Montmartre harvest festival and the remaining vineyards in the heart of Paris
History of Parisian Vineyards
Unlike American vineyards, which are most often tucked away among rolling hills outside of populated areas, France has embraced the culture of the vineyard, and keeps it close to their heart. Agriculture has long been an important part of European culture, and urban vineyards are no exception. One key difference between France and America is that France chooses to preserve their rich culture and history of agriculture, while America attempts to add urban agriculture into the mainstream. Even in populous areas such as Paris, France is continuing a generations old tradition of preserving agricultural heritage.
Paris has a long, rich history in winemaking. From as far back as the thirteenth century, Paris has produced a wide variety of grapes from various areas in the greater Paris area. Urban vineyards comprised much of the city area of Paris until the eighteenth century when urbanization began to soar. A few of the most well-known urban vineyards include:
Parc Georges-Brassens: In 1983, Parc Georges-Brassens became a 700 vine vineyard located east of the Eiffel Tower3. Parc Georges-Brassens has a 1,300 square foot footprint and annually can produce as much as 1,300 pounds of grapes.
Parc de Belleville: In Eastern Paris, the Parc de Belleville vineyard was reestablished on the grounds once worked by monks in the thirteenth century.
Vigne du Parc de Bercy: Rich in history and speculation as to the far reaching roots, the Vigne du Parc de Bercy is located along the Seine River. The history of this vineyard goes back as far as two millennia, and remains a strong presence as an urban vineyard with more than 350 vines.
Background of the Montmartre Harvest Festival
Montmartre is a neighborhood in Paris comprised of cobblestone streets, vine covered buildings, and colorful awnings and shutters. Housed within this stunning backdrop is Vigne du Clos Montmartre, the oldest vineyard in Paris still in operation. An important piece of Parisian culture, the vineyard has remained a source of inspiration and celebration for decades.
The Vendanges de Montmartre (Montmartre harvest festival) is an annual event celebrating the history of Parisian wines and the sanctity of the last remaining vineyards in Paris. With wine having long been an icon of French cuisine and the romance that surrounds Paris, it is no surprise that there are still 132 vineyards in the greater Paris area. Even so, there are only 10 inside the city limits, which makes Montmartre even more of a cultural icon to be celebrated.
In order to understand the importance of the Montmartre harvest festival, it is important to understand the journey that Clos Montmartre has traversed. The town of Montmartre once thrived on wine production, even hosting a temple in reverence to Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. Wine production dwindled during the period between the twelfth and twentieth century’s, but a bout of phylloxera in the early twentieth century nearly destroyed every crop. Phylloxera is an infestation of plant lice that destroys the leaves and roots. Said to originate in the United States with an introduction into Europe around 1863, phylloxera is extremely devastating to grapevines.
Rich architecture and a classic, storybook village surround the site of the vineyard at Montmartre. The site was nearly lost to development in the early twentieth century until, in 1933, when the site was saved and the Mairie de Paris, a group of local artists, constructed the vineyards. Under French law, vineyards are protected from being built upon, which was the saving grace for Montmartre.
Since 1934, the Montmartre harvest festival has kept history and agriculture alive for Paris and beyond. Usually the second week in October, the festival provides a wonderful, creative backdrop for residents and tourists to sample true Parisian culture and dedication to the city’s agricultural roots. Festivalgoers may enjoy a parade, music, folklore, tours of vineyards, auctions, and wine tasting. The festival is set up out near the streets of Montmartre, which provides a wonderful, firsthand cultural experience that many never get to see.
According to wine-searcher.com, between 400,000 and 500,000 people attend the Montmartre harvest festival each year. One important part of the festival is that children are welcome and encouraged to participate in the festivities. Live music, an open air market with a variety of treats, and gastronomy specialties set up make the festival a hit with visitors of all ages.
Not only are children included in the festivities, so is the government. The Montmartre Town Hall is where the harvested bounty of grapes are stored, pressed, and fermented before bottling. It is said that the Montmartre Town Hall is the only government office in Paris that produces wine. Half bottles of wine are considered collectable, and sell for $50 each, with all proceeds going to charity.