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Reforestation Efforts in Oaxaca

Deforestation

Since 2015, increased rates of deforestation have been reported in Oaxaca, rates generally attributed to 1) Mining 2) Agriculture 3) Livestock 4) Forest fires 5) Plagues and 6) Illegal logging.

Oaxacan Tropical Forests

Rich Biodiversity

Oaxaca is covered with dense forests and has some of the highest biodiversity levels of any state in Mexico. Some local communities have begun to develop sustainable forestry practices around Oaxaca. Supporting improved efforts to develop these practices with local communities is where Del Maguey is focusing its energy.

Jose Martinez planting trees

Mezcal

Mezcal producing regions are not always located in agave growing regions, which are not always located in timber growing regions. Nonetheless, thanks to mezcal’s global success, these regions are inextricably linked together. As a result, it is important for local and regional communities, businesses and governments to work together in managing natural resources in Oaxaca.

Land Rights

Following sweeping agrarian land reforms in the Mexican Revolution, Mongabay, an Environmental News Organization, reports that presently:

“Seventy-eight percent of Oaxaca is held under communal land tenure, whose communities have the legal right to decide land uses within their community. However, this right is limited as the federal government holds the mineral rights to the land and the right to regulate timber extraction.”

This unique condition in Mexico and Oaxaca makes it imperative to work at the local level on a community by community basis.

Del Maguey Reforestation

Del Maguey counts as part of its sustainability team in Mexico, Elvia Del Refugio Vasquez, a forestry professor and apiarist and Jose Mendoza Martinez, a Naturalist who manages Del Maguey’s nursery program along with Elvia. Elvia and Jose’s passion for environmental conservation reflects Del Maguey’s values and interests.

Pilot Program

In September 2019, in collaboration with Del Maguey Maestro Mezcalero Luis Carlos Jr, Sustainability Director Gabe Bonfanti, Jose, Elvia, and three of Elvia’s forestry program students planted 500+ trees on land near the mezcal producing village of Santa Catarina Minas. They planted tree species that palenqueros/mezcaleros employ in their roasts due to their unique reproduction methods and/or growth patterns. These are huamuchil, guaje, and encino. The timing coincided with the onset of a late rainy season, and nearly all of the trees have survived.

It is time for a mezcal!

The Future

Del Maguey’s goal is to plant thousands of trees, either directly or in collaboration with other like minded communities, businesses or programs.

In the pilot program DM organized and financed this effort in support of its sapling nursery, and the trees’ transplantation to deforested grazing land.

Our plan is to continue to support similar efforts across Oaxaca’s diverse landscapes; working with local communities to identify and plant the right type of saplings in deforested areas.

This plan will also include working with the Forestry University in Oaxaca, CEFCOR, el Centro de Educación y Capacitación Forestal to provide sapling grants, that we can transplant to bare zones.

Additionally this program will be open to our many friends in the bartender community around the world to participate and volunteer in planting trees with us and the local communities.

Volunteering is a major aspect of successful planting missions!

We are excited to continue reporting each year about new reforestation projects.

Stigibeu!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Increased Food Security in Del Maguey Producing Villages

Don Espiridion Morales Luis

Del Maguey has taken the lead with Heifer Project International and The Pernod Ricard Foundation to extend a program named Replicando Oportunidades (Replicating Opportunities) in Del Maguey producing villages. The Replicating Opportunities project seeks “the economic and social improvement of the mezcal producing families of Oaxaca, from production, income diversification and the sustainable use of the maguey within the value chain.” The program, which began in 2016, has produced positive outcomes in the village of Sta. Ana del Rio, Oaxaca, including, but not limited to, agroecological management, food security and nutrition.

Del Maguey invited Heifer International to replicate one specific program campaign focused on food security in the villages of Santo Domingo Albarradas and Sta. Maria Albarradas. Del Maguey and Heifer International presented the program to the local municipalities and received approval to move ahead with a program that brought free range chickens, their associated infrastructure and requisite training model to over twenty families in the two small villages.

Chickens and children in Sto. Domingo Albarradas

Egg Laying Hens and Infrastructure

Over the course of three months, the families received training from Heifer’s Guilibaldo Garcia in the basic handling of posture birds. The training included oversight of the design and construction of the chicken coop (minimum space 4 chickens/ m2), the equipment necessary for the chicken coop; drinking fountains, feeders, nests, hangers, windbreak curtains, and training in what kind of feed to use and how the savings would benefit each family over the egg laying span of the chickens (about 1.5 years).

