A bit further from Paris, west through the city's straggling commercial and industrial outskirts, beyond the monstrous skyscrapers of La Defense, is the suburb of Argenteuil. I was astonished to learn that this was the largest vineyard area in France in the early 19th century, with over 1,000 hectares (almost 2,500 acres) under cultivation. The coming of the steam train in 1850 changed all that, suddenly allowing local drinkers to more easily procure the better and cheaper wines of the Loire, Burgundy, and, eventually, the South of France. Since the vintages of Argenteuil had never been that good to begin with, the industry faltered. By the time phylloxera, the vine louse that devastated European vineyards, struck the region in 1900, many farmers had already abandoned their vineyards forever, turning over the land to fruit trees, or to asparagus (for which Argenteuil is now famous all over France) and other vegetables. Today, even the farmland is disappearing, and the latest crop is apartment blocks, offices, and warehouses.