Montmartre vintner bottles a bit of Paris history

Tue Oct 11, 2011 5:42pm EDT
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By Marion Douet

PARIS (Reuters) - The famous hill of Montmartre, Paris' bohemian enclave of artists, cafes and cabarets, is well known for its Sacre Coeur church, its spectacular views, and a flurry of tourists.

But a closer look along the slopes of its steep incline reveals some 16,000 square feet (1,500 square meters) of Pinot Noir and Gamay vines -- the makings of up to 2,000 bottles of "wine of Montmartre" every year.

It has taken 15 years for vintner Francis Gourdin to cajole these temperamental vines into what he calls an "honest red wine that has found its audience."

In 1995, the mayor of the Paris neighborhood where the vineyards lie set Gourdin the challenge of turning around the reputation of Montmartre wine, which, according to a salty centuries-old proverb, was more famous for its diuretic properties than its bouquet.

"When the mayor contacted me, I warned that I wouldn't perform miracles, but I promised to make a proper red wine," said Gourdin.

"The clos Montmartre has always had a bad reputation," said the 50-something whose grandparents were vintners before him. "But today, it's a real wine, a deep red. Beforehand, it had an indeterminate color, more or less rose."

In the past decade and a half, Gourdin has improved the soil quality and the irrigation system of the small vineyard that has its roots in Gallic-Roman times. Nuns from a nearby abbey tended grapes on these slopes until the end of the 18th century and in 1930, the city of Paris saved the plot by rejecting a bid to build an apartment building, opting to plant new vines instead.

"It's not an easy vineyard because it faces full North," said Gourdin, who notes that nevertheless he doesn't have a problem with urban pollution or lead in the soil.   Continued...

<p>The Sacre Coeur Basilica, one of Paris's tourist attractions, is seen on Montmartre in Paris on August 6, 2009. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier</p>