Environmental Responsibility

Del Maguey Apiculture Program

Beekeeping in the Central Valleys

In our headquarter village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Del Maguey helps support the local ecology of flowering plants, including a wide spectrum of wild agave, through beekeeping.

Del Maguey Beekeepers

Program Background

In 2017, Jose Mendoza Martinez and Elvia Del Refugio Vasquez Zalvidar were passing the Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal headquarters in Teotitlan del Valle one afternoon with their beekeeping kit and they ran into Ron Cooper who had just encountered a bee issue in the bodega.

He invited them into the courtyard where they were both struck by Ron’s fearlessness approaching the bees. They helped move the bees to a new location that day and shortly thereafter, started assisting Del Maguey with beekeeping and reforestation projects.

Jose is a naturalist, beekeeper in Oaxaca. He built and runs the Del Maguey agave nursery in Teotitlan del Valle and has a vast knowledge of Oaxacan anthropology and ethnobotany within its mountains and valleys.

Elvia is a master beekeeper, and a professor of eco-forestry at a local university, (CECFOR 2).

Worker bees do it all for the Queen!

Beekeeping Philosophy

As beekeepers, Jose and Elvia take an artisanal approach to their craft. Honey yields in the arid Central Valleys of Oaxaca are much lower than tropical climates, but the flavors and crystallization that they harvest from their beehives is unique to each place, a single village honey.

Aside from that, their tools and kit are simple; masks, gloves, long sleeved shirts, and pants, to go along with a smoker and a hive tool that pries open frames and scrapes away beeswax.

In the Central Valleys, there is generally only one honey harvest per year, around October and November.

Beeswax and Honey, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

If a family or a farmer has a bee issue, just like they helped with Ron, Elvia and Jose will go to someone’s house or field and safely collect the bees for removal and transport them to a safer location.

One of Elvia’s main adages is to try not and hurt a single bee when inspecting the hives or extracting honey.

It makes for a symbiotic approach toward their craft.

Hospitality Visitors

In addition to supporting the local ecology, a percentage of the harvested honey in Teotitlan del Valle goes towards Del Maguey’s Visitor program.

As a result, groups from around the world who participate in our program, run by Misty Kalkofen, along with Del Maguey’s US ambassador team and EU manager Romain Llobet, they receive a small sample as a living reminder of our commitment to sustainability. Plus it tastes great!

The first harvest of Loyalty Program Honey

Apiculture Program Development in Single Villages

We are grateful to announce that two families, in the villages of Santo Domingo Albarradas and Santa Catarina Minas have also decided to participate in this meaningful project with Elvia and Jose.

We are excited to bring the beehives, kits, and bees to these villages. At first, the honey harvest is only expected to be for the families use as a refined sugar substitute but over time as beehives are added, visiting friends will have an opportunity to support the villages and cocktail enthusiasts will have a chance to use the distinct flavors of Oaxacan honey in their drink recipes.



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Del Maguey is Friendly to Bats

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.

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Solar Energy in Del Maguey Palenques

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

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