The Wine Museum is housed in what used to be crude limestone quarries that were mined between the 13th and the 18th centuries to supply the stones used to build Paris. This limestone is a characteristic feature of a geological age universally known as ‘Lutécien’ (from Lutece, the former name given to Paris) and is situated at 37.80 metres above sea-level. The museum galleries were dug out in the lower part of this geological layer by means of a “turning pillar” technique. The pillars were evenly spaced to support the quarry roof. Especially in the 19th century, stone walls were built as reinforcement for these galleries. The limestone was formed by the accumulation of seashells at the bottom of the warm sea that covered the area 45 million years ago. Fossils from these animals can still be seen in some places (bivalve mollusks or stretched shells). The well at the entrance of the museum is evidence of the existence of occasionally emerging groundwater. Several mineral water springs were actually discovered in the Passy area between the middle of the 17th century and 1754 (hence the name “Waters Road”, “la rue des Eaux”). Deemed ferruginous and laxative, Passy spring water was exploited commercially until the Second Empire, though it was mainly in the 18th century that it became fashionable, attracting water takers from the Parisian ‘upper classes’, writers and artists.
The Wine Cellars of the Minims Monastery
The three vaulted cellars, which today house the Museum restaurant, were used in the 16th and 17th centuries by the Friars of Passy Monastery for storing their wine. The information panels in the corridor leading to the museum recall the history of this monastery, which was built by the mendicant Friars of the Minims Order. This order was founded in 1472 by François Martorille (1436-1507) who was canonized as Saint Francis of Paola. This Calabrian hermit, known to be a thaumaturge (miracle worker), was summoned to Plessis-les-Tours on the Loire by King Louis XI in 1475 and was allowed to expand his order in France. Construction of the monastery began in 1493 and was encouraged and enriched by Queen Anne of Brittany. Built along today’s Beethoven Road, the monastery was surrounded by gardens and terraces going down to the Seine with orchards and vines planted on the hillside. From these vines, the Friars used to produce a light red wine which King Louis XIII liked to drink on his return from hunting in the Bois de Boulogne. Today, this history is evoked in the presence of surrounding street names such as ‘rue Vineuse’ (Winy Road) and the ‘rue des Vignes’ (Vineyard Road). The monastery was abandoned during the Revolution and the buildings destroyed.
The Echansons Council of France (Le Conseil des Echansons de France)
Renovated in the 1950s, the ancient wine cellars were for a time used as a wine storage room for the restaurant at the Eiffel Tower. It later became the Wine Museum and since 1984 has been under the ownership of the «Conseil des Echansons de France». This council, founded in 1954, is dedicated to the defense and promotion of the finest French wines. To this end, the Council organizes many prestigious events throughout France, abroad and here at the museum. The council unites several thousand professionals and wine-lovers from all over the world who promote the “savoir-faire” and quality for which French wines are renowned.