Fruit of the vine

11th arrondissement, Bistrot Mélac - 42, rue Léon Frot

Every year, Jacques Mélac, owner of the renowned Bistrot Mélac, manages to extract between 10 and 20 bottles of red wine from the three vine stocks suspended outside his establishment. Called "Château-Charonne", it is just one of a number of microscopic vineyards scattered around the city, remnants of the Good Old Days before the arrival of the railroad, when Paris and the surrounding region were virtually self-sufficient in wine.

Now, apart from Mélac's bistro, only small parcels remain in the city itself, often in courtyards and private gardens, including a couple of stalks that flourish in a courtyard at 18, rue de Reuilly in the neighbouring 12th arrondissement. The Clos des Morillons in the Parc Georges Brassens contains 700 vine stocks, while the vineyard of the Parc de Bercy (400 vine stocks) harks back to the time when that part of the 12th arrondissement along the banks of the Seine was occupied exclusively by wine depots and cheap dance halls (that was before the area, like so many others in Paris, was taken over by the infamous bobos, the bohèmes-bourgeois). More substantial vineyards are to be found on the other side of the boulevard pheriphérique in the Paris suburbs - in Suresnes, for example, where the Clos du Pas Saint Maurice produces up to 7,000 bottles of reasonable white wine from a mixture of sauvignon, sémillon and chardonnay grapes.

M. Mélac, a rather extravagant character with a bushy handlebar moustache, is also co-chairman of the Association of Paris Winegrowers, which produces a wine called Vin des Vignerons de Paris. Any old grape available, red or white, goes into the Vin des Vignerons de Paris, as long as it was harvested in Paris city proper, with between 500 and 800 bottles of this plonk produced each year. Mélac described the 1997 vintage as "cloudy, natural and unfiltered" to the eye. Having tested it, he pronounced the Paris 97 as "tasty, aggressive, grumpy and kind. A bit like the Parisians themselves."

Despite these kind words, Paris wine is of curiosity value only, closer to vinegar than most other products of the vine. But precisely this curiosity value ensures that the few hundred bottles turned out by Paris vineyards fetch a high price. The Clos Montmartre, produced on the north-facing (!) slope behind Sacré-Coeur, is either auctioned or sold at €35 for a half-litre bottle. OK, so the proceeds go to charitable causes, but quand même!


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