Teotitlan del Valle

November 7th, 2017

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Since its founding in 1995, Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal has operated out of the village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. This Zapotec pueblo, known the world throughout for its vibrant traditional weavings and natural dyes, ruins, architecture, exquisite moles, seasonal soups and temezcals, or steam baths, lies in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, about forty minutes driving from the capital, Oaxaca de Juarez.

It is rare to find Mexican nationals residing in indigenous villages around Oaxaca. This is primarily due to land grant laws that help preserve the resources and customs of each area. Local Zapotec government’s policies are designed to protect the welfare of citizens by providing land parcels for living and farming in exchange for voluntary services that serve the pueblo’s needs.

Thus, it was no common occurrence for someone like Ron Cooper, who first visited the village in 1970, to return for good in 1990 and encounter a community and culture that welcomed his presence and admiration with respect, joy and humility.

As the village grew an international reputation for its craft and quality, a few more foreigners, from within the country as well as outside, salted the social fabric with their presence and respect for Teotitlan’s deeply traditional culture. But there were not many, and still are not. Within this milieu, Ron began his project to introduce his friends to mezcal.

The Bodega

Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal Bodega

Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal Bodega and Neighborhood

Local Bottling Crew

Del Maguey’s mezcal producing partners live in 8 different communities around Oaxaca and Puebla. Once their liquid art is produced, every single expression and green bottle enjoyed within Mexico and around the world has always been and is still bottled by hand in the Teotitlan del Valle bodega, by local Teotitecos.

Cosme “Mito” Martinez Martinez

As the company steadily grew, so too did its bottling crew. Today, the entire bottling operation is run by manager Cosme “Mito” Martinez Martinez and an unfailingly committed team.

Del Maguey Bottling Crew with visitor Yosh Han

It is often difficult for first time visitors to imagine that there is no automation in the bottling facility. Slight shock and puzzlement reflects an initial disbelief at what this team is capable of accomplishing on a daily basis. This realization serves as a constant reminder that Del Maguey’s guiding principles of respect, quality and attention to detail shine through in every aspect of this labor of love.

Ron Cooper with Adolfo Alavez Bazan and Zenon Bazan Sosa

Community Support in Teotitlan del Valle

Outside of the bodega, Del Maguey has had a positive impact in other aspects of the community.

A number of computers have been donated to local schools; digital libraries are soon to follow. The company sponsors a local basketball team, Los Barbaros.

One project in particular, an extension of a women’s collective that sells fresh milk at the local market, is for a Centro de Curandación, or Healing Center, for visitors to experience the traditional Oaxacan steam bath, or temezcal. These projects certainly do not happen overnight, and the center still needs some finishing touches. Nonetheless, Del Maguey donated all the material necessary for the center and in December 2016, this building was inaugurated with a celebration and fireworks.

Future Healing Center/Centro de Curandación

Internet Access

As in many parts of Mexico, for decades there has only been one telecommunications company that provides coverage around Oaxaca. Some years ago, the company tried to install a cell phone tower in Teotitlan. Eventually the project was rejected.  Many parts of the village, which is dotted with picturesque, free standing hills at the base and plains of a jagged and formidable mountain valley, remained out of service.

Worse yet, for years, the same company provided the only internet service in the few villages they were willing to reach outside of Oaxaca City. Following the cell tower decision, internet service in the village began to deteriorate. By 2015, new customers were not allowed to sign up, and existing customers became increasingly frustrated to learn that no matter how many calls or visits were made to the regional office center, nothing mattered. The internet in Teotitlan had reached abysmal levels.

In early 2016, the Del Maguey team threw their hat in the ring to help find solutions. Before long we learned that a new company had recently formed in Oaxaca to provide an alternative to the monopolized communications infrastructure. This company was working in communities around the Central Valleys and even some remote mountain villages by transmitting internet signals through the air through line of sight connections.

Del Maguey brought the company’s founder and head engineer to Teotitlan and introduced him to the local municipal president and council. Meetings with the council are very formal and not typically reserved for outsiders, as the business of the pueblo is almost exclusively conducted in the native Zapotec. After a few visits and more than a little deliberation, the council was convinced that a 5 meter wooden post with a receiving dish and self powered solar panel was a secure, fast and novel solution to the recurring internet problem.

