead of sold to real estate developers. Two important buildings border the vineyard: the famous Le Cabaret du Lapin-Agile was frequented by artists such as Renoir and Picasso, and the museum Le Vieux Montmartre at 12, rue Cortot was once a comedy club for the troupe of Moliére, also popular with Renoir and other artists. For a quick bite or an afternoon drink, stop by Le Maison Rose, a cafe converted from an old village store oft-painted by the Impressionists.
Today, the wine is auctioned of each year for charity but you can taste it in two ways:
1) Attending the annual Fête des Vendanges in October, a great parade and festival. This year will be the 77th inauguration of the event, occurring between October 6th and October 9th, 2010.
2) Buying a (mini) bottle for 40 euros from the Montmartre tourism office at 21, place du Tertre in the main, touristy square near the top of Montmartre.
By all accounts however, the wine is not very good and is more of a souvenir than anything else.
Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.