The surprising urban vineyards of Paris

Think of Paris and you probably think of grand architecture, imposing boulevards, world-class galleries and bustling cafes. You almost certainly will not think of vineyards… but maybe you should do that too. A new book, written by wine connoisseur and adopted Parisian Geoffery Finch, sheds light on the forgotten history of the French capital as the world capital of wine production.

“The real story of Paris is wine,” said Geoffery, dressed in cheerful red trousers and a charming, off-kilter trilby for our wine tour of the Latin Quarter earlier this month. It’s a bold statement and he had a lot more.

During the tour, which aims to uncover Paris’ hidden-in-sight vines, I learned how the vine was first brought to the region during the Roman conquest some 2,000 years ago and seriously cultivated for 18 centuries , until the 1800s. The drained soils of the Seine basin were ideal for grape growing and might still be if they were not covered with concrete.

Parisian Geoffery Finch has released a new book about the Parisian wine production industry

Parisian Geoffery Finch has released a new book about the Parisian wine production industry

“When people discover that the largest vineyard in the world until two centuries ago was the region around Paris, it generally comes as a surprise,” Finch told me. His research has been collected in The Hidden Vineyards of Paris and elaborated in his wine tours through the capital.

According to his research, at its peak the Île-de-France had vineyards spread across 300 sites covering up to 52,000 hectares (the Bordeaux wine region today covers “only” 45,000 hectares). For centuries, the Latin Quarter was also home to the Halle aux Vins, the world’s largest wine warehouse, which had direct access to the Seine trade routes.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, cultivation of the vine continued and by the Middle Ages trade was flourishing. The industry was intrinsically linked to the activity of the church in a mutually beneficial relationship. Monasteries naturally had their own vineyards and there were thriving vines in Saint-Germain-des-Prés on the current Left Bank, close to where our tour took place, as well as in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis, where the Olympics took place. Village will be this summer. In turn, Finch said, profits from wine sales financed the first Gothic cathedrals, including Notre Dame.

In the centuries that followed, the Paris region continued to dominate the European wine trade and was home to the world’s largest wine warehouses, first in the Latin Quarter and then in the Bercy district of the Seine. But as Paris urbanized and industrialized, the vines began to disappear. Today, only a few remain in the capital itself.

The most famous is the Clos Montmartre, located on the northern slope of the famous hill topped by the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Every year this beautiful plot produces 500 bottles. The harvest is celebrated during the annual Vendanges de Montmartre festival in October – a lively affair reminiscent of a rural festival from a bygone era. Customers can drink a glass of Montmartre red, which is vinified in the cellar of the local town hall.

The Clos Montmartre vineyard on Rue des SaulesThe Clos Montmartre vineyard on Rue des Saules

The Clos Montmartre vineyard on Rue des Saules – Alamy

In his book, Finch not only passionately argues for the importance of wine to Paris’s identity, but also exposes lesser-known urban vines, the largest of which are owned and managed by the City of Paris. Tucked between buildings in the 19th arrondissement, Clos Bergeyre has 230 vines of Chardonnay, Muscat and Pinot Noir harvested every year. Clos des Envierges in the Parc de Belleville has 27 Chardonnay vines and 160 Pinot Meuniers, on grounds that have been growing wine since Carolingian times.

Clos des Envierges is located in the Parc de BellevilleClos des Envierges is located in the Parc de Belleville

Clos des Envierges is located in the Parc de Belleville – Getty

The wines are vinified in a cellar in Bercy in the 12th arrondissement, the former home of a huge 19th century storage facility, which also has its own modestly producing mini-vineyard of Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The resulting wines can also be tasted during the city’s fête des vignes in October and Finch also leads private tours to the sites.

Amid a general push for more biodiversity, the city is planting more young vines. In 2022, urban agricultural entrepreneur Virginie Dulucq planted more than three hectares of vines in the Bois de Vincennes, creating the largest urban vineyard in the city to date. They are expected to produce wine by 2025 and organize regular visits and workshops.

During our tour we visited a young vineyard on the slopes of the Arènes de Lutèce, a Gallo-Roman amphitheater discovered during the Haussman renovation of Paris in the 1860s. Here, 200 Artaban, Floréal and Vidoc vines grow rapidly .

Bonvivant is an organic wine bar in the Latin QuarterBonvivant is an organic wine bar in the Latin Quarter

Bonvivant is an organic wine bar in the Latin Quarter – Hannah Meltzer

Even broader changes are underway in the greater Paris region. After the Île-de-France region disappeared from the map during the 20th century, the IGP was awarded (Géographique Protégé indication) status in 2020 and since then a number of new vineyards have popped up in the region. Finch’s favorites include La Bouche du Roi in Davron, a 30-minute drive southwest of the city, and Les Coteaux du Montguichet in the village of Chelles in the eastern region of Paris. Both properties produce renowned natural red and white wines and are open for tours and tastings.

Our tour ended with a tasting at Bonvivant, an organic wine bar in the Latin Quarter, where we toasted the Parisian vine. “Paris is the wine capital of the world and always has been,” says our host, and we all drank in the sentiment.

Hannah Meltzer was a guest at the Latin Quarter Unbottled! tour, which takes place almost daily and costs €95 per person.

Discover the best wine bars in Paris.

The natural wine movement in Paris

The wine bars and merchants of Paris were early adopters and key players in the natural wine movement. Thanks to the Parisian scene, “natural wine” has evolved from an obscure hippie-ish interest founded by a gang of rogue Beaujolais winemakers in the 1960s to a ubiquitous global trend, in vogue from Milan to Mexico City. Unlike the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), which is awarded by the French government, the definition of a ‘natural’ wine is somewhat amorphous. Wine guru Jancis Robinson defines it as “a relative rather than an absolute term for wine produced by small-scale, independent growers from hand-picked grapes using sustainable, organic or biodynamic viticulture.”

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