If you happened to read through our guide to the Montmartre neighborhood you might have noticed a little note that could have caused you to wonder – but about which we provided no additional information. Well, we’re here to rectify that situation, so that when you read that there’s a working vineyard atop the hill of Montmartre you aren’t left hanging like so many grapes on a vine.
Sorry, it’s easy to get carried away here. I mean, there’s a vineyard! On Montmartre, for pete’s sake!
Clos Montmartre is the name of the vineyard, and it’s easy to wander around Montmartre for awhile and never know it’s there. In fact, in several long visits to the hilltop neighborhood – my favorite in Paris – I’m only just finding out about this hidden vineyard because I’m reading about an annual festival they host. So I’m making a note to find the vineyard myself the next time I’m in Paris, and I’m especially hoping my next Paris trip is in early October so I can be there for the Fête des Vendanges as well.
But let’s back up a bit, to tell you a little about the vineyard’s history.
Vineyards once covered the Montmartre hill, and there was even a Roman temple to that wine-loving god Bacchus on Montmartre at one point. A Benedictine abbey built on Montmartre in the 12th century included a wine press to process all the grapes, and 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.
Luckily for those of us who appreciate a happy ending to a quirky story, a group of artists managed to stop a real estate development in the 1920s that would have paved over a plot of land on Montmartre, instead presenting a counter-proposal that the land be turned into a vineyard. Grapes were planted in 1933, and the first harvest was the following year. That was the start of the Clos Montmartre vineyard we have today.
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Clos Montmartre now has more than 1500 square meters of vineyards on the hill, growing 27 varietals and producing around 1500 half-liter bottles each year. It’s the only remaining vineyard within the city limits of Paris, and every year in October it’s the setting for a lively harvest festival, or Fête des Vendanges.
Now, the wines produced by Clos Montmartre aren’t really the reason to visit the vineyard. In fact, the vast majority are sold at auctions at the Fête des Vendanges and the proceeds go to local charities, so getting your hands on a bottle could be a costly venture anyway. But even beyond that, some who have tasted the wines say they’re not particularly good – so buying a bottle is more about getting a collector’s item and supporting a charity than it is about buying a really good bottle of wine.
Visits to Clos Montmartre at any time of year other than the Fête des Vendanges are more difficult, as they must be arranged through the Montmartre tourist office and typically require you to be part of a decent-sized group in order to get a tour. If you do arrange a visit, however, the tour is free – although you’ll pay for a tasting. (Still, this could be your only shot at tasting one of the Clos Montmartre wines, unless you’re planning on bidding at the auction!)
Going to the Fête des Vendanges at Clos Montmartre, however, is much more enjoyable than if you visit at any other time of year. Between the fun auction and the party atmosphere, each year the festival celebrates a different theme and features celebrity guests (although if you’re not French or a Francophile you may not know who they are). The area around the vineyard, and even further away in Montmartre, gets involved in the festival, so it’s hard not to get swept up in it yourself as well.
The Fête des Vendanges is over for 2009, but there’s no reason you couldn’t plan your next visit to Paris around this fun event. And in any case, don’t forget to keep an eye out for the Clos Montmartre vineyard as you’re strolling through Montmartre.
Montmartre Vineyard Visitor Information
Clos Montmartre Location: 14-18 rue des Saules (the Google map below is littered with markers, but if you zoom in and look at the one marked “Montmartre Vignes,” which should be marker A, you’ll see the vineyards plain as day)
How to Visit: If you’re not visiting during the harvest festival, then you’ll need to stop at the Montmartre tourist office at Place du Tertre to schedule a visit. Try to come with a group (12 or more is best, but if it’s a slow day you might be able to get in with fewer people).
How to Get There: The closest Metro station is Lamarck-Coulaincourt, and the vineyards are at the corner of rue des Saules and rue Saint Vincent. If you stand at that corner with your back to the ivy-covered wall, you’ll be looking right at the vineyards. The entrances are gated off, which is why you need to visit the Montmartre TI in order to get in.
Fête des Vendanges Festival Information: Official Fête des Vendanges website (in French, with Google translations for English); two articles that are helpful about visiting the vineyard and the festival are from the Guardian.co.uk and Frenchgardening.com (both in English).