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Tea is to Britain as wine is to France.
Most of the world’s best wines come from Burgundy, Bordeaux, and the Rhone Valley in France, but few know that the true history of wine starts—and, most recently, ends—in Paris.
In the 18th century, Paris was the largest producer of wines in France. There was little mode of transport, so wines were produced where people lived. Despite the less-than-ideal soil conditions, the Parisian wine industry flourished. Over 4,450 wine merchants managed an impressive 42,000 hectares planted with vines. Some vineyards, like Le Clos de Montmartre behind Sacré-Coeur, date as far back as Roman times.
Toward the end of the century, an epidemic destroyed vineyards across Europe, most notably in France. By the time the merchants could replant, much of the land in Paris was under development so the city could continue to expand.
Luckily for the wine merchants, with the arrival of the railways, wine no longer had to be produced in Paris. In the years that followed, the wine industry moved most of its vineyards into the warmer climates of eastern and southern France, where the soil was more fertile. By the start of the 20th century, there were no vines left in Paris.
But Parisians couldn’t be separated from their vines for long. In the 1930s, the “Vieux Montmartre” group, led by local artist Francisque Poulbot, turned a neighbourhood park in Montmartre into a vineyard. Their first harvest took place in 1934, in what is now Paris’ only wine-producing vineyard. How’s the wine? Not great, according to experts, mostly due to the land’s northern exposure. With an annual yield of only 1,200 bottles, the wine is mostly for show, rather than taste.
Although the Montmartre wines never took off, they surely stoked the fires of a desire to bring the wine harvesting traditions back to Paris. The Fête des Vendanges de Montmartre, “Grape Harvest Festival,” organised by the inhabitants of the hill of Montmartre, has been an annual tradition since 1934. Every fall, the neighbourhood comes to life with a big parade, fireworks, and wine auctions to celebrate the local vines.
Photo by: Kasia Dietz
More recently, wine makers have realised that local cultivation is not necessary to bringing the wine industry back to the capital. Thierry Givone, a wine expert and long-time Parisian, brought his love of wine to adopted home. In 2014, he opened Wine Tasting in Paris to share his knowledge and love of French wines with tourists and locals alike.
In March of this year, Parisian Matthieu Bosser decided to bring wine production back to its roots. Having worked in the wine industry outside of Paris for 10 years, he began to wonder how he could make wine without leaving his beloved city. Thus, Les Vignerons Parisiens, “The Parisian Winemakers,” was born.
Rather than attempt to cultivate vines in the unforgiving Parisian soil, he and his three partners carefully source vineyards from the Rhone Valley. Two of the partners actually work in the vines, selecting biodynamic parcels from three different villages for both red and white blends. Upon the harvest, the grapes are carefully sorted by hand, and the crates delivered to Paris. Then, Matthieu and his Paris-based partner carefully press them by machine, in a process that is similar to that of crushing the grapes by foot. After the wine is fermented, select blends are aged for one year in 600-liter oak barrels.
Photo by: Kasia Dietz
This entire process takes place at his small factory on Rue de Turbigo in the trendy North Marais neighbourhood. Bosser notes, especially proud that he only needs to add sulfites during the bottling. Les Vignerons Parisiens produces five wines, three reds and two whites, and the younger iterations are quite impressive.
Although they may never achieve the acclaim of their countryside counterparts, these ‘Made in Paris’ wines have breathed new life into Parisian wine-making.