When I think of Morocco, I think of heat, deserts, camels, bright cloth, the smells and sounds of a bustling bazaar. When I hear “Morocco” and “wine,” my brain goes “huh?” Never entered my mind. When I saw an ad for Moroccan wine, I was so curious, I had to take a look. As they always do, wine’s stories fascinate, educate and elucidate.
Most historians agree that the Phoenicians, those seafaring wanderers, were the first to plant vines in suitable areas of Morocco (as they did in so many other areas around the Mediterranean), whose latitude and climate are very similar to California’s Santa Barbara. Hot in summer months, it is tempered by cool ocean breezes and cooler winters, which makes a winning wine-growing combination. There is evidence of a robust wine trade between Ancient Rome and Morocco, so they certainly weren’t newbies, even back in the day.
In more recent history, however, the French dramatically influenced almost a dozen countries in Africa, mostly comprising the entire northwestern African “bulge.” The Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), French Guyana, Algeria, Morocco and others were all at one time or another colonized, thus influenced by France. In most of these countries even today, French is the second language mastered after the first native or dialectical language.
Well, where there’s France, wine is sure to follow. The French embedded their extensive knowledge of wide-scale viticulture in various African-Mediterranean countries (notably Algeria), and Moroccan wine production was significant up until 1956, when Morocco gained independence. At that time, there were 140,000 hectares under production, and wine production was at a peak of 3 million hectoliters.
As you might expect, when the French departed, they took a lot of their knowledge and expertise with them. But that isn’t what caused the demise of Morocco’s wine industry. As we’ve seen repeatedly, when politics and economics come between producers and wine, bad things usually happen.
Next time: Moroccan wine industry’s rise — fall — and rise again.