Each family received twelve chickens and within three months every chicken began laying multiple eggs per day. The families were thrilled.

Chicken exchange in Sto. Domingo Albarradas

Pay it Forward/Pase en Cadena

A strong precept of Heifer’s principles that align with Del Maguey’s values is the idea that families who benefit from these programs are expected to pay it forward to other families.

In the case of the chickens, families came from different villages who have participated in the Replicating Opportunities Program; Sta. Ana del Rio, San Lorenzo Albarradas and Union Zapata.

Egg Laying Hens Delivered in Sta. Maria Albarradas

When there are other families who have been identified within this program who need chickens to start their own coop, the families who received the chickens pictured will also pay it forward, in different Oaxacan villages.

We are happy to report that this particular campaign has been a success!

Stigibeu!

 

 

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NEW LAND CREATION PROJECT (3/3)

Sustainable Expansion of Paciano Cruz Nolasco’s Palenque, San Luis del Rio, Oaxaca

At any palenque you are likely to see piles of bagazo, the fibers left over after both fermentation and distillation.  In reasonable quantities the vinaza (liquid by-product) and bagazo, if cooled and separated, can both serve useful purposes.  The bagazo can be used as or converted into feed, fertilizer, mulch, or compost.  Certain local vegetation also naturally neutralizes and even utilizes vinaza as organic nutrients.  But as demand and production increases so does the amount of vinaza and bagazo.  Despite the current lack of government oversight in this area, we, as some others do, feel it is our responsibility to figure out how to meet demand while managing our waste naturally, organically and sustainably.

Sustainable Solutions in San Luis del Rio

In 2018, we began working with Alejandro Montes Gonzalez and his company COAA, who have advanced experience in the formulation and resistance testing of compacted earth construction.  In the case of Mezcal, Alejandro studied and assisted with the traditional adobe making techniques in Santa Catarina Minas with Graciela Angeles of Real Minero that utilizes earth, bagazo and vinaza.   He also collaborated with the forward-thinking team at Sombra Mezcal to offset much of their by-product generation with a novel assembly line of adobe brick production that benefits communities in the Mixe, Santiago Matatlan and other communities in Oaxaca. This is an amazing program, and it is functioning quite well with the different brands around Matatlan who are participating.

Bagazo Management

Del Maguey needed to implement a different system in San Luis del Rio due to its remote location and limitations on the banks of the Rio Hormiga Colorada River.

Making New Land

The answer, thankfully, came from Ron Cooper, who said, “Why don’t we just build new land?” We just had to find a method that was economically and sustainably feasible.

The first iteration of new land construction in San Luis del Rio created an extension of the Palenque that measured 4.5 m in height x 16 m in length and 9 m wide. Using a formula based on the principle of 30% vinaza, 30% bagazo, 30% earth, and 10% lime, Alejandro and COAA began work on an enclosed structure that was filled with this material, a material that when tested in earthquake conditions, is more resistant than many other building materials, including cement and concrete.

This extension to Paciano’s palenque incorporated over 100 tons of bagazo, 150,000 liters of vinaza and 60 tons of earth set between prefabricated concrete walls and columns.

We sponsored a scholarship for Alejandro to continue his studies at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, where sustainable compact earth construction is a vanguard approach to land development.

In the meantime, Del Maguey has continued to build new land.  Since July 2018, Del Maguey has incorporated 600 + tons of bagazo and 500,000+ liters of vinaza in this project. It has effectively created a large patio that will act as a petri dish for phyto-remediation projects, a river causeway, and the base on which another vinaza neutralizing project is underway. These combined projects will occupy all of Del Maguey’s by-product generation for years to come.

Gravity Fed Filtration + New Land

Gravity Fed Filtration

An important part of the process of neutralizing the vinazas before they can be used is regulating their pH.  Alejandro helped design a simple and effective gravity fed filtration system to decant bagazo fiber and sediment from vinaza liquid.  As the vinaza decants, it cools. This regulates the pH level of vinazas which is one of the most harmful aspects of releasing this organic by-product into waterways. The gravity-fed system ends in large 25,000 liter cisterns, where the liquid continues to cool.  Step by step, we are constantly improving our methods to neutralize contaminating effects of this organic by-product.

