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Teotitlan del Valle

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

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Del Maguey Sustainability

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.

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