Winemakers return to forebears' stomping ground: Paris


Paris (AFP)

Far from the rolling vineyards of Bordeaux and Champagne, urban wineries are taking hold in Paris, reviving an age-old tradition while latching on to a worldwide trend.

"I’ve always wanted to make wine," says Paris native Matthieu Bosser, a co-founder of Vignerons Parisiens (Parisian Vintners), as purple grape juice squirts from the bottom of his wine press.

But, he says, "I love this city and don’t really want to leave... So that’s how I got the idea, by asking myself ‘can I stay in Paris and make wine?'"

It took two years, 400,000 euros ($445,000) and a mountain of paperwork, but the answer was "yes".

For their first vintage last year, Bosser and his four associates squeezed the grapes where they were grown in the Rhone Valley, before turning the juice into wine in Paris.

This year's crop is being processed from grape to bottle at the back of a 200-square-metre (2,000-square-foot) winery in the trendy Marais section of the French capital.

The grapes arrived three weeks ago, stored in one of the group's five stainless steel 30-hectolitre (800-gallon) vats.

"The pressing that we’re doing today is a first for a private company within city limits" in modern times, Bosser says.

A venerable vineyard has thrived in Montmartre in the north of the city since the 1930s but it is run by local authorities and produces fewer than 2,000 bottles a year.

Growing the grapes is the only part of the process that the Vignerons Parisiens do not do in Paris.

The urban vintners work closely with the growers -- "whose work methods we know, along with the history of each plot," Bosser says.

They inaugurated their Paris operation in the spring, a few months after another outfit, the Winerie Parisienne, got to work in the eastern suburb of Montreuil in a much larger space -- 1,200 square metres -- in a former print shop.

"Urban wineries" began springing up in San Francisco more than a decade ago and are appearing in New York, London and Hong Kong, emulating a Paris tradition dating back centuries.

- Tradition dates to 1665 -

Its epicentre was the Quai Saint-Bernard wine hall set up in 1665 on the southern banks of the Seine River, backed by warehouses in nearby Bercy where wines were blended right up to 1970.

Before the 19th-century phylloxera, or plant louse, epidemic wiped out huge swathes of France's wine sector, the Paris region was a major producer, boasting some 44,000 hectares (100,000 acres) planted in vines.

There was even a winemaker on the tiny Ile de la Cite in the middle of the Seine, notes Adrien Pelissie, co-founder of Winerie Parisienne.

He says in addition to reviving a tradition, the urban winemaking trend is in line with a growing interest in local food networks as well as resuscitating artisanal methods in city settings.

Pelissie's goal is to produce a fully Paris-based wine within the next four or five years.

The Winerie Parisienne's annual output is around 50,000 bottles, blending grape varieties from different regions for "an innovative signature" that combines "great taste, fruity intensity and balance".

- Pedagogical side -

Vignerons Parisiens produced 19,000 bottles last year and wants to nearly double its output for 2016 to 35,000.

Its single-variety wines are made with syrah, cinsault, grenache and white grenache grapes, grown organically with an emphasis on freshness.

"We consider ourselves to be a wine estate with a cellar that has been relocated 500 kilometres away," Bosser says. "We want to produce wine where people drink it."

And there is the pedagogical side, says Bosser, who gives tours of his winery.

"Paris is one of the cities that drinks the most wine in the world but it's not easy to see how it is made," he says.

"Today you take the Metro two stops and it's possible."

Vignerons Parisiens' wines can be found in some wine shops and a few "bistronomic" restaurants -- fine food bistros -- or recommended at Michelin-starred restaurants such as Jean-Francois Piege's Grand Restaurant.

"I was a little sceptical at first. The content had to match the marketing and the story that is being told," says Geoffroy Berrier, who runs the Terroir Parisien restaurant with a selection of Vignerons Parisiens on his wine list.

"When we suggest it, customers are startled, then pleasantly surprised by the quality," Berrier says.