Mezcal Es Vida

The Future

We are very happy and proud to share with you the work we have done with Paciano over the past few years in San Luis del Rio.  We are excited to be working with forward-thinking scientists, engineers and producers who are constantly striving to improve our practices while not compromising the tradition and culture of Mezcal.  We will continue to actively pursue opportunities to use our waste in ways that will be beneficial to our producers and the communities we touch and we will continue to update the blog with our progress along the way.

 

Stigibeu!

 

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SCALING UP WHILE PRESERVING TRADITION (2/3)

San Luis del Rio, Oaxaca

In November of 2016 Del Maguey broke ground on a project to scale Paciano Cruz Nolasco’s palenque in San Luis del Rio without compromising the traditional methods of production.  Throughout this project we have collaborated with Paciano and his family, scientists, engineers and architects in order to develop a facility that maintains the artisanal methods of making Mezcal while incorporating aspects of modern technology to render the operation sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Underground Roasting Pit/Horno

Our first challenge was to meet a growing demand for Vida while maintaining the cornerstones of traditional Mezcal production.  For Del Maguey that means being mindful of the following aspects of production:

  • Sustainable planting, growing and hand-harvesting only completely ripe magueys
  • Roasting the maguey in a conical, earthen horno on heated stones fired by wood
  • Ambient natural fermentation in open top wooden tinas using only local yeasts with no inoculation or additives to enhance the process
  • Distillation by hand including agave fibers in small, direct fire alembic stills

Fermentation

In order to scale in an artisanal manner we have replicated production by increasing infrastructure.   At the completion of this latest project Paciano’s palenque in San Luis del Rio will have a total of four hornos (roasting pits), three electric molinos, 92  wooden open-top fermenters, and 18 small, 300L copper alembic stills.

Distillation

For those who are fans of Paciano you will notice that with the completion of this project San Luis del Rio will be using electric molinos.  As we began to scale, simple computing showed us that in order to meet the growing demands for VIDA we would need dozens of horses as well as dozens of workers for their care.  Several years ago the Mexican government issued gas powered desgarradoras (shredders) to minimize this labor-intensive work.  While functional and well within the norma for artisanal Mezcal production, we wanted to keep moving towards a more environmentally friendly solution.

Working with engineers, we set our sights on creating an energy efficient, clean air electric molino as an alternative to gas-powered motors and overworked horses. In addition to preventing the release of fluorocarbons, early results indicate that they may also increase yields from the maguey, decreasing the amount of raw material needed for each liter of Mezcal and lessening the stress on the burgeoning demand for agave.

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THE EVOLUTION OF VIDA (1/3)

GRACIAS.

Thank you so much.

We at Del Maguey are deeply honored and humbled by the overwhelming acceptance and appreciation of Mezcal VIDA by the trade since we first brought this liquid art to the world in 2010.

Ron Cooper founded Del Maguey in 1995, at least a decade before the beginning of the Mezcal Renaissance we are living in now.  Since the beginning we have been dedicated to preserving the ancient culture of Mezcal by protecting the traditional methods of production that have been passed down generationally for centuries. We remain committed to making each Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal by hand in the traditional way.

Don Paciano Cruz Nolasco

In 2006, Paciano Cruz Nolasco took a trip to Chicago with Ron and while there, they visited Paciano’s son, Marcos, who was working in Indiana.  Although Del Maguey had been around for over ten years, at that time only a few discerning members of the trade had come to appreciate the craft of the Del Maguey producers.  While traveling, Paciano astutely recognized that the 45+ ABV was still too strong for much of the U.S. palate and suggested the development of a lower proof traditional Mezcal to introduce the beauty of the category to a wider American market.  Our mission was to produce a handcrafted Mezcal using artisanal production methods that bartenders could sip, savor and enjoy in a copita, but could also be used in cocktails.  What we didn’t know was that the success of this Mezcal mission would also result in economic influx and employment in San Luis del Rio that would diminish the need for community members to cross the border in search of economic opportunities as Marcos had done.

Marcos Cruz Mendez

This user-friendly Mezcal we were seeking had to be true Mezcal, made traditionally, and had to represent the core values of Del Maguey.  Paciano spent the next few years developing what would become Vida, a Single Village Mezcal full of flavor and acidity that is distilled to lower proof without compromising his art or traditional practices.

