Newsletter Archives

June 2001 - The Wines of Paris and Ile-de-France

by Melba Allen

When we visit Paris, we think of visiting such sites as the Eiffel Tour, Notre Dame and the Champs-Elysées. Who would ever think that one could also visit vineyards that actually produce wines! Well, vineyards are no strangers to Paris and the surrounding communities called Ile-de-France. Wine has played an integral role in the economy and culture of the area for centuries.

Present in the Paris region since the Middle Ages, each neighborhood, town or village had its own vineyard. From the hills of Chaillot down to Belleville, from Fontenay to Meudon and beyond, vineyards could be found. The Goutte d'Or (golden drop) quarter of the 18th arrondissement of Paris is so named because its wines achieved renown throughout Europe during this period. The pastures of what is now the 13th arrondissement and towns south and southwest of Paris were dotted with vineyards. At the beginning of the 19th century, the vineyards of Ile-de-France were the most important in all of France, covering 42,000 hectares (almost 104,000 acres) of land!

These vines in and surrounding the French capital were cultivated and harvested by the bourgeoisie, and the subsequent wine production was very well controlled and subject to taxation. These producers enjoyed the exclusive right to market wines in the only official marketplace of the region.

To escape the high prices due to market exclusivity and taxation, poor citizens of Paris and its environs set up a system of popular meeting places on the outskirts of the city called guinguettes, where they met each other for amusement and drink. The wines served here may not have been as good as those served inside the toll barrier that surrounded Paris, but they were cheap and plentiful. Around the 18th century, the bourgeoisie decided that their monopolistic system had become less lucrative and they began to abandon their hold on the production and sale of wines. Because of this and other developments, both natural and man-made, the decline of the vineyards of the Ile-de-France began. Most of them would eventually disappear.

Since the 1930's there has been a revival of winemaking in the Paris region. Vineyards can be seen and visited on the slopes of Montmartre, Issy-les-Moulineaux, Suresnes, and Rueil-Malmaison among other locations. With steady determination and undying loyalty, the caretakers of these vineyards continue the age-old traditions of viniculture and winemaking. Today, approximately 7 hectares (17 acres) of land in Ile-de-France (Paris included) are planted with grape vines. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Semillon and Sauvignon are the most popular of the 30 types of vines grown in the region today. And a newly formed association of Francilien winemakers is committed to restoring the quality and reputation of the region's wines to their former glory.

Paris Panorama Newsletters for 2001