In Concrete Jungle, A Vineyard Thrives

The Clos de Chantecoq is a tiny Île-de-France vineyard with seven hundred grape heads split evenly between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, two classic vintages from the Champagne and Bourgogne regions of France. The one hundred square meter vineyard has a small production volume, with a maximum of 300 to 400 liters for every harvest. Where can one find this small, rustic plantation? Surely in a charming little French village tucked somewhere outside of Paris. Right?

Wrong. The Clos de Chantecoq vineyard is on the eastern edge of an enormous esplanade that runs down the middle of La Défense, one of Europe’s largest business districts with 3.3 million square meters of office space and the headquarters to multinational firms such as Total and the Société Générale. But the vineyard is no misplaced relic of Paris’s bygone era of winemaking. This very deliberate and recent attempt at growing grapes in a concrete jungle is actually quite a success.

“This is a good quality wine and the area is exceptional,” says Alexandre Golovko, the winegrower who tends to the Clos de Chantecoq. Aficionados and collectors have recently taken interest in the wine, he says. “When I present the wine from La Défense for tastings people are very surprised, and feedback is very positive.”

La Défense is a surprisingly hospitable environment for the Clos de Chantecoq, despite a lack of sunlight and excess of rain. The skyscrapers that line the esplanade create perfect ventilation, keeping sicknesses at bay, and their gleaming façades reflect light and heat onto the vineyard. To top it off, the one-meter layer of earth rests upon a concrete slab that retains beneficial heat.

Mr. Golovko adds that urban pollution is no more a problem here than it is elsewhere. “There are great wines produced inside the beltway of Bordeaux, most notably Château Haut-Brion,” he says. “Today, Haut-Brion isn’t in the hot seat for pollution problems.”

A Historical Monument ?

There are other vineyards in the Paris agglomeration. The Clos de Montmartre in the picturesque 18th arrondissement is the oldest and most visible one, with a yearly harvest celebration that has attracted crowds since 1934. “It’s a historical monument!” says Pierre, the stout, gruff Montmartre winegrower who refused to go by anything beyond his first name.

The Clos de Chantecoq is only four years old, which is a few decades short of becoming anything close to a historical monument, especially in Paris. But Mr. Golovko says the project wasn’t a fantasy. “The goal was to make wine,” he says. “This is the third harvest year and the more I progress the more I realize we can do interesting things.”

According to Defacto, the public agency that manages the district, the goal was to paint a more friendly picture of La Défense, which is perceived as a cold, bare business hub without green spaces. “The Clos de Chantecoq is the illustration of our commitment to quality of life and sustainable development in La Défense,” said Bernard Bled, former director of the EPAD, Defacto’s predecessor, at the time.

“I pay close attention to these kinds of projects because they are very fruitful in terms of communications, to break up people’s daily routines and provoke their curiosity,” says Mr. Golovko. There are a certain number of false assumptions about producing wine in an urban setting, he adds. “This is a qualitative process.”

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