A Conversation with Thalvin Winery
Morocco is considered by many to be a “new-old” wine producing country. The history of wine in this country is very old – over 4,000 years. But winemaking and vineyards on any sort of commercial scale appeared and disappeared regularly in that time because of religion, war, and other cultural factors. When Islam came to Morocco around 700 AD, the production and consumption of wine disappeared because Islam prohibits alcohol. However, viniculture reappeared a few centuries later when the Portuguese and Spanish began to infiltrate the country, both through military force and intermarrying. The winemaking culture was largely for personal use until the 19th century, however, when European grape vines were damaged by phylloxera and vintners looked to their southern neighbor as a potential location for new vineyards. In 1923, what would become known as the “Domaine des Oulad Thaleb” planted vines outside of Casablanca and their first harvest was in 1927. That vineyard is now the oldest continually operating commercial cellar in Morocco. Thalvin was created in 1968, and now cultivates the wines of this vineyard. I sat down with a manager of Thalvin at the lovely Le Riad Monceau – which features their wines and others from Morocco – to discuss their story and the history of Moroccan wine.
Suzanne: People think of Morocco as having a desert climate, but really the climate is excellent for growing grapes. What makes your wines unique?
Because it is an old producing country, you have a real history and great vine varieties. Morocco is a cold country with a very warm sun and grapes love that sun. Also, the soil is very rich and there are excellent climate influences like the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and the Atlas Mountains. This mix is very good for vines. Yes, Moroccan wines are unique. We are beginning to develop exports. It’s our chance to sell abroad. But the difficulty is that we don’t have enough to export. We are slowly growing and are starting to sell in the United States, Britain, and China. But today, our primary goal is to make the market aware of our wines.
Suzanne: How has the cultural history of Morocco affected this country’s wine? That’s what seems to be so interesting about Morocco from what I have seen – that many cultures come together here in a way that you don’t find in many other places.
Thalvin: When you have studied the history of Morocco, it has always worked that way. A lot of cultures are living in the same place and it is very well balanced. Morocco is a very interesting country and it is interesting to develop wines here. Our goal is to develop quality and have the chance to progress.
Suzanne: What makes Thalvin unique among the wineries in Morocco?
Thalvin: We are the biggest wine producer in Morocco, and have the oldest winery. What makes Thalvin unique, however, is that we are mostly producing high-quality wines.
Suzanne: Tell me about some of the wines you produce.
Thalvin: Because vines almost disappeared in Morocco, there is only one native Moroccan grape variety. So many of our wines are from grapes that were brought over in the last century or two from the south of France or the south of Spain. So we say that our wine is made from Mediterranean grape varieties. We are also producing wines using different ways of aging, including concrete tanks, steel tanks, and French oak barrels. Steel produces a more neutral flavor and is easy to store. Concrete is very easy to use because the tanks are huge. We are always trying to study the wine and make the wine taste as good as it can.
Suzanne: Don’t you think that is the beauty of wine? That every vintage will taste a little differerent?
Thalvin: It depends on the wine you want to produce. If you want to produce a very small vintage, then yes, you have to respect the grapes. And every vintage quality is different. But if you have a strong level of wine, you need to give the customers what they want – and keep that fine quality.