Top 10 Historical Facts about La Fête des Vendanges
There are so many special things to admire about Montmartre in Paris, and La Fête des Vendanges is just one of them! What exactly is La Fête? Well, it translates from French to English as The Harvest Festival, and it celebrates the wine harvest. It also just happens to be one of the most exciting weekends in Montmartre in the fall!
The entire neighborhood comes together to celebrate La Fête des Vendanges each year, and it’s been happening for 85 years! Keep reading for my favorite top 10 historical facts about Fête des Vendanges.
Entry Fee: Free
Opening hours: Dates and opening hours change each year. Click here for up to date information on the official website for the festival.
Metro station: Lamarck-Coulaincourt
1. Wine has been produced in Montmartre since the age of the Romans
Many hundreds of years before the festival officially kicked off, the original Roman settlers of Paris had been producing wine on the hill of Montmartre. They even went so far as to construct a temple honoring the god of wine, Bacchus!
Bacchus was the Roman god of wine and agriculture, and to ensure plentiful wine harvests in Montmartre the Romans built a temple to honor and worship him, and the temple was especially important during harvest time.
It seems so crazy to imagine Paris, and Montmartre, as a Roman settlement, but the Romans are to thank for discovering Paris way back in 52 B.C.!
2. In the 12th century a Benedictine abbey produced wine on the hill of Montmartre
As more time went on, a Benedictine abbey was constructed on the hill of Montmartre which featured a wine-press. It was the nuns of the abbey that operated it, helping to produce the wine at the time! It was appropriately called the Montmartre Abbey.
The abbey was completed in 1147. Sadly, it was then destroyed during the French Revolution, like many churches, monasteries, and abbeys in Paris and across France. The Revolutionaries were not only interested in bringing down the French monarchy, they had also had enough of the Church, which was extremely powerful at the time.
Today, all that remains of the original abbey is the Montmartre vineyard (the Clos Montmartre), and the oldest church in Paris, the Saint Pierre de Montmartre!
3. “Whoever drinks a pint will pee a quart”
There is a popular saying from the 17th century that says of the famous Montmartre wine: “whoever drinks a pint will pee a quart.” Please excuse the language, but that is what they say about drinking this local wine!
4. In the early 20th century, phylloxera destroyed all of the vines
Sadly, as more time went on, the vines in Montmartre were subject to the fatal disease for vines called phylloxera. Montmartre wasn’t the only place to fall victim to this vine disease. In the 20th century, nearly 70% of all vineyards had died because of it.
There was soon an international deficit of wine, and the Minister of Agriculture in France actually offered up a reward of 20,000 francs ($1 million at the time!) for anyone who could discover a cure for phylloxera.
Phylloxera is a disease carried by very small bugs and can be easily transmitted from vine to vine. It was introduced into the France mistakenly by an American winemaker doing research across Europe.
The reward for the cure was never given, although a solution was discovered by a Frenchman and American duo. The pair planted grapes into an American root stock to stop the disease from spreading.
5. In 1933, a group of artists saved the Montmartre winery
After the devastation caused by phylloxera, and urbanization plans to include Montmartre within the city walls of Paris, the vineyards laid empty and uncultivated. That was until a group of Montmartre artists decided to replant the vines in the early 1930s!
The group, headed by illustrator Francis Poulbot, asked the French government to give them a section of land to start the new vineyard, and they soon began to replant in 1933. The group of artists were definitely not wine experts, and they had their first harvest in 1934. Wine grapes normally need between 3 and 4 years to ripen in order to be pressed to make wine, so the first harvest was a bit of a bust.
That being said, the first harvest in 1934 kicked off the tradition of La Fête des Vendanges!
6. La Fête des Vendanges has been taking place since 1934
Although the artists running the Clos Montmartre were a little amateurish in their practices, their passion for producing local wine prompted them to hold the very first Fête des Vendanges in the fall of 1934.
The festival has been held every year ever since, except during World War II. Today the mayor of the 18th arrondissement is responsible for running the festival. Following a tradition created by the illustrator Poulbot, all proceeds from the wine produced out of the vineyard are donated to charity.
The vineyard produces grapes to make Gamay and Pinot Noir wine, and the vineyard estimates that it produces 1,700 bottles per year! The bottles are quite expensive, running at about 50 euros per bottle. Just remember…at least it all goes to charity!
You can only buy the wine at La Fête des Vendanges, where you can also take guided tours of the vineyard. The festival is usually filled with locals, and so if you want to feel like a true Parisian I suggest you check it out! I’ve gone once before and it really is a special experience.
7. Each year La Fête des Vendanges honors a celebrity godmother and godfather
For every Fête des Vendanges, there is a celebrity godmother and godfather chosen to lead the festival. They are usually French actors, actresses, or singers! The plus of being chosen? Local restaurants, bars, and cafés must offer the godmother and godfather anything they’d like – on the house! The pair also choose a dish of their preference for participating restaurants to highlight on their menus.
Sophie Marceau and Audrey Tatou (from the beloved The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain film) have both been featured as godmothers at the festival. The very first godmother to the festival in 1934? French actress Mistinguett!
8. La Fête des Vendanges features a different theme each year
Every year since 2008 La Fête des Vendanges choses a new theme for the festival. Past themes have included delicacies, peace and humor to name a few.
The theme is chosen by the mayor of the 18th arrondissement (that’s the arrondissement you’ll find Montmartre). The theme usually tries to coincide with an important event. For example, the year that peace was the theme, it was the same year as the 100th anniversary of the ending of World War I!
9. Winemakers from around France participate in La Fête des Vendanges
Hundreds of winemakers and other culinary masters flood Montmartre to participate in the 5 day long festival. They set up camp in tents and offer tastings to passersby.
Many winemakers don traditional costumes of their specific region of France and participate in a parade to show off their stuff! There are also fireworks and concerts in the evenings, and if you have children you can sign them up for special workshops.
There is also another tradition that takes place at the festival: the Ball of the Not-Married. It may sound a little strange, but it’s a chance for all of the single people of Montmartre to get together and celebrate just that: their singleness!
10. La Fête des Vendanges is your chance to enter the vineyard
You can technically enter the Clos Montmartre any time of year, but you need to make reservations at the Montmartre Tourist Office, you must be a group of at least 12 people, and there is a fee. La Fête des Vendanges is your chance to enter the vineyard at your leisure…for free!
La Fête des Vendanges is Paris’ third most popular public event, coming in behind the Museum Night and the Paris-Plages. If you happen to be in Paris in the automn (it normally falls around the end of September or early October), I totally recommend you check it out for yourself.
There’s a real feeling of community at La Fête des Vendanges, so this is the perfect chance for you to feel like a local in Montmartre!
If you want to tour Montmartre, or anywhere else Paris with one of our expert local guides too…click here!