Les jeudis de l'actualité: Terroir Parisien

As part of their series Les jeudis de l'actualité  the Paris library system brings together both experts and community members to debate and exchange ideas on a variety of provoking themes ("Does my brain have a gender?" and "Why should I vote?" are a few of the upcoming themes that can be found in the program). Today it was the library of the 1st arrondissement's Town Hall's turn to host their own "actualité" event entitled. The theme was "Saveurs d'aujourd'hui: Le Terroir Parisien" and the afternoon promised presentations from two guest speakers with intimate knowledge of made-in-Paris products.

Myself and a small group of mostly retired Parisians gathered in the Town Hall's salle des mariages  to listen to what guest speakers Nicolas Géant and Vincent Lisiak had to tell us about our cities own treasures: wine and honey.

Mr. Lisiak is the caretaker of Monmartre's small but infamous parcel of land that is home to some 2,000 vines. Planted between 1929 and 1933, the vines have survived the test of time and still yield a small but exploitable récolte which is pressed in the basement of the 18th Arrondisement's Town Hall.

The vines are made up of 60 % pinot noir as well as a mixture of hybrids that have been gifted to the vineyard over the years. Oftentimes these cépages were offered by visiting wine makers on the occasion of the yearly Fête des Vendanges which has been held every October for the past 78 years.

As the day of celebrating the yield of Paris' oldest vines is upon us, Mr. Lisiak seemed optimistic about the future, both near and far. "These vines have an old history," he explained to the audience, "with a long future ahead of them".

The wine, which Lisiak himself described as having a reputation of being "the worst and most expensive in the world" has no pretensions of critical acclaim or world domination. However, the modest and realistic Lisiak has two major goals in mind for the future of his vines: to obtain organic certification at the end of the 3 year required waiting period and to maintain the living history of the vines and assure that the terrain will never cede ground to urban expansion, remaining forever an espace verte for Parisiens to enjoy.

Nicolas Géant, the keeper of over 100 beehives in Paris, has been subtly expanding over the city himself. His beehives, which are spread all around the city, call such chic addresses as Luis Vuitton and Opera Garnier home. Situated on the rooftops of buildings across the capital, these ruches are filled with thousands of bees harvesting from flowers found in the gardens, parks, and balconies that populate the city.

Mr. Géant gave us a lesson on why bees thrive so well in an urban environment, sometimes even more so than in the countryside. One reason is the biodiversity found in cities. Géant explained that he has found traces in his honey of not only the ubiquitous acacia trees that we see around the city, but also orange and lemon trees, which Parisiens will often plant on their balconies and terraces, unknowingly enriching not only their scenery, but the diet of city bees.

"Bees are pretty happy in cities" Géant affirmed, "it would be great if we could say the same for bees in the countryside."

The biggest threat to country bees is effectively the opposite of biodiversity- what Géant and his colleagues call "les déserts verts", or green deserts, where farmers grown monoculture crops of only wheat, corn, soy, etc. and thus an unstimulating environment for bees.

Paris proves to be an ideal location for abeilles to thrive, with hives producing anywhere between 30-80 kilos a year, depending on weather conditions.

Both Géant and Lisiak suffered less than ideal weather for both their crops this year but as they would readily admit c'est la vie. Despite a small harvest in 2012 there were plenty of samples of their Parisian products to go around. After the presentation we shared spoonfuls of honey and slices of pain d'épice.

Lisiak had generously brought some bottles of Montmartre's own cru, which our little group was lucky enough to taste and become part of a small minority who can say they have tasted the vin de Montmartre. The wine, as Lisiak had warned us earlier, can be a bit overwhelming at first- but so can Paris, so we were ready for it!

If you're interested in buying and tasting products from Paris and all around France, be sure not to miss the Fête des Vendanges de Montmartre this unique festival is one of my favorite  Paris events and I highly recommend checking it out, Oct. 10-14th.

Fête des Vendanges de Montmartre: Le Grand Défilé

Despite an unfortunate change in weather from Indian Summer to Undeniably Autumn right before this year's Fête des Vendanges de Montmartre, attendance was high and the event lived up to it's reputation of festive, local fun in the true spirit of the 18th arrondissement.

As a card-carrying member of the Jardins du Ruisseau I had the great pleasure of participating in the Grand Défilé on Saturday. The parade wound its way through the streets of Montmartre on a grey but rain-free day.
Bunkered by our friends, the Confrérie du Temps des Vendanges de la Porte Montmartre and plenty of drums and dancers, the Jardins du Ruisseau proudly represented our community garden and bee-keeping skills.
Stacey and I busily buzzed around in our DIY bee costumes, experiencing the thrill of being in a parade for the first time in our lives.

If you have never been in a parade, I highly recommend scanning your area for local events that might involve a parade and then immediately concentrating all your efforts on being in that parade. Otherwise come up with an idea for a parade and then get in touch with me and Stacey. We can offer tons of parade advice and also be in your parade, if we don't have any other parades going that day....
As an observer of the events surrounding the vendanges, I've always enjoyed viewing the parade and visiting the temporary village set up near the Sacre Coeur. The spirit of the event encapsulates everything I love about the 18th and Montmartre- it's sense of community, it's small-village feel, and it's unquenchable desire to party.

As a participant in this year's events, my sense of appreciation for the fête was even more heightened. Gathering to lunch at the Mairie du 18ème before the parade kick-off, I was surrounded by the unequalled charms of France- the ridiculous regional outfits and headgear, the tendency to spontaneously erupt into song, and the comfort in knowing that there was wine available to all as far as the eye could see.
The scene turned from rowdy to family-fun as we assembled into parade formation, with baby bees from our confreries dancing to drumbeats and ambitous Moms passing out toast with home-made jams and honey to the little Montmartois both in the parade and on the sidelines.
We finished our 2-hour pilgrimmage at the foot of Sacre Coeur and made our way to the top of the butte where refreshments awaited, including a selection of French artisinal and biodynamic beers and wine. A particular favorite was the artisinal beer from the Limousin region.

The big joke of the Vendanges is the fact that the wine that is actually produced from the recolte of Montmartre's grapevines is incredibly overpriced and umm...maybe not the grandest cru of French wines.
However, even if you've never tasted the nectar of Montmartre (an admission I owed up to on France 3) you can still celebrate the essence of the event: a coming together of people from near and far for the sole purpose of celebrating a season of local harvest, shared feasts, overflowing kegs and all-around community.
The Vendanges de Montmartre is a yearly event that takes place over 4 days in early October. To get an idea of the various events, check out information from this year's event.
If you are interested in becoming a member of the Jardins du Ruisseau, check out their Facebook page. Annual individual memberships are 12 euro and include access to the beautiful and convivial gardens as well as invites to tons of events and activities.
Some more photos from the Fête desVendanges 2011:
Singing in the Marie after a buffet lunch and open bar.
Wine Wizard carbo-loading before the big parade.
Floral parade hat.
These ladies never stopped dancing. Serious Vendange respect for them.