When Vida was launched in 2010, there were only a few of us out there trying to get people to embrace handcrafted Mezcal.  Today Mezcal is reaching an ever-growing group of consumers beyond the bartenders, chefs and sommeliers who embraced this spirit years ago. If you trace the history of the growth of Mezcal globally, all roads take you to Paciano, the village of San Luis Del Río, and ultimately the launch of VIDA. It was VIDA that made Mezcal accessible, gave bartenders their chance to feature Mezcal in affordable cocktails, and led to Mezcal becoming popular enough to be acknowledged by the trade as its own category.

As the interest in Vida spread, we knew that changes would have to be made in order to scale up the production to meet its growing popularity.  At the same time we remained deeply committed to maintaining quality, embracing the inherent flavors of Single Village artisanal Mezcal, and honoring the traditional methods of production and the hand of the maker, Paciano.  Even as we fostered organic and sustainable growth, this growth created new challenges and dynamics to scale responsibly with conscious environmental stewardship.

Inauguration of Paciano’s New Palenque 10 March 2018

Over the next several blog posts we will be sharing our journey with you.  There have been challenges and frustrations and ever-expanding timelines along the way, but through our work with Paciano, Marcos and their family as well as talented scientists, academics, and engineers we have built a Palenque that is respectful of the tradition, heritage and culture of Mezcal production while addressing the sustainability issues being faced in the growing category of Mezcal.  We are excited to share with you the results of our nine-year trek.

Stigibeu!

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Communications Tower in San Luis del Rio, Oaxaca

Communications 101

Communications with the outside world in the small maguey growing and mezcal producing community of San Luis del Rio, Oaxaca have developed at their own pace. The first telephone line was installed in one location in the village around fifteen years ago. Anyone calling for one of the pueblo’s five hundred inhabitants would call this line. The responder would take a message and ask the caller to call back in fifteen or twenty minutes. The message would then be broadcast over the village megaphone, still a staple in this, and many other Zapotec and remote villages, with ejidal or land grant privileges.

The scratchy mega phone would announce that Don or Doña (insert name here) had a phone call and if they were hearing this, could they please come to the little house, or caseta, to wait for the caller to make their second, or third, or fourth attempt at the connection.

 

Above: The village megaphone playing music for Asunciona, Paciano’s wife, at the crack of dawn on her birthday.

Communications 201

Satellite television arrived before most homes could be outfitted with their own private landline. Even still, the private lines did not have Oaxacan area codes, tapping into a system fraught with fallibility. Del Maguey’s producing partners, the family of Paciano Cruz Nolasco, went through five different phone numbers and landline variations between 2014-2018.

Nariz a Nariz

The beauty of this pockmarked version of progress entailed that all real interactions had to be done in person, or nariz a nariz (nose to nose) as Ron Cooper, Del Maguey Founder and Keeper of the Customs frequently adages.

View from Hill where communications tower is installed.

Yet San Luis del Rio is not particularly close to what some might like to call “the action.” As the roadways have steadily improved over time, it remains a two and a half hour drive from Oaxaca de Juarez, and two hours between the Del Maguey bottling bodega in Teotitlan del Valle.

Townspeople intent on conducting their maguey cultivation or mezcal production businesses via cellular networks could catch their first whiff of a signal in the town of Totalapam, one hour from San Luis del Rio towards Oaxaca, or in the maguey growing community of Soledad Salinas, another hour in the other direction, towards the Mexican Isthmus.

Communications 301

As far as internet goes, the story remained the same, with brief glimmers of a breakthrough into the breathtakingly gorgeous, and signal stopping valley leading to the town. In 2017, one family managed to install a basic satellite internet system in their home. They would sell fichas, or time chips to those patient enough to wait ten or twenty minutes to pull up their email or Facebook account.

If there is line of sight between the tower and a home/palenque, it is possible to transmit wifi at speeds up to 5MB/s

As a result, Del Maguey’s team in Mexico has spent the last few years exploring various options to learn if there were any viable technologies available to bring either telecommunications or a dependable internet service to the village.

In Teotitlan del Valle, we found success bringing competition to that village in order to convince the national communications giant that these villages deserve improved infrastructure and customer service.

Skynet-No not that one

After enough research and budgeting, we received the news from Sky Net, a rural internet provider in Oaxaca, that it would be possible to install a tower to tower radio wave signal in San Luis del Rio.

