As we learned in Part I on Moroccan wines, the visible French hand of large scale wine production and viticulture cannot be underestimated. With the French departure and corresponding independence of Morocco that took place in 1956, much of the knowledge, skill, and passion for wine production left the country. Surprisingly, the French withdrawal was not what almost caused the demise of wine from Morocco. Other eco-political forces at play were more detrimental than simply losing the French wine know-how. Here’s how it unfolded.
With 140,000 hectares under wine production in 1956, a country doesn’t lose that industry overnight. Morocco continued a brisk wine trade until the late 1960s, when the European Economic Community (EEC) imposed sanctions limiting imports of among others, wine from Morocco, to EEC countries. (I haven’t been able to discover what rational thinking would have caused these sanctions.)
Additionally, at the same time the French were building the Moroccan wine industry up to 1956, they were also building an even more robust viticulture competitor in neighboring Algiers. Algeria was #1; Morocco was #2; but, there were others, too, and overall there was a wine glut due to overproduction in these countries already hampered by EEC trade limitations.
As producing wine became increasingly uneconomical, other crops replaced many acres of wine grapes. For a little more than a decade, starting in the early 1970s, the Moroccan government took over a lot of the grape production. They didn’t end up overplanting, but their policies produced almost the same result: grape price fixing (regardless of grape quality), and other mismanagement problems resulted in the loss of 100,000 wine grape hectares, down to 40,000. And almost a quarter of these were planted with grapes destined for eating, or for raisin production — not for wine. It gets worse; of the remaining acres of wine grapes, more than 50% of these were old, low-yield or diseased vines.
Fortunately, King Hassan II actively sought to resurrect his country’s quality wine production during the 1990s. Procuring foreign investment and enticing industry knowledge and leadership to his country, Hassan II worked with foreign wine companies to lease long-term acreage from Morocco’s state agricultural company, SODEA. These partnerships have proven fruitful not only literally, but economically too, as some of these newest wines from Morocco are becoming so well accepted as to be top selling foreign wines in France.
Seventy-five percent of Morocco’s wine production is red. The most important red grapes are those commonly found around the Mediterranean, such as Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet-Sauvignon and Merlot. Most of the wine is consumed in Morocco. Interestingly, according to Omar Brouksy of Fox News, “the wine favoured by Moroccans is a cheap red called Moghrabi, which comes in plastic bottles and costs 30 dirhams (less than three euros) a litre.”
If you taste a Moroccan wine, I’d love to hear your impressions of it!