Thierry Marx's Eiffel Tower restaurant La Bulle Parisienne has a new neighbor. The owners of La Winerie Parisienne (the first urban winery to open near the French capital since 1970), have decided that Paris's most iconic landmark deserves a shot at winemaking glory.
"After La Winerie Parisienne was founded in 2015, my business partner Julien Bengué and I have been exploring the possibility of making wine in the most emblematic buildings across Paris," says Adrien Pelissié, president and co-founder of La Winerie Parisienne. "The opportunity to install a winery at the Eiffel Tower presented itself in early 2019. It is the obvious location to vinify our first urban wine, using grapes from the wider region."
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A brilliant idea or cheap gimmick? I'm undecided; at first glance, trucking-in chilled grapes from nearby (ish) vineyards and processing them in Paris's most tourist-infested location does not sound like the best way to make wine. But then Pelissié reminds me that the concept has already been trialed successfully in the US and UK, with urban wineries operating in New York, San Francisco, and London. I can't speak for the wine quality emanating from projects like London Cru, but I'm sure the novelty value helps to win over some punters.
"Our goal is simple: we want to make Paris a modern wine capital and give life back to a qualitative wine sector in Paris," enthuses Pelissié. "Most of the major French wine regions have been built thanks to the help of historical events involving the Eiffel Tower in one way or another. For example, Napoleon's love of Champagne, the classification of Bordeaux in 1855. Name me a better symbol than the Eiffel Tower to publicize Parisian wine."
Construction of France's newest winery was completed on October 4. Grapes were then harvested on October 7 – that same day the bunches were hoisted 58 meters above the ground to the first floor of the Eiffel Tower for fermentation. The grapes were sourced from La Winerie Parisienne's small domaine, built in 2015 in the Yvelines department, a largely rural area in the Ile-de-France region west of Paris. It's only 25 kilometers from the Eiffel Tower, so same-day delivery is assured, notes Pelissié.
He hopes to launch their first cuvée in the spring of 2020. Playing it resolutely safe, the Eiffel Tower's inaugural winemaking effort will be based on a grape that Miles from Sideways so detested – tourists can anticipate quaffing a Plaine de Versailles Merlot, grown according to organic viticultural principles (the estate is expecting formal certification soon). La Winerie Parisienne has 10 hectares of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir and Merlot, so other cuvées will undoubtedly follow.
Between 2000 and 3000 bottles will be released next year, according to Pelissié. The proposed price tag was not disclosed.
I ask him about his equipment. He insists that although small, the Eiffel Tower's new setup has all the prerequisite bells and whistles: stainless-steel tanks, oak barrels and a conveyor belt for sorting grapes are all present and correct. The project, although still in its infancy, has already caused a stir in the media and amongst residents and tourists. While there have been some detractors – a Bordeaux winemaker who wished to remain anonymous described the project as "bullshit, utter bullshit" – Pelissié remains confident.
But the vital question remains – will the wines be any good? I have yet to sample anything grown across the Ile-de-France region, however Pelissié, is keen to emphasize that their wines will not simply trade on the obvious novelty value.
"The terroir at our estate is excellent – the Merlot is grown on a single plot of clay/limestone soils," he says. "There is a strong demand for organic and environmentally friendly wines and Parisians are emulating other global consumers by drinking less but better. Locally developed products are going to be in high demand."
Pelissié has high hopes of revitalizing a historic region that, until relatively recently, was languishing in complete obscurity. Yet, at the beginning of the 17th Century, the vineyards across Ile-de-France were among the most important in the country, covering 42,000 hectares of land. But the rising popularity of other regions like Bordeaux supplanted their fame – by the time phylloxera arrived in the 1860s, the vineyards were well on their way to becoming a gutted shell of their former glory.
However, since the 1930s there has been a revival of winemaking in the wider Paris region. La Winerie Parisienne now markets over 200,000 bottles to wine merchants and Michelin-starred restaurants across Paris, in addition to sponsoring major international events such as the Roland Garros tournament. There's certainly no shortage of ambition in the group.
"We're determined to consolidate our position as a leading player in the production of wine in Paris," says Pelissié. "This involves urban and rural projects in the Ile-de-France region."
Can Parisian wine once again become a French household name? Stranger things have happened.