Paris, the city of fashion, the city of history, the city of . . . grapes? In the 70s, restaurateur Jacques Mélac planted a few baco grape vines from the Auvergne that clambered over his Parisian bistro (42 rue Léon Frot, 75011). In mid-September each year, he harvested enough to make 30-50 bottles of wine. Neighbors and habitués of the restaurant gathered for the annual mini-harvest and grape stomp. I can’t help thinking of Lucille Ball’s famous episode.
The harvest is a huge street party where regular attendees sing, dance, and feast. A tirage-au-sort, or draw, determines who gets the chance to buy one of the coveted bottles from last year’s harvest. Mélac called the home brew Château Charonne after the street nearby and described it as Paris en bouteille (pairee ahn bootay), or Paris in a bottle.
Earlier this year, the bistrot was taken over by Didier and Denise Madamour from the Auvergne. Although they will no doubt be making many changes to put their own mark on Bistrot Mélac, this is one tradition they will not be messing with. It was as distinctive a marketing coup as Mélac’s handlebar moustache (a moustache so fabulous, he was once photographed by Robert Doisneau). Jacques Mélac, on the other hand, has decided to devote himself to wine making on a much larger scale than a few bottles. Santé!