The vines of the Jardin des Plantes: a brief walk around Paris’ history of wine-making

Mmmmm, boozy. Image: Getty.

Some believe that Noah was the first winemaker, planting a vineyard after the Flood in what was surely unhelpfully waterlogged soil. Here was wine in a pleasant torrent, and Noah proceeded to celebrate God’s bounty until he passed out.

There was no rain on Geoffrey Finch’s Paris Wine Walk, but it was nonetheless heartening to find, among the neat rows of obsolete varieties in the small Jardin des Plantes vineyard, a vine called Noah.

Geoffrey’s walks aim to enlighten tourists about the viticultural history of Paris. This, the French national botanical garden, was Louis XIII’s medicine chest, a repository for herbs to cure the royal person, and an open-access sanctuary, offering beneficial respite from the smells and noises of 17th-century Paris. The 700-year-old cedar of Lebanon that still rears above the foliage would have overlooked vines that have long since vanished: it was much safer to drink wine than water, and vineyards flourished across the city. This area is just beside the famous Latin Quarter, where tourists and students still consume wine as if the water were poisonous.

We pause at the Arènes de Lutèce, a vestigial Roman amphitheatre that once kept 12,000 citizens distracted from their discontents. The Romans were the first to plant vines in rainy northern Gaul: if Burgundy and champagne fill our glasses despite the climate, it is Rome we ought to thank. Free entertainment and ever-flowing wine: how adept were Gaul’s conquerors at pacifying the populace! On rue Clovis, named after the Frankish king whose coronation ensured champagne’s place as the pre-eminent celebration wine, Geoffrey points to a jagged chunk of wall, part of the oldest remaining fortification in Paris. It was built at the beginning of the 13th century to keep out – who else? – the English.

Yet here we are, come in peace and curiosity to the very centre of town, and we are thirsty. Actually, I’m practically the only Brit on the walk: most, like Geoffrey, are Canadian. He has lived here thirty years, and enjoys showing visitors the obscure patches of vines the city still possesses. And then, because he knows that very few people love wine purely in the abstract, he takes his guests to a bar or wine shop, or to lunch.

L’Étiquette wine shop is on the genteel Île Saint-Louis, which was urbanised by that same King Louis who created the Jardin des Plantes. The sweeping 19th-century reconstruction that made modern Paris bypassed this small outcrop, and it still looks very much like a 17th-century village, if one with a remarkable preponderance of boutiques and butchers.

At L’Étiquette, Hervé is holding forth on natural wine: for him, all other wines are poison, wrung from plants rooted in dead earth that barely deserve the name of vine. This makes me very happy, not because I agree but because I don’t. En route, Geoffrey has bought good cheese, sausage and bread. In between pronouncements, Hervé is opening bottles: an excellent Petit Chablis from Moreau-Naudet, Brand & Fils Pinot Noir from Alsace, which is interesting but lacks length, and a forgettable Beaujolais. I settle in for my favourite pastime, civilised and well-watered argument.

Pesticides, I agree, are awful, blotting out every living thing that was upon the face of the land (as the Bible describes the Flood). The wildflowers that grow between the vines at the Jardin des Plantes are a reminder that monoculture is
only marginally more unnatural than Coca-Cola.

Still: I don’t like extremes – including the insistence that any interference with a vineyard is a crime. Compromise, like water, sustains us, and wine is a celebration of the wonders that bloom where disparities meet. We should raise our glasses and agree to differ. That, or we all sink.

Nina Caplan is a columnist at our parent title the New Statesman, where this article was previously published.

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Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.

Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.