A handful of other providers had always told us that yes, it would be possible to install this type of system in the village, but due to the outlay of the valley, we would most likely have to install a series of towers, at quite a high cost, in order to deliver the signal there.

With Skynet, they explained that with one well positioned tower near the Oaxaca-Veracruz border, there was an opening created by the dip in the rolling hills above San Luis del Rio.

Installing a Signal

We set out one morning in August 2018 with machetes in hand, and made our way to the top of the hill where the receiving signal tower could be installed. It took us about three hours clawing and chopping through under and over brush, but we found the ideal spot for the tower.

From there, everything moved extremely fast. Del Maguey was already happily committed to paying the installation costs for the first twenty families who wanted internet.

Getting the tower ready. Burro looking on!

The tower was installed within two weeks, and the twenty homes (including the DM Palenque) all had internet signal before the end of August. Not only that, because no telecommunications companies are working in the area, each house now has an outside line that allows them to make any phone call across North America, for free, for five minutes. Then the connection is stopped and they simply have to call back again, if need be. A lot of important conversations can be had in five minutes. Add in Whatsapp, and wifi messaging, and San Luis del Rio has access to nearly every medium afforded the rest of the state.

Communications 401

Reception dish in SLR palenque

After a couple months of observation, the installation appears to be a success. There was always some hesitation thinking of certain negative circumstances that come with more accessibility to any kind of information, but that preoccupation has been short lived.

Access to education and information is a basic human right, one that has been denied or seriously impeded in many Oaxacan communities over time.

View of hill with tower + another receptor installation/SLR Palenque

As a result, we are happy to have accomplished this task from the purview of social sustainability, and are looking forward to continue reporting on various other projects that are underway.

Stigibeu!

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Preserving Del Maguey Traditions

Norma Oficial Mexicana 070

NOM 070

In April, 2017, the Consejo Regulador de Mezcal (CRM) implemented the first revision of the Norma Oficial Mexicana 070 (NOM 070) since the inception of the Denomination of Origin of Mezcal in 1995.  NOM 070 provides the compulsory standards and regulations for the category of Mezcal and since 1995 this NOM was strikingly similar to NOM 006, the equivalent regulation for the category of Tequila.  The revisions to NOM 070 were first proposed in 2015 and the goal was to create a Norma created specifically for the category of Mezcal that would protect the producers while providing category designations and labeling requirements that would make information more readily available to the consumer.  The announcement of the proposed revisions was then followed by a period of discussion during which there were a series of meetings that provided producers throughout the DO an opportunity to offer opinions and feedback about the proposed revisions.  During this time traditional mezcal producers, including the producers of Del Maguey, organized and advocated for modifications to the proposed revisions that would protect the culture of artesanal mezcal.  This organization of mezcaleros successfully advocated for the removal of restrictions on the levels of acidity, the backbone in the spirit of Mezcal.   However, at the same time, lesser-known amendments were made to NOM 070 that are affecting artesanal producers throughout the Denomination of Origin of Mezcal.  As a result of these amendments, over the next few months you will see an increase in the ABV of some expressions of Del Maguey and we would like to explain why.

The revision of NOM 070 resulted in new restrictions on the levels of furfural and methanol in Mezcal.  Furfural and methanol contribute to the flavors and textures that we have all grown to love in traditional Mezcal.  They are necessary and essential components of this beloved beverage.

Chemical components in Furfural and Methanol

Furfural is an organic compound that occurs during traditional heat treatments such as cooking, canning and jarring.  During the distillation of Mezcal, furfural appears towards the colas, or tails.  Previously the CRM did not regulate this compound and the TTB (Alcohol and Tax Tobacco and Trade Bureau) and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) place no limitations on levels of furfural.  Methanol is an alcohol that is derived from pectin and fructan, two components that occur naturally in agave. The new restrictions that have been placed on methanol by the CRM are significantly lower than the restrictions that are in place through the TTB and the FDA.

Del Maguey had a few options to consider in order to be compliant with the new restrictions.  The most common and easiest way to reduce furfural and methanol is to proof your mezcal with water.  None of the Del Maguey producers have ever added water to their mezcal post distillation.  Instead the bottling proof of our mezcals is obtained through a combination of the heart of the run and the first part of the colas (tails) where furfural and methanol are most prevalent.  Del Maguey is a company committed to preserving traditional production practices thus to consider the addition of water to any of our mezcals is not a viable possibility for our organization.

