Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Morocco Wine ~ Forbidden Fruit

Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Christina Ammon goes exploring one of Morocco's lesser known delights - fine wine.

Winemaker Christophe Gribelin  “It's a different country so you have to adapt,” 
Photo: Christina Ammon

After three sober months in Morocco, my liver was healthy - but my teeth were in trouble. The country's beverage of choice - a gunpowder tea jammed with mint - comes sans alcohol, but is spiked with a minimum of six sugar cubes. No sooner had I made peace with this Berber whiskey (as the locals call it), than a longtime expat told me about a winery just a 40-minute drive or train ride from my base in the Fez Medina. I was dubious. "They make wine," he assured me. "Good wine."

If the grape moonshine usually associated with Morocco's back alleys hasn't earned column inches in Wine Spectator, it's understandable: Sommeliers don't exactly flourish in Islamic countries, where alcohol is ummul-khabaith - the root of all evil. But in the past 15 years, two progressive kings have invited French winemakers to lease prime land, and a wine industry has begun to flourish.

Wine tours are not touted like camel trips in the Sahara or Berber village treks. Though the wineries are within easy reach of the major cities such as Marrakech, Casablanca and Fez, an informal ban on advertising means that tour operators must peddle wine trips discreetly.

Volubilis - Photo Suzanna Clarke 

"If we openly advertised the tours within Morocco, our business would be seen to be as disrespectful," said Michele Reeves, who runs a tour company called Plan-It Fez. Guides often pair visits to the wineries with other adventures, such as tours of the historic city of Moulay Idriss or the Roman ruins of Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

"We try to remain low-key about wine," Reeves said. "But in reality we are excited to be a part of this burgeoning industry that offers an interesting insight into the contradictions that take place in the country."

Like so many of Morocco's splendors, the country's wine industry is dressed in plain clothes. You've got to know where to look.

Read the full article here San Francisco Chronicle


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