Mission StatementDel Maguey is deeply dedicated to the biodiversity and rich cultural heritage of Oaxaca. The Single Village Bulletin will provide a first-hand look into the processes of Del Maguey and our commitment to leaving a positive impactful footprint in Oaxaca. Through interviews with palenqueros to videos of production to in-depth looks at our sustainability projects, the Bulletin will give you a clear understanding of Del Maguey's devotion to the cultures of Mexico, social responsibility, environmental responsibility and our core values.
Biological diversity is crucial to a successful future for agave species. There are two different ways in which agave can reproduce. The first is through hijuelos, or clonal shoots, that result in plants that are genetic equivalent of the mother plant. An agave can produce multiple hijuelos each year. The second method is through a flowering stalk, or quiote. The agave used in the production of mezcal are semelparous, meaning they flower only once during their lifecycle and then they die. The agave uses all of the carbohydrates it has accumulated throughout its life to flower therefore making it unusable for the production of Mezcal. Although many species of agave can reproduce through both methods, several such as A.Cupreata, can only reproduce via the seeds that result from the quiote. The flowers of the agave plant open at night with the pollen being effective for only a few hours, therefore the primary pollinators of the agave plant are nectar-eating, or nectarivorous, bats.
When considering the importance of genetic diversity in the world of agave we need to look no further than the example of Tequila. For generations the Tequila industry has been solely utilizing hijuelos for reproduction so that every agave planted can be used in the production of Tequila. With each successive generation, the genetic diversity of the Tequilana Weber Azul has diminished leaving the plants more susceptible to disease and pestilence due to the lack of naturally occurring defenses. Infestations of pests such as the picudo bug have become more and more common resulting in agave shortages, spikes in the cost of agave and ultimately higher prices for the consumer. Additionally, the Tequila producing regions became essentially void of nectarivorous bats due to the lack of the bat’s primary food source.
Enter the Batman of Mexico, Dr Rodrigo Medellin. Dr. Medellin has partnered with the Tequila Interchange Project to study the relationship of agave farming practices and bat populations. Recognizing that there are mutual benefits to the biodiversity of the agave and the bat populations, Dr. Medellin and his students have begun a pilot program to recognize producers of agave distillates who are allowing 3-5% of their agave to reproduce through the quiote. The pilot program is in its nascent stages as Dr Medellin and his students are working to create the thorough scientific study necessary to create the guidelines for the bat friendly recognition. When the program officially launches it will initially be focused in the Tequila producing regions as that is where the most damage to biodiversity has taken place, however the goal is to eventually expand in years to come into the regions of the DO of Mezcal to encourage and recognize the continuation of the traditional farming practices of those regions.
The vistas from the palenques of Del Maguey have always been and will continue to be filled with towering quiotes. Through the traditional farming practices of their forefathers, the producers of Del Maguey are promoting a healthy future for both the agave and the Mezcal category. Biological diversity is key to confronting growing environmental concerns such as climate change. By respecting the full life cycle of the agave including the growth of the inflorescence our producers allow the plants to not only develop natural resistances, but also to naturally perpetuate the characteristics most suited to a changing environment. This diversification combined with other aspects of traditional farming such as the milpa and controlled burning, topics we will discuss in upcoming posts, reinforce the irreplaceable knowledge of Oaxaca’s rich indigenous agricultural inheritance.
In 2016, Del Maguey installed solar panels in three different palenques. The first installation was equipped in Santo Domingo Albarradas at the palenque of Espirdion Morales, and sons Juan and Armando. A crew of one electrical engineer and 3 technicians installed the 120W panel with lights and battery pack over the course of a few hours. Espiridion watched the entire installation with a look of great pride and happiness. There had previously never been an accessible way to bring electrical current from the village to his palenque, which rests over two hundred meters below the family home, and over four hundred meters from the village center.
The system works great. The one 120W panel, when fully charged, gives the three bulbs installed around 5-6 hours of light, per night. The distillation and fermentation areas are well illuminated and Espiridion, Juan and Armando are so happy that when they have to work during the night or early morning, the functionality of the whole process is more fluid.
The same was true in San Luis del Rio, in the palenques of Paciano Nolasco Cruz and his son, Marcos. Because Paciano’s palenque is much larger, Del Maguey installed two 225W panels and 8 lights. Across the river, at Marcos’ palenque, one 225W panel was installed.
