If you find yourself on the wrong side of Montmartre, it can seem like a nightmarish tourist trap. But get yourself around the back, and it’s like stepping back in time. One of the many very charming aspects of this neighbourhood, is that it is home to the oldest vineyard in the city. In the heart of Montmartre, on a small slope surrounded by houses, is a beautiful little corner of French countryside.
The presence of vines in Montmartre goes officially back to 944, and many say even to Roman times. In the 18th century three quarters of the hill of Montmartre was covered with vines. At that time Montmartre was outside of the city of Paris, and so not subject to its taxes, making the wine (and rents) cheap and so attracting the artists, dance halls and cabarets that the area became so famous for.
These vines are actually fairly recent, planted in 1933 thanks to a local association who got together to try and save the plot of land from urbanization and to replant the vines which had traditionally grown there. The wine is called Clos Montmartre, not an exceptional wine – the vines face north, the soil is not really suitable and neither is the Parisian weather! However it’s very popular, probably due the very limited quantities made – there are only around 1750 vines, making approximately 1700 bottles – and sells for around 50€ a bottle currently. All the money from the sales of the wine go to local charities. The wine is actually made in the basement of the town hall of the 18th arrondissement! It’s the only town hall that has a license to make alcohol. The wine label changes each year and is designed by a different local artist each time.
Each year at the end of October the ‘Fete des Vendanges’ or harvest festival is celebrated. it’s a huge street party, featuring processions, music, dance, food and of course wine. The vineyard is not open to the public. You can book a visit as a group through the Montmartre Tourist Office, but it’s pricey. However you can see it easily from the street, and can get some fantastic views of it from the garden of the Montmartre Museum where you can get right up close. The vineyard is also carefully planted with fruit trees, flowers and aromatic herbs – it’s very beautiful at any time of year. If you’re spending time in Montmartre, make sure you get away from the crowds at the Sacré Coeur and the Place du Tertre, and don’t miss the Clos Montmartre.
- corner of rue St Vincent and rue des Saules, 75018 Paris
website for Fete des Vendanges (in French)