Wine, Music, Weird Ceremonial Robes & More
Every October in the steep heights of Paris’ Montmartre, district, the former independent village starts to feel a lot like one again. A traditional grape harvest festival, or Vendanges, takes over the narrow streets behind the Sacré Coeur Basilica (and beyond) for a few days. The festivities are centered in particular around the Clos Montmartre, one of Paris’ only remaining vineyards.
Celebrated since 1934, the grape harvest festival is a joyful, entirely free celebration of French wine (and the harvest season more generally), even if the bottles produced from the small vineyard here are not especially noteworthy. Some 400,000 people– from locals to tourists– throng the streets year after year for wine and food tastings from local vendors, music, performances, thematic walks, and elaborate wine ceremonies presided over by officials in brightly colored robes.
There’s also typically an annual wine auction that sees around 1,000 bottles of wine– called Cuvée du Clos Montmartre– produced from grapes grown in the Clos Montmartre vineyard sold for charity. And in certain years, fireworks often light up the skies of Montmartre, ending the festivities on a spectacular note.
A Quick History of the Clos Montmartre, and the Vendanges
Nestled on the quiet Rue des Saules, just across from the Lapin Agile cabaret and its famous pink facade, the Clos Montmartre Vineyard offers a glimpse at what Montmartre might have been like prior to its incorporation into Paris in 1860.
The former village had been an agricultural and winemaking center at the capital’s northern border for centuries, with vineyards recorded in the area as early as the mid-10th century. And during the medieval period a royal Benedictine Abbey stood in Montmartre, making it a place of religious and ceremonial importance. Vineyards covered up to three-quarters of the Butte Montmartre in the 12th century, but the wines had a reputation for mediocrity.
Later, during the early 16th century, the area around the current vineyard was occupied by a guinguette (a wine tavern and cabaret), and the by 18th century it was again used for winemaking. In the 19th century, the plot housed a garden where painters including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec would come to work.
Although the current-day Clos Montmartre itself only dates to 1933– created by local authorities to prevent the small plot of land from being developed for commercial purposes– its presence attests to the long history of viticulture in the area. True, it may hold a mostly ceremonial and symbolic function in the present day, but it remains an important vestige of Montmartre’s agricultural past.
This helps to explain why the annual Grape Harvest Festival has become such a beloved event among Parisians: while it was conceived in the modern era, it touches on deeply held traditions that are tied to the land.
In a hyper-stimulating and speedy digital era, there’s arguably something refreshing and enriching about taking part in an event centered around the annual harvest, and the passing of the seasons. It fosters local community, while letting tourists gain a better understanding of neighborhood history.
Vendanges de Montmartre in 2021: Date & Program
The 88th edition of the Montmartre Vineyard Festival/Vendanges de Montmartre is set to take place from October 6th to 10th, 2021. This follows a hiatus in 2020, when the event was moved entirely online for safety reasons.
The event is free for all, and information on the program (and a map) can be obtained by visiting the information desk at the Parvis du Sacré Coeur, the vast panoramic terrace just below the famous basilica of the same name in Montmartre.
This year, the entire 18th arrondissement (district) will take part in the Vendanges, rather than the event being restricted to the area traditionally considered to Montmartre. The theme in 2021 is “Celebrating the Future”, with a strong focus on environmental sustainability, organic products, greening the city, utopias and sci-fi.
Some of the main events on this year’s program include the traditional wine auction; the “Parcours de Gouts”, a tasting fair featured some hundred vendors of French wines and local products”; and the Grand Parade (on October 9th), one not to miss if you want to see officials and locals don colorful, flamboyant robes and carry banners representing different French regions and winemaking traditions.
You can also take a free guided tour of the Montmartre vineyard (on October 8th and 10th), but you’ll need to reserve a spot in advance after September 16th (find more info and sign up here).
For visual arts fans, this year’s program features several interesting exhibitions and workshops, all dedicated to themes of environment, sustainability and bold new utopian futures. And several activities are designed for younger visitors.
On the last night, October 10th, a closing ball featuring a live DJ and dancing takes place from 5pm on the Square Louise Michel. But live music are on the agenda every night of the event, with concerts and performances taking place around the 18th arrondissement.
To the disappointment of some, there will be no fireworks as part of the event this year.
Getting There & More Info
- Address: Parvis du Sacré Coeur, 75018 Paris (18th arrondissement)
- Metro: Abbesses, then climb the steep hill or “butte” to the Sacré Coeur, or take the funicular train at the bottom of the hill (you can use a regular Metro ticket for entry).
- More info on this year’s program: See this page at the official website (in English), or peruse the full program here (in French, but you can use a translation app if necessary).
Special Health & Safety Regulations in 2021
Visitors should be aware that in 2021, you will only be admitted to the Vendanges and the “Parcours de Gout” food and wine tasting area upon presentation of a Covid health pass/passe sanitaire. Masks are also required. For more information on obtaining a passe sanitaire, see this page.