Other Alternatives

Other alternatives for compliance would require manipulating fermentation through the addition of nutrients or inoculation with proprietary yeast strains.  The Del Maguey producers are committed to open-air fermentation using ambient yeasts, so this too was not an option.

After months of investigations, the answer that would allow for us to maintain the integrity of the traditional processes of our producers while being compliant with the new regulations of the CRM is to raise the proof of a few Del Maguey expressions. By raising the proof we will be minimizing the use of colas that will enable us to meet the new requirements in regards to methanol and furfural while still maintaining the traditional processes of our producers.

New ABV’s

You will begin to see a few Del Maguey expressions with a new ABV in the coming weeks.   The first will be Chichicapa which will now be at 48%.  The flavors you love will still be intact in each expression but expect a richer mouth-feel and texture.  The Chichicapa you have been enjoying until now had been certified previous to the changes in NOM 070 and was in full compliance with the CRM.

Even as we make adjustments in order to comply with the Consejo, we are dedicated to bringing you mezcals of the highest quality steeped in history and tradition.  We look forward to continuing to work with fellow producers within the DO to advocate for Normas that protect traditional mezcal.

If you have any questions about the choices we have made or the changes that will be taking place, please feel free to email Misty Kalkofen at mistykalkofen@delmaguey.com and Steve Olson at steveolson@delmaguey.com

Stigibeu!

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Increased Access to Potable Water In Teotitlan Del Valle, Oaxaca

Del Maguey Donates a Pipa/Water Tanker Truck

Providing increased access to potable water in partner communities is one of Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal’s driving principles. In many of the communities we work in, there are pockets of the town or village that still lack access to a steady supply of potable water.

On May 11, 2018, Del Maguey donated a Ford F350 3500L tanker truck to the town of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca for use in sections of the village that do not have a dedicated water supply.

Convivio con el Presidente Municipal y Sindico Municipal de Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

This truck was presented by Del Maguey founder Ron Cooper and bottling team, to the Honorable Ayuntamiento de Teotitlan del Valle, distrito Tlacolula de Matamoros, estado de Oaxaca, Mexico, the Presidente Municipal y Sindico Municipal (periodo 2017-2019).

The Del Maguey team was greeted in the local municipality, by the municipal government council, where a formal handover of the truck and its documentation was met with gratitude and a convenio of around 60 people who sat and shared a “convenio por entrega del vehiculo.”

All parties present admired the truck, exchanged formal greetings, then sat down to a wonderful comida of cegueza; a pre-hispanic type of mole, accompanied by prickly pear cactus horchata, beer, and mezcal.

Donations of this nature are not terribly common and the atmosphere reflected the joy shared by both sides to complete the highly anticipated moment.

Del Maguey is happy to have engaged in this important endeavor whose only aim is to help the townspeople who don’t have access to potable water remain included in municipal plans for expansion.

As land is redistributed further from the traditional town center, pipas like this can be necessary parts of local government services in Zapotec communities.

Thank you to the community of Teotitlan del Valle for supporting Del Maguey and it’s efforts to keep helping in ways that are core to our principles.

To many years more!

Stigibeu!

 

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Vida Lessons- An Intern in the Oaxacan Sierra – Part 3

From June-August 2017, Del Maguey accepted a request from a University student heading into his Senior Year to live and work in the family palenques where Del Maguey Vida is produced. His name is Griffin Manos. He is a bright young man with a  promising future, and the desire to work hard in order to satiate his curious appetite for knowledge and experience. This is part three in a three-part email exchange between he and Ron Cooper to reveal some of the complexities and romanticism that accompanied his experience.

If there is anyone else who is curious enough to take a similar leap, opportunities like this do exist if approached properly; with curiosity, humility, respect and vigor. Thank you Griffin for taking the leap. The Del Maguey family misses you, especially our family in San Luis del Rio, and wishes you the best in 2018 as graduate school peeks around the corner.  

Griffin Manos’ Response to Ron Cooper

Hey Ron,

Thanks for the thoughtful and encouraging response.  You can guess that I took some time to get all my thoughts out to you, and I’m happy that you reciprocated the effort and recognize how seriously I am taking this internship.

