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Food & Wine
November 2019

In Montmartre’s Historic Vineyard, a Living Chapter of Paris History

While most vineyards face south for optimal sun exposure, Clos Montmartre faces north. Still, the vines of Montmartre persist, 86 years after the vineyard was founded.

Photo credit:

Lauren Fleishman

As you walk downhill behind Sacre-Coeur, the tourist crowds fade. On the north side of the butte of Montmartre, it is easier to imagine life when the vibrant, rebellious artists’ commune thrived. Small, classic white houses with wood shingled roofs and vine-covered stone buildings line the tiny, winding cobblestoned streets.

Hidden away on rue des Saules is a verdant refuge. By mid-October the vendange, or harvest, has passed, but the dark, twisted stems and the brilliant yellow and auburn leaves of the grape vines in the Clos Montmartre create a refreshing contrast to the urban landscape of Paris.

While most vineyards face south for optimal sun exposure, Clos Montmartre has been producing grapes on the north slope of the butte for some 86 years. The contrarian style is representative of Montmartre’s rebellious spirit, which continues to thrive, centuries after the heyday of the Montmartre artists’ community.

Established in 1933 — right before France passed its strict law regulating vineyard agriculture and wine fabrication — the Clos Montmartre can be considered an "outlaw vineyard" by defying many of France’s rules and practices of wine-making and production.

In France, for a wine to receive an “Appellation d’origine protégée/côntrolée” (AOP/AOC) label, a vineyard must follow specific rules about where and how it grows grapes. Only certain varieties can be grown in certain regions (Pinot Noir for reds in the Bourgogne region for example), and the wine must be produced and bottled in the same area where its grown.

The Clos Montmartre vineyard, by contrast, has dozens of varieties of grapes — from heritage types no longer grown other places in France to modern, adaptive hybrids. All of its wines are blends, produced in the basement of the mairie, or city hall, of the 18th arrondissement. The vineyard yields between 1,000 and 1,500 bottles per year.

The spirited residents of Montmartre helped save the land where the vineyard now exists. The well-known caricaturist Francisque Poulbot helped spark a movement to protect the space from construction. Their success transformed the space into a playground for children. The land became part of Poulbot’s legacy.

Today, the city of Paris maintains the vines of the Clos Montmartre, and a non-profit organization, COFAS*, oversees the harvest and wine production. COFAS benefits from the profits from the vineyard’s wines, which in turn helps charities such as "L'Oeuvre des P'tits Poulbot” (Children of Poulbot) continuing Poulbot’s generous spirit.

“I love a beautiful sentence that Poulbot always used to describe his mission and work in Montmartre: Faire le bien dans la joie! which translates as Providing good through joy" says Laurence Debart-Johner, the storyteller who guides Secret Journeys’ guests inside the vineyard.

The vineyard, which also grows strawberries, and many other garden plants as well as an olive tree, is hand-weeded, and all of the grapes are hand-harvested. Although it is not an organic vineyard, everything is grown using as few chemicals as possible. Some of the older grape varieties need to be sprayed with a mixture of copper and sulphur to protect against fungus, but the newer varieties that the vineyard planted are more resistant to weather and temperature changes.

Montmartre’s secret vineyard is a unique part of the cultural heritage of the city of Paris. It is not usually open to the public, but this Secret Journey provides a chance to experience the place in person, to taste a singular vintage, and to get a first-hand look at a little-known chapter of Paris’ living history. 

*Comité des Fêtes et d'Actions Sociales du 18ème arrondissement de Paris

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