With many expectations of the medina and walled city, I visited Essaouira, a Moroccan port town. My mind was filled with images and descriptions of cafes and souks. My pre-Moroccan trip fantasies did not include alcohol and wine.
I didn’t know wine was available in Morocco until I went to Umia, Essaouira’s most upscale restaurant. My journey to Moroccan wine started here.
As I was enjoying the local seafood, I inquired about the freshness and quality of my tipple. The organic Perle white I was sipping was made locally by Domaine Val D’Argan. It was unbelievable to me what he was saying. I was attracted to the waiter.
It was a good thing that I was in Essaouira with Linda Brumfitt, a friend from So Morocco. We planned to meet right after dinner in Essaouira, where we would explore the bustling alleyways that are home to art galleries, shops, stalls selling crafts and courtyard riads which have been converted into hotels or cafes.
After I asked her about Moroccan wines, she suggested that I visit Domaine du Val D’Argan the next day.
The next morning I took a taxi from my hotel in Essaouira to get to the vineyard. After about 20 minutes, traffic and people walking on dusty roads gave way to groups of goats that settled in the Argan trees.
After saying goodbye to my driver I was met Rony Tjamack who is a Domaine du Val D’Argan guide. Rony told me the story of the winery as he walked through rows upon rows of grapevines.
Charles Melia, a Chateauneuf du-Pape winemaker in France, decided in 1994 to move on from his French life and pursue adventure. Because the land he bought was without electricity or running water, he was a visionary man.
Charles spent four years clearing the land of rocks and leaves, building the winery, cellar and restaurant, as well as planting 12 hectares with grapes. The vineyard now covers 52 hectares.
Charles wanted to not only adopt traditional Moroccan farming methods and produce organically grown wines, but also to share a little bit of France with the region. Charles planted grapes that were well-known in the Rhone Valley, including Ugni Blanc and Grenache Blanc for whites, and Mourvedre and Syrah for reds and roses.
Mother Nature also plays a part in this business. The Atlantic Ocean winds keep the region cooler than other areas of Morocco in the summer months. The grapes are protected from excessive sun exposure by sorghum, a wind- and drought-tolerant crop.
Domaine du Val D’Argan’s wine cellar features a traditional cuverie, which is simply a building attached the vineyard. This is where winemaking magic takes place, as well as where it is stored and matured. The powerful thermoregulation system ensures that wine is fermented at the right temperature.
Each year, the vineyard produces approximately 200,000 bottles that are sold in restaurants and wine shops across Morocco. Only 10% of the wine leaves North Africa.
We couldn’t have picked a better place to enjoy the best of what the country has on offer so we set aside some time to try some wines.
The Orion white was smoky with gingerbread, fruits and a touch of tobacco, while the Orion red had a strong and smooth taste thanks to a combination of mocha, leather and overripefig.
The Gazelle rose also came with fresh notes like raspberry, currant, and citrus. The Gazelle black with citrus aromas perfectly complemented the Moroccan vegetables, chickpeas tagine and couscous as well as succulent barbecued meats.
Rory informed me as we continued our conversation that the winery also owned a three-bedroom guesthouse. I was able to speak to a member of the restaurant’s team and made the quick decision to spend the night in Domaine du Val D’Argan’s guesthouse.
The next morning, I woke up in a peaceful and charming bedroom that overlooked the swimming pool. I couldn’t resist taking a short walk through the garden, interrupted only by the sound of birdsongs and the wind blowing in the trees. It was a short drive from Essaouira but felt far from the bustle and hustle of the city.
After finishing breakfast, I went for a quick dip in the winery pool before returning to Essaouira where Linda was waiting to meet me for lunch. I was eager to share with Linda all of my wine experiences over another glass Perle white.