I am also happy to read about your thoughts regarding efficiency.  By all means, the most important part about production (aside from producing enough high quality spirit) is involving the people who live in town and providing a livelihood for them.  I have enjoyed seeing different people filter in and out of the palenque daily, it also seems to facilitate social interactions that are valuable to all involved.  Seeing someone come in the morning, empty the horno and stay in the afternoon for a beer or mezcal and chat is something that illustrates just how much of a lifestyle the work is.  It is also encouraging that you see this as valuable. It is not by luck that Marcos and Paciano trust you. It’s clear that you have earned their trust and that you recognize your responsibility towards not only the family but the laborers and producers as well.

The question of reducing wheelbarrow and bucket work is a difficult one.  I was originally thinking about the way brewers work, attending to tasks in the same way but not needing nearly as much hard labor.  When brewers finish their conversions, the grain is separated from the wort (the unfermented and sugary wash).  Marcos also separates the tepache and the bagasse before distillation, to measure the correct ratio for each to go into the ollas.  The tepache is moved via bucket, and the bagasse via wheelbarrow (in Marcos’ case up the steep ramp to the ollas).  To separate grain from wort, brewers use what is called a lauter-tun.  In my home-brew operation, this is literally an igloo cooler with a false bottom.  The cooler goes on a chair above my stock pot, and wort is able to flow through the false bottom and pool without any grain in it.  The tina is responsible for an enormous amount of flavor and healthy yeast cultivation, there is no way this could change.  What might be able to change, however, is how the tepache is extracted from the tina.  This may look something like the water pump that is used to get river water to the tinas, with a specialized hose head that could filter out the bagasse while still transporting the tepache.  As far as transporting the bagasse from the tina to the olla, gravity is definitely important.  My initial thought was something like a moveable slide that could be placed on the edge of the tina, so that bagaso could be shoveled directly into either an olla or a wheelbarrow that would only have to travel a few feet, instead of up a steep ramp.  A series of chutes (think simple tournament bracket) could eliminate the wheelbarrow altogether, while still requiring someone to manage the task.  These could easily be attached to the underside of the palenque roof structure, to be out of the way and pulled down only when in use.  I understand that this may sound a little ludicrous or even over designed, but I think there is an elegant way to implement some updates that could compliment the ingenuity that the palenques already are so full of.  Keep in mind that these are also just my first thoughts on solutions might look like, and I’m sure with more time and effort more (promising) ideas would be abundant.

I have realized that design is important to me not only in distilling and brewing, but my other interests as well.  It serves as a common ground, but also as one of the most rewarding parts of each of my interests.  Constantly experimenting, learning, and making are what make my interests interesting.  I’m thinking about looking at masters programs in Industrial Design, visiting RISD, Pratt, Parsons, and maybe Philly.  I think it would compliment brewing and distilling well, and would also allow me to be in school with a specific focus compared to the liberal arts education I’m currently receiving.  You have helped me immensely by letting me learn and work with the village, which has pushed me to come to encouraging conclusions about my future and opportunities ahead.  I really couldn’t ask for more.

Marcos speaks English well, it is all understandable although sometimes “without salt,” meaning that there are little things left out from phrases or sentences that a native speaker wouldn’t leave out.  Marcos and I converse a lot, he really enjoys learning American sayings like “join the club.”  As far as my Spanish goes, I am nowhere near fluent but I am much more comfortable holding a conversation.  I can definitely understand more than I can speak, and it is helpful hearing things people say in real life that I haven’t learned online or in school (chido, gabacho, etc..).  I have talked to Marcos about leaving early, and he has communicated that he understands.  He knows I have learned a lot, made a lifelong friend in him, and have done my share of the work as well.  He also understands that there are important reasons for me to get back home with some time before school starts.

These past few days I have been able to go exploring on Marcos’ land, deep in the wilds and far from any road, as well as horseback riding on another laborer’s (Chalo “loco”) land where I was able to eat honey from a wild bees nest and also see how proud village residents are of their stake in the process.  It’s amazing that everyone is involved and is able to have some land with agave or milpa somewhere in the hills.  It’s also nice to know that I can rely on my Spanish to communicate with a laborer like Chalo when we take the day to see the land.  I feel as though I have really been able to get a peak into what life is like for a number of people who live and work here.

