Moroccan Wine Thrives in Face of Religious Bans, Heat

Bloomberg 23 April 2012
By John Mariani

It’s easy enough to say "When in Rome drink as the Romans do,” but what’s a wine lover to do in Marrakesh? For starters, Morocco is predominantly Muslim, and consumption of alcohol is forbidden in Islam, (though oddly enough, the word "alcohol” derives from the Pre-Islamic Arabic word "al-kohl”). Its production is allowed, and historically overseen by Christians and Jews.

When Morocco became a protectorate of France in 1912, the French found its fertile soil, especially in the Meknes region of the Middle Atlas Mountains, an ideal spot in which to build a formidable wine industry. By the time of Morocco’s independence in 1956, 55,000 hectares (135,905 acres) were under cultivation.

With the departure of the French, Moroccan vineyards grew fallow. In 1967, the European Economic Community (now the European Union) froze most Moroccan wines out of its market. The few remaining vineyards fell under strict government control.

Then, at the urging of King Hassan II and his successor Mohammed VI in the 1990s, French wine companies returned to lease vineyards and replant European varietals. By the beginning of this century, cultivation had recovered to 50,000 hectares.
Thanks to the influx of tourism, the sale of alcohol and wine is widespread in Morocco’s major cities, though in many areas it is still forbidden, especially during Muslim holy days. (...)