The council allowed the engineer to install his post on what they deemed public land, or, at least, land that would serve as a public good. There was only one more catch. The new company would not begin unless twenty different customers signed up for an installation fee and two year contract. The installation fee was too steep for everyone interested, including the municipality.

At this moment, Ron and Del Maguey pledged to pay for the installation of the first twenty homes, buildings, or schools. Within three weeks of the engineers first visit, twenty different locations were receiving a stronger signal than the homes who were still contractually tied to the whims of the large company. At last, competition had arrived.

Internet Installation/Teotitlan del Valle

Thankfully, this was the necessary impetus for the incumbent company to act. Within two months, the unresolvable problem that had lingered for years was magically repaired.

New customers were allowed to sign up for service again and existing customers saw their bandwidth reach the level promised in their contracts.

Although this was never meant to be considered the most benevolent act ever, it is another example of Del Maguey’s commitment to the village, one formed through mutual respect, the honoring of traditions, and an interest in educational improvements for future generations.

There are more projects in development between the village, the municipal government and Del Maguey. For now, we are eternally blessed to call this valley home and our neighbors compadres. Stigibeu!

Teotitlan del Valle- Night at the Town Dam

Del Maguey is Friendly to Bats

August 7th, 2017

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.

Solar Energy in Del Maguey Palenques

April 22nd, 2017

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.

San Luis del Rio at night

Fundraising Campaign for Angel Chincoya Santiago

March 2nd, 2017

Please Consider Donating to Angel Here

Angel Chincoya Santiago is like other kids his age; he loves football, video games, learning at school and his group of friends. He generally has a bright smile pasted on his face. The only time his smile disappears is when the frustration of his handicap makes certain situations a little overbearing.

Angel was born in the Zapotec village of San Balthazar Chichicapam, Oaxaca, Mexico with a hearing impediment that was not diagnosed until his parents realized that he was not developing any distinguishable language skills.

Over the next 8 years, his mother Elizabeth tried tirelessly to find him the best care, but the news always came back bleak: Your boy has a hearing defect. For years there was no technology available in Mexico that could help him lead what most parents and doctors consider a normal upbringing.

Despite the constant setbacks, Angel refused to consider himself different. He dedicated himself to rehabilitation therapy and won over teachers and bullies with perseverance and smiles.

While he has been enrolled in a speciality school for the hearing impaired, he treasures the challenge of going to school with peers that do not share the same impediment. For the last three years, this he has attended public school.

In the last six months, his family learned of a new hearing aid that had finally been made available in Mexico. It is the Phonak SKY V-70 UP and has the capacity to help Angel understand everyday conversation and substantially improve his speech skills.

Unfortunately, a piece of technology this effective is much too expensive for his family to afford. Elizabeth approached a dozen NGO’s in Oaxaca and Mexico City. She learned that the cost of this apparatus was well beyond the budget of all the NGO’s she asked for help.

Running out of options, and worried that Angel’s development would be negatively affected as he moves from the second to third level of his primary education, she reached out to her cousin Isabel. Isabel’s husband Maximino produces Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal’s Chichicapa, along with his father Faustino Garcia Vasquez, who has been producing this enchanting elixir with Del Maguey’s founder, Ron Cooper, for the last 22 years.

The team at Del Maguey felt like Angel’s story was worthy of a crowdfunding campaign.

Del Maguey’s values are driven by creating opportunities for it’s partner producers and family members that might not have been possible in years past.

We want to help Angel overcome his handicap and we are sending this appeal to the greater Del Maguey family and community in the world in the hope that you feel the same way as well.

The money raised with this campaign will go directly to the purchase of two hearing aids (one for each ear) for Angel, and the the cost of fitting them correctly with his specialist.

The campaign will last 45 days and we would be eternally grateful to be able to share the results of this campaign with updates about the profound change this will make in 9 year old Angel’s life.

If we reach our goal with your support, any additional funds raised will go to CORAL, a Oaxacan Speech and Hearing Rehabilitation Center.

Thank you so much for the consideration. To the Del Maguey family spread across the globe, this is one Stigibeu that we will never forget!

Del Maguey Sustainability

January 6th, 2017

Culture

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.

Social Responsibility

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.

Environmental Responsibility

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.

Core Values

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.