We made a few adjustments in San Luis del Rio. All lights have a switch; the batteries are stronger, and protected from inclement weather in an elevated and enclosed storage cabinet.
When Paciano and Marcos’ teams distill through the night or fill fermentation tanks, just like in Santo Domingo Albarradas, the functionality of the entire process has been modernized on an ancillary level that stays true to the artisanal culture of mezcal.
All Del Maguey producing partners now have electricity in their palenques. Installing a renewable energy system was clearly the best option available and we are glad and proud to engage and share in this reciprocal benefit.
Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal has always taken a back seat to the craft of the producers that Ron Cooper, the founder of Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal, met through sheer will, circumstance and providence in the rural and overwhelmingly currency poor but culture and resource rich communities of Oaxaca State.
These producers; their customs, their liquid art, their families, communities and surrounding environment are the driving force behind all that Del Maguey does.
For thousands of years, Zapotec, Mixe, and Mixtec Indians and their ancestors have lived in isolated parts of what is now Mexico, practicing their traditional life ways. One of those ancient traditions is to use the liquid extraction of the maguey plant to create an organic and culturally unique indigenous liquor. It’s place in indigenous history in the Americas is grounded in ceremony to celebrate and enhance unique Zapotec cultural experiences. It has always been rare, difficult to access, completely distinctive, and exceptional in character and culinary adventure. In sampling this traditional liquor, People are sharing a unique, ancient, and rare experience with these traditional Peoples and their biodynamic environment.
Ron Cooper, was gifted with the experience of sharing in this ancient custom with these traditional People as an artist exploring remote Indian villages decades ago. From these isolated regions he developed close and enduring relationships with traditional Zapotec Indian families that continued to practice their time honored life ways in a changing world. Ron knew that he had found treasure in these People, and in their continued mastery of the ancient practices of their ancestors.
Our desire through this medium is to provide a deeper level of education and transparency about how Del Maguey operates, the projects that we undertake, and relationships we foster to assure that the footprint we leave behind is a positive one.
Sustainability starts with the singular producer and their ability to capture flavors unique to their families and heritage. They are, after all, the latest link in a generational chain that reaches back hundreds of years. Their culture is special, beautiful and timeless. One of its rarest expressions is in their ceremonial liquor and its related arts.
If the producers are not inspired to continue their craft, then we have failed. If their sons and daughters are not inspired to participate in some way, whether through the heavy labor that mezcal production entails, as support for their family, or at times, the achievement of personal goals that were not possible as recently as one generation ago, then we have also erred.
The environmental ecosystem is another crucial aspect of sustainability. We are often asked about our reforestation programs, forward focused maguey -replanting projects, and our ability to navigate through the complicated agrarian systems in Mexico. Without sounding overly zealous or naïve, we will use this page to provide insights into how we operate in this space as a collective of single villages that export to the world at large. Now that mezcal is heralded as a cultural gem worth protecting, we have to be remain ahead of the curve in many areas. This means that now, more than ever we must continue to learn from and with our producers, their families and communities. Above all, we are drawn to this divine spirit as many other have been and will be in the future.
Maintaining this quality through environmental stewardship is the paramount endeavor of Del Maguey. Indian community lands and labor are used today in the same time honored soils and using the same waters, woods, and techniques, as has been done for hundreds of years to continue to produce this authentic, rare, and finest of American liquors.
Once Ron developed a system to assure that taste quality and upward social mobility were staples of our mission, we have turned our gaze to other areas in which we can potentially be of service. Education, technology, access to basic needs and healthy ecosystems help define Del Maguey’s core values. Without these core values, built and fostered over twenty years of bonds with our producing partners, we would not have been able to send our roots deep, through minerals and rock and silt to survive like the almighty and sacred maguey.
Rather than seeking to exploit and industrialize these traditional masters of their vintages, Ron sought to share and develop opportunity for these Peoples to bring unique aspects of their ancient culture to the world.
Through the stories that follow we will delve into the projects that we undertake, the consciousness of action that embodies these principles, and the humble reality of an oft-quoted Oaxacan dicho, that “nadie es perfecto” If we set our roots and focus in motion we will always be able to maintain quality while supporting, and learning from the twelve (and counting) communities that we work with to bring the world Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal.