Monday, July 7, 2008

The Vineyard of Montmartre

Wine making took hold in Montmartre when the great Abbey of Montmartre, which dates back to the 12th century, cultivated many acres of vineyards on the butte overlooking the rooftops of Paris. In the early 20th century, however, phylloxera decimated all these rootstocks, and grape production disappeared from Paris altogether.

A replanting effort in the 1930s resulted in a vineyard near the famed Lapin Agile cabaret that still produces an annual yield of 1,700 half litre bottles of red Clos Montmartre, and a wine festival complete with a parade celebrates the grape harvest every year on the first Sunday in October. Wine made from this vineyard's grapes is sold to raise money for charity.

The vineyard on Rue des Saules at the corner of Rue St-Vincent was planted in 1933 to protest planned high rise development, in an effort led by famed caricaturist and illustrator Francisque Poulbot (1877-1946). Along the fence in front of the vineyard is a plaque that credits Poulbot with preserving this plot of land as a vineyard.

Poulbot’s war-time cartoons and posters depicted Montmartre street children as they played war games, and reproductions of these posters still adorn the walls of many a Montmartre bar and restaurant today. Most had a patriotic message, unfailingly denigrating to the Germans.

Poulbot supported Le Clos de Montmartre, a charity that raised money for les Petits Poulbot, street urchins affectionately nicknamed after him. Poulbot was a dear friend and neighbor of Maurice Utrillo's mother, Suzanne Valadon, who lived in the area. In 1925 he joined her as a member of an anti-skyscraper cause in a struggle to preserve the atmosphere of Montmartre by opposing the modernist architectural movement that was pushing for the construction of new tall buildings.

To this day parents of Montmartre school children say that they are going to fetch their "little Poulbots" from their schoolyards in the afternoons, and a local traffic sign says: Automobilists ralentissez. Attention aux petit Poulbots (Drivers slow down. Watch for the little Poulbots).

Two Poulbot war-time posters:

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