I think it is possible that this internship would be helpful for others.  It would be problematic to try to work with village producers without understanding crucial aspects of their daily lives, and what production looks like on a regular basis.  An internship like this allows relationships and trust to form, as well as information that might not be learned during a day visit.  For example, Marcos likes to talk about effort and work ethic a lot, and has mentioned how he thinks there should be someone to act as a manager while laborers work.  Sometimes he gets frustrated with the hours that people work, or the breaks that they take, or even the liberties that they take with the mezcal that waits in the tambos.  He takes his job seriously and is an extremely good leader.  These are things I was able to see and talk to him about because of the relationship of trust that we have built over the past six weeks.  An internship like this would be amazing training for anyone who would want to work with Del Maguey and closely with anyone who lives in the village.

I hope that this internship wasn’t only for my benefit, and that you can see me as a resource for any other opportunities in the future. I do feel like I have built relationships in San Luis and would enjoy continuing working with Del Maguey in the future, whatever that may look like.

Once again, I want to express my gratitude for this opportunity, and for the thoughtfulness and understanding in your correspondence with me.  This summer has been invaluable to me.

Stigibeu,

Griffin C. Manos.

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Vida Lessons – An Intern in the Oaxacan Sierra – Part Two

From June-August 2017, Del Maguey accepted a request from a University student heading into his Senior Year to live and work in the family palenques where Del Maguey Vida is produced. His name is Griffin Manos. He is a bright young man with a  promising future, and the desire to work hard in order to satiate his curious appetite for knowledge and experience. This is part two of a three part email exchange between he and Ron Cooper to reveal some of the complexities and romanticism that accompanied his experience.

If there is anyone else who is curious enough to take a similar leap, opportunities like this do exist if approached properly; with curiosity, humility, respect and vigor. Thank you Griffin for taking the leap. The Del Maguey family misses you, especially our family in San Luis del Rio, and wishes you the best in 2018 as graduate school peeks around the corner.  

A Letter to Griffin Manos From Ron Cooper

Griffin and Gabe,

Dateline New Orleans

No excuses but have been traveling extensively.

Griffin – I enjoyed your long letter and thorough analysis and shared with my two partners… took time for them to get back.

I know it’s hard to adjust to life in the village and the rhythm of the work in SLR. You and I are the only outsiders who have done this with Paciano and family for longer than a couple weeks.

That alone means a lot and it reveals to me your desire to get close to the process and understand it from a unique perspective, all the while achieving personal goals.

I appreciate your insights and enjoyed reading your reflections. It takes quite some time to master mezcal and no one expected you to accomplish this, this time around.

If you do decide to leave, understood. You have done a great job so far and I am pleased that it was romantic, difficult, lonely, and invigorating.

No matter where your path may lead, you will never forget how you spent the last month in San Luis del Rio, contributing as a valued laborer in the production of Vida and San Luis del Rio Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal.

First of all, these are good questions. You are working hard every day and developing an understanding for what makes Vida special.

Check out this link. Of course we value efficiency but we also value culture. We are proud that the growth of the brand and the industry gives people jobs. Paciano is able to offer employment to many people who left their homes and families behind because there was no work in San Luis.
I have looked at palenque operations and thought about how to speed up various facets of production and then realized that most steps to speed up production cause a loss of quality. This job has enabled many villagers, not only in San Luis, but throughout our producing villages, to avoid the hardships of illegal immigration, or return from an uncomfortable, foreign land where their efforts were exploited and their freedom as human beings was not recognized.

Nonetheless, your observations are important.

I am interested to see a sketch or design of the machines that could reduce wheelbarrow work. Would they use electricity? Diesel? Could they be powered by the flow of the river?

This can be immensely useful, not for eliminating labor, but complementing it. Remember we value culture as much as we value quality liquid.

It’s not a failed commitment to leave early and I understand that preparing for your future is a good reason to do so. What kind of grad program are you interested in? Is there anything we can do to help?
You did make a commitment with Marcos to stay on with your original plan.

How is his English? How is your Spanish?

The intricate complexities of making mezcal, along with this full immersion was another challenge that I hope has borne some fruit.

By all accounts your approach to this internship has been valued by everyone you have interacted with and that too means a lot, whether this helps in your future endeavors or if you are interested in pursuing more opportunities with Del Maguey.

Steve and I enjoyed meeting you and Gabe speaks highly of you as well.

Do you see this type of internship being useful to others?

Best,
R

Ron Cooper

From the heart of the maguey and the soul of the Village.

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