The latest SommSelect adventure abroad was one we’ll never forget—and we brought the best wines back with us to keep the memories fresh.
As a member of the SommSelect wine team, I’ve gotten to visit some of the world’s greatest wine regions and taste with legendary winemakers. But Ian Cauble added a wrinkle to this year’s buying trip to Europe: a side trip to Morocco for a firsthand look at that country’s nascent fine wine scene. AC cranked to the absolute limit wasn’t enough to offset the stifling heat, but it didn’t matter to us: Without the luxury of a car, navigating the remote wine lands of Morocco would’ve been impossible. In total, we drove 17 hours for two winery visits, and it was worth every minute.
We whipped past shepherds tending to their flocks and donkey carts filled with local wares; rumbled over epic potholes and twisted through mountain passages slowed to crawl by spluttering trucks. As we cruised through ocher-hued villages with double-digit populations, the muezzin’s melodious calls to prayer reverberated throughout the dusty landscape and triggered a pleasant series of goosebumps. From Tangiers to Marrakech and everything in between, each stop was a unique microcosm electrified by an ancient flair, but we were in search of something specific: Moroccan viniculture.
Though serious winemaking is relatively new to the country, coastal influences, massive day-to-night temperature swings (diurnal shifts), blazing sun, and primeval soils all point to one answer: the potential for world-class wine. However, the hardship that every emerging wine region experiences is just that—experience (and capital), or lack thereof. Just because the terroir is ripe for the picking doesn’t mean great wines can be created overnight. Luckily for us, the two wineries we visited were steeped in French influence and winemaking: Jacques Poulain of La Ferme Rouge hails from the Bordeaux area and Val d’Argan’s founder, Charles Mélia, ran his own Châteaneuf-du-Pape label (Font du Loup) prior to starting his Moroccan venture.
La Ferme Rouge, or ‘The Red Farm,’ was our first stop. Although situated just 25 miles from the Atlantic Coast, you’d miss the village of Had el Brachaou if you blinked. It’s a blip on the radar, but the magnitude of the estate is astounding. They farm 300 hectares of vines, all sustainably, all by hand. Such an undertaking requires a substantial workforce: Over 400 people are employed here and those who are have painted their houses red. This isn’t just a job, it’s a close-knit, self-sufficient community, which Jacques calls “the beauty of Ferme Rouge.” As for the wines? Jacques is creating extremely polished, accessible expressions of Syrah that felt like a ripe version of Northern Rhône. It makes sense, too: Jacques also made the wine for Alain Graillot’s new “Syrocco” project, which is headquartered between Casablanca and Rabat. To me, La Ferme Rouge is an important piece to understanding red Moroccan wine. It’s value, terroir imprint, and general ‘drinkability’ is a triumph. Be on the lookout for our offer of this wine in the coming days! We also tasted through a massive lineup of tank samples and are hoping to concoct our very own Syrah, exclusively for SommSelect subscribers.
Val d’Argan was our next stop, a short drive east of the charming beach town of Essaouira. Comparatively speaking, it is a fraction of La Ferme Rouge, with just a few dozen hectares under vine, all of which are certified organic and plowed by camel (seriously, it’s not a gimmick). In Châteauneuf for the first 20 and Morocco for the last 20+ years, proprietor Charles Mélia has lived and breathed wine for over four decades—and it showed while walking us through his vines. In the distance, we could see workers bent over, tending to the soils. Charles stood at the fringe of the vineyard gazing after them with the smallest hint of a smile. After a few moments of silence, he quietly said “I have 54 workers in the vines. With chemicals, I would only need five.” As we approached another parcel he spoke about his new attempts at vine training and curtailing irrigation to make the vines struggle even more. I asked if it was a success so far and he coolly responded, “I see in three more years. If it fails, for me it is not a problem. I am an old man.” Hard to argue with that. We then proceeded to taste through his wines. The whites were the highlights here—he told us that years ago Jancis Robinson labeled their 100% Roussanne the best expression she had ever tasted, from anywhere. For us, their “Perle Blanche” field blend was the clear standout. Incredibly fresh and precise with vivid minerality, it was a value white that we knew our customers would extol. Be on the lookout in late April—the perfect time to consume!
Moroccan wine is an exciting new frontier that will need years, if not generations, to become a tour de force, but La Ferme Rouge and Val d’Argan are two ascending stars. You may be hesitant to dive headfirst into a new wine region, and we don’t blame you for that—we’re just hoping that you dip your toes. These two labels will allow you to understand the greatness that is and will be exponentially emerging from Morocco. You’ll have to personally visit in order to grasp the rich culture here, but we’ve got you covered on the wine front—at least for now!