The Butte Bergeyre

 

A hillside

This isolated haven of peace midst the noise and bustle of Paris is so well hidden, not even Parisians know of its existence. Only one road leads into the Butte Bergeyre, a hillside very close to the Butte de Chaumont and so cars are practically non-existent.

 

Gypsum, Pasture and Windmills

Beginning in the 13th century, the slopes of nearby Belleville and Menilmontant were a vast territory of gypsum quarries (plaster of Paris), which eventually came to include the Butte Bergeyre. There were a few vines on the slopes, market gardens and pasture land reserved for cattle and from the 16th century, windmills were also constructed.  A total of six were built on this tiny hillside, each with its own name: ‘Grand’, ‘Tour de Chaumont’, ‘la Carosse’, ‘Vieux’, ‘Maquereau’ and ‘Folie’. They were demolished in 1778.

 

Urbanisation

Work on the neighbouring Butte de Chaumont between 1863 and 1867 spared the Butte Bergeyre, which remained in its wild state for about forty more years. Construction of the Rothschild Hospital, as part of an urbanisation project, was completed in 1905 and in 1909 there was a fairground built on the other side of the hill called “Les Folles Buttes”. It drew such crowds a music hall and an outdoor cinema were added.

 

A stadium and a name

After this, tennis courts and a stadium were built on the crest, which until then had remained free of houses, home only to cows and pasture lands. The Vaugirard Rugby Club wanted to build a rugby pitch and so work began in 1914 and after much effort and considerable expense, the stadium, which could accommodate 20,000 people was completed in 1918 and was named in honour of Robert Bergeyre, a rugbyman who was killed in action in 1914.

 

In 1924 it hosted the Olympic Games and was the site of a variety of spectacles and attractions featuring personalities such as Mistinguett, Charlie Chaplin and Maurice Chevalier. But upkeep was onerous as was the work of shoring up the foundations and so it was sold to a real estate developer in 1925.

 

Housing and a wild terrain

The hillside was divided into lots and sold in 1928, all of the single dwelling lots being sold off immediately. But the land that had once housed “Les Folles Butte” was left untouched and so became a playground for children and a refuge for political asylum seekers and those running from the law. The ‘chic’ quarters of the hill were taken over by artists and the affluent, drawn by the exceptional quality of life and the bucolic sensibility of the place.

 

The vineyard

The vineyard that exists today on the Butte Bergeyre was planted in 1995 and born of the curiosity of a municipal gardener. Oriented west and very steep, it is reminiscent of the terraced vineyards of Hermitage, Alsace or parts of Beaujolais. There are 230 vines of Chardonnay, Muscat and Pinot Noir that are harvested each year, yielding between 150-200 kilos of grapes. These are vinified in the cellars at Bercy (which also vinifies the grapes of Belleville and Bercy), producing about 60 litres of wine each year. The grapes are crushed together to create a pale rosé wine that varies in degree from year to year, and which is very light but inspiringly bright and alive.

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