The state of Jalisco Mexico is to Tequila what France is to champagne and cognac. Wine and liquor connoisseurs, around the world, have elevated the appreciation and respect of distilled agave to that of vintage wines. And, like champagne, Tequila must be authenticated. Product testing and acceptance must meet a strict set of criteria established by the “Consejo Regulador” (Regulation Counsel/Board). This is a not for profit association of Agave distillers, united in their effort to protect product quality and the name Tequila. The “Consejo Regulador” is like the bar association for lawyers; your right to license is always subject to review.
In the past year, dozens of new tequila brands have entered the world’s market place as interest in tequila grows. They all met the strict demands of: cooking agave, distilling, testing and bottling within board standards of quality. On a recent trip to Jalisco, I met and talked with “artisan” agave distillers who have wonderful product. But, lack the forty or fifty thousand dollars to improve plant infrastructure in order to pass the “Consejos” standards. These are serious people, proud of what they produce and hoping to reach an international market. But knowing, they won’t be fully accepted, without a ticket on the bottle that says “TEQUILA”.
These artisan distillers don’t seem resentful of the “Consejo”, on the contrary. They embrace the assistance given by the “Tequila Board”: Obtaining loans (business plans), training and consulting in marketing and administration. And, running interference with bureaucrats. The government of Mexico is also keenly aware of the potential market for tequila. They are eager to help with loans and technical assistance in growing and distilling agave.
On a recent trip to Tequilaland, I accompanied a client wanting to distribute an artisan 100% distilled agave. He believes it is superior to tequilas presently selling for more than $50.00 dollars a bottle in the United States. The product is called Casta Negra and the plant is located in an agricultural village called Mentidero (Liars Village). In the state of Jalisco, two hours Northeast of Manzanillo, Colima. On the Pacific Coast, 200 km. South of Puerto Vallarta.
Casta Negra , is owned by the Cisneros family. It is a truly family run business. For five generations they have farmed this beautiful valley, rich in water and fertile soil. The setting is surrounded by pine and oak tree covered 8000 ft. mountains. It is traversed by rivers, and, an active volcano dominates the skyline, emitting a steady plume of smoke. The climate is ideal, with a year round temperature of 85 degrees.
The name “Casta Negra”, on the bottle’s label, is above the image of a black Miura fighting bull. The word “casta” in Spanish refers to being of pure blood. When using “casta” to refer to an animal, the example of a purebred bull is appropriate. When referring to a human being “casta” takes on a meaning of “strong character”, brave and confident. An appropriate logo representation of the family and its liquor.
Four brothers work diligently while their father remains the ever present patriarch at the distillery each day. These are truly noble and unassuming folks, unsophisticated in the world of international business. But, what they lack in entrepreneurial experience, they make up for in hard work, common sense and a willingness to learn and adapt. I found them to be extraordinarily flexible in their negotiations with us. They demonstrated a genuine desire to create and maintain a win- win business relationship.
My work does not get any better than it did on this trip to “Mentidero” (liar’s village). I knew a great story would emerge from the origins of the town’s name. The elder Cisneros explained: In the 18th century Mentidero was on the major travel route for agricultural commerce making it’s way to: Manzanillo, Guadalajara, Mexico City and the state of Colima. There, a Hacienda was built called “Hacienda Guadalupe”. Whose principal objective was sugarcane production.
Overnight travelers and cowboys were also welcomed at the Hacienda. This was a common practice for Haciendas throughout Mexico in those times. And, in the evening after dinner, the hired hands would regale their guests with tall tales. Therefore, it became the “Hacienda de Los Mentirosos”, the Hacienda of liars. It was also quite common that these Hacienda’s grew into villages and townships. “Hacienda de Los Mentirosos” was no exception. It grew into a township and the name Mentidero (liars village) stuck.
One of the things, I like most about my work, is traveling to unfamiliar parts of Mexico. And traveling, not as a tourist, but as a businessman. Meeting new colleagues, who love their land and their work. Eager to show you the best it has to offer: Local foods and drink, nature, history and their family’s connection to it all. Mexicans are much more attached to their land than we are as yanks.
It is rare to find two generations of Americans living in the same city, let alone, five generations. We see real estate as a commodity as opposed to a heritage. The Cisneros family told me by phone, before traveling to meet them, that I would love their village. lifestyle and rancho. Their pride is justified, I am anxious to return.
I suggest you visit tequila country, especially Mentidero and the Cisneros family distillery. They will share the best swimming locations on the river and places to eat Chacales (craw dads). Also, visit the neighboring county seat , Autlan. It is a clean, picturesque colonial city with proud and hospitable people.
Work is plentiful in these hustling – bustling agricultural communities. And I saw no apparent signs of poverty – everyone seems to have work. Not many areas of the Americas can boast full unemployment in these times of crisis, but Agave country can. Travel costs are inexpensive. The best hotels are under $500 pesos ($45.00.dlrs.). Decent hotels can be found at $25.00 per night and great meals at $10.00 dlrs., including cocktails, beer or wine. Most of the better restaurants feature sea food and a local river crustacean called Chacales. They are the biggest crawdads I have ever seen. And the locals definitely know the best ways to prepare, the almost lobster size beauties. I ate them at different locations with a variety of wonderful sauces.
I would suggest you combine a trip to the southernmost region of Tequila country with the beautiful beaches of Barra Navidad and Melaque. Less developed than Manzanillo, where Bo Derek made her famous jog on the beach in the movie “10”. Barra and Melaque are just a 30 minute drive from the Manzanillo airport. Despite a large population of Canadian snow birds, these small fishing villages have maintained their Mexican pueblo charm. Friendly natives, wonderful seafood, Chacales, beautiful beaches, great snorkeling, fishing and surfing in warm waters. Combine the best the Pacific Ocean has to offer with nearby trips into Agave country and her surrounding 8000 ft. mountain peaks. Flights on Alaska Airlines – LAX to Manzanillo at $350.00 round trip. With the peso at $13 per dollar, any Mexican holiday is a great bargain.