On the heights of la Butte Montmartre (the hill of Montmartre), opposite the celebrated cabaret Le Lapin Agile, you’ll find a remnant of the times when Paris was much smaller than it is today and stretched little further than the banks of the Seine. It is a tiny vineyard, whose grapes are still harvested every year to made into wine.
About two thousand years ago, when Paris was called Lutetia or Lutèce, and was part of the Roman Empire, many of the hills around the city were planted with vines. It’s said there was a temple to Bacchus, the god of wine, on the top of Montmartre. The Romans enjoyed the wine these vineyards produced and, for centuries afterwards, the inhabitants of the Ile-de-France region did, too, maintaining vineyards on their small farms.
As the city grew bigger, however, the farms and the vineyards were built over and they all disappeared one by one. As late as the 1870s, when the Impressionists first began to show their paintings, Montmartre was a rustic place of vegetable plots and windmills with a strong tradition of independence from the rest of the city. But it, too, began to succumb to the spread of construction. Early in the 1930s, this pocket of land was threatened by building work and, following an outcry, the vines were planted to preserve it.
So make your way to the back of the Butte, to the corner of rue des Saules and rue Saint-Vincent, to experience a little corner of times gone by. If you are lucky and it is the second weekend in October, you will find the vendage (grape harvest) in full swing and can join in the festival.
The resulting wine, le Clos Montmartre, predominantly made from the Gamay grape, is pressed and bottled in the cellars of the local Mairie (town hall) of the 18th arrondissement. Every year about 500 litres is produced by traditional methods and later auctioned, the proceeds going to social projects.