Paris Wine Museum
By Vivian Thomas
Walking down the steep stairway that descends from the Passy Métro
station toward the Seine, I understand why this area was once called Chaillot Hill.
At the bottom, almost
directly under the Bir-Hakeim Bridge, I turn right into the quiet Rue des Eaux.
waters of the streets name once made the village of Passy famous. Iron-rich mineral
springs discovered here in 1719 became renowned for curing sterility in women, turning the
quiet village into a fashionable health spa that flourished until about 1800.
havent come for the water Ive come for the wine. And I find it at the
Musée du Vin, just off the Rue des Eaux in the Square Charles-Dickens.
The building, with its heavy wooden door and lanterns surmounted by wrought-iron
grapevines, is dwarfed by the towering
immeubles that surround it. But once I push open the door and walk inside, I
leave the 20th century behind.
The interior comes as a complete surprise. Dark and cool, its a
labyrinth of vaulted stone passages literally carved out of the hill I just walked down.
Bypassing an attractive wine
bar and restaurant, I head for the gift shop, where the museum begins. Here, I begin to
understand the history of this intriguing place.
Although the museum opened in 1984, this
area was producing wine as early as the 15th century. These caves once belonged to a
monastery whose monks cultivated vineyards on the slopes of Chaillot Hill and whose terraced
gardens and orchards swept down to the river. Rue des Vignes and Rue Vineuse are reminders
of that era. Louis XIII was a fan of their vin clairet he liked to stop here for refreshment
on his return from wolf hunting in the Bois de Boulogne.
Besides the caves where the monks
stored their wine, other tunnels remain from quarries where limestone was extracted for
building material. When the Revolution destroyed the abbey and the quarries closed, the
site was abandoned until the 1950s, when it became a wine cellar for the restaurants of the
Eiffel Tower, just across the river. The museum was opened by the Conseil des Echansons de
France, a group dedicated to
promoting Frances best wines.
Wandering through the winding passage-ways, I learn
quite a bit about the history of French wine, its principal
terroirs and the winemaking process. The artifacts are especially interesting.
Beautifully detailed tin weathervanes illustrating wine-related industries were once used
as advertising by the artisans. A 19th-century halberd (a wrought-iron lance on a stout oak
handle) was carried by
Alsatian garde-vignes who protected the ripe grapes from thieves.
Tools for tilling,
pruning and harvesting are here, along with
pressoirs and bottling implements. Waxwork figures represent such diverse characters
tonnelier (barrel maker) at work, Pasteur researching bacteria harmful to wine and
Napoléon I seated in his tent, a glass of his favorite Chambertin before him. Glancing into
one gated archway, I am startled to see the figure of Balzac in his monks robe
creeping down the stone steps to escape creditors waiting at his home on nearby Rue Raynouard.
Several interesting exhibits concern wine lore and legends: one displays sheet music for songs about wine, and another lists 23 saints on whom winemakers relied for heavenly help, from the Vierge aux Raisins to Saint Vincent, patron saint of
The visit ends with a dégustation. Seated in the bar à vin, I am
offered a glass of red, white or rosé from vineyards in Gaillac owned by the museum
society. The wine bar, open the same hours as the museum, offers an impressive list of wines
by the bottle or glass, and the restaurant, open for lunch only, serves traditional French
cuisine. What better place to enjoy boeuf au chinon or filet de perche au muscadet than in
the historic vaulted caves of the Musée du Vin?
Musée du Vin: 5 Square Charles-Dickens, 16th.
Open daily 10am-6pm.
Tel: (1) 45 25 63 26.
Top of Page