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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CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

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Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.