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.