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It could be said that Tequila was born out of the clash of tectonic plates and the volcanic cataclysms of the geologic ages. The village of Tequila - meaning "hill of lava" is very much the product of its volcanic past. Located some 40 miles northwest of Guada­ lajara in the state of ]a.lisco, the soil of Tequila is high in acid and silica, and the micro-climate is warm and dry. The dusty fields surrounding the village have historically fared poorly supponing conventional crops, with one notable exception - the local variety of agave, agave tequilana Weber.


It was a thirst for power and weal th that brought the Spanish Conquistadors to Mexico in 1521. In the name of the crown, they conquered Mexico and instituted a tyrannical regime, one bent on bleeding the land of its wealth and natural resources. The Spanish inexorably changed the face of Mexico, influencing, among other things, its language, architecture and social fabric. The Spanish also brought with them the an and science of distillation, havi ng themselves been introduced to distilling spirits in the eighth century. Arriving in Mexico, the Conquistadors found numerous Indian civilizations that made a fermented drink now known as pulque (pronounced 'pool-kay"). Made since shortly after the time of Christ, this viscous, milky drink is thought to be the oldest alcoholic beverage in North America. Pulque is made from the fermented related to the lily or aloe of which there are an estimated 500 varieties indigenous to the Mexico and Sonoran desert. This syrupy sap, known as aguamiel, ferments naturally and is low in alcohol. The Spanish, long used to the pleasures of wine and brandy, found pulque wanting, and took to distilling the fermented juice of several species of agave. These rudimentary, herbaceous spirits were called agave or mezcal wine. In 1795, King Charles III of Spain granted the first license to the distillery owned by Jose Cuervo. What would eventually become Sauza's La Perseverancia distillery, was founded and licensed in 1805. Numerous other distilleries began operation in the early 1800's as well. Distillers began cultivating agaves in large numbers.

In 1810, Mexico set out on the long road to independence from Spain. Nearly 20 years later, General Santa Anna assumed control of the newly independent country, beginning a 55-year period of civil upheaval and military conflict. It was a dangerous time for the people of Mexico, including the numerous distillers of mezcal wine. After a relatively brief period of government and economic stability, the country was again thrown into turmoil with the beginning of the Mexican Revolution i n 1910. The following decade was marred by violence and hardship. A democratic government wafinally instituted in May, 1920. Tequila in its present form didn't appear on the scene until the latter nineteenth century, making it the youngest of the world's major spirits. In 1873, Don Cenobio Sauza began focusing on the singular properties of an indigenous variety of agave, the agave tequilana Weber or Weber blue agave. Situated in the small village of Tequila, Sauza started distilling his mezcal wine exclusively from blue agave. He dubbed the spirit Vino Tequila. Later that same year, Sauza became the frrst distiller to export his tequila, sending several barrels to the United States for an exposition. Word of the special qualities of the Weber blue agave quickly spread to the other distillers situated in and around Tequila, and soon it became the standard.


Tbe adult Weber blue agave thrives in the rich volcanic soil of Tequila. At maturity, the majestic plant can reach a height of five to eight feet with a d iameter spanning eight to twelve feet. Tbe leaves, called pencas, of the blue agave are long, fleshy, and spear-shaped with sharp thorns on the tip and edges. The leaves have a silvery greenish blue color. When the blue agave is between three and six years old, it produces rhizomes, under­ ground stems that take root and grow into separate plants. Under cultivation, these small agave shoots, called hijuelos, are carefully unearthed and moved into a nursery. After a year, the young agaves are transplanted in the fields. While every agave matures at its own pace, most reach maturity after 8 to 12 years. The agave must be harvested when the plant has reached its optimum maturity to ensure that the plant contains the highest amount of residual sugar.


The critical decision of when to harvest an agave is made by the Jimador working in the fields. The Jimador is a harvester,a highly sought after position requiring skill and considerableexperience. An agave is deemed ready for harvesting several months after the plant produces its central flower stalk. The stalk is cut away, forcing the agave to concentrate its sugars in the plant's core. The Jimador watches the plant closely, and when it begins to slightly shrink in size and rusty brown spots appear at the base, the agave is ready for harvesting. Armed with a coa, a tool with an extremely sharp, half-moon shaped blade and a long handle, the Jimador removes the agave from its roots and trims off the large, spiny leaves to expose the juice-swollen core. With the leaves trimmed away, the agave's core resembles a pineapple, and thus it is referred to as a piiia.

Tequila Production

Pinas are split into quarter and then baked to convert the plantS natural starches into fermentable sugars. The traditional method of baking agaves is in a large stone oven called an homo. Steam is used to gradually raise the temperature inside the oven from bewteen 135° to 145° Fahrenheit. It takes three days of roasting to fully convert the agaves' natural starches into fermentable sugars. This slow process ensures that the agaves are properly cooked and that the sugars don't caramelize. The juice that secretes from the agaves during baking has an extremely high sugar content. This previous luice is referred to as the "first pressing". It is coUeced from a vent on the bottom of the oven and later added to the fermenting wash. The softened baked agaves are removed form the oven and taken to the crusher. The maclline sllreds and mills the agaves, splitting open the plant's fibers and extracting the juice. Some distilleries still use traditional tohono wheel - often weighing many tons - to crush the agaves to express the juice. The extracted juice, called aguamiel or "honey water", is separated form the crushed fibers and trans­ ferred to a large fermentation tank.Water and yeast are added to the tank to start fermentation, a process that takes approximately 48-72 hours. When the fermentation process is complete, the fermented juice,called mosto, is trans­ ferred to the still. Most premium tequilas are distilled in traditional copper alembic stills. The size, volume and exact shape of the still plays a role in how the finished tequila will taSte. Alembic stills vary in size from 250-liters to 3500-liters. It is thought that the smaller stills allow for greater quality assurance. Once in the still, the mosto is heated to between J9()0F and 2050f. The vaporization point of alcohol is 172.50f. As the alcohol vapor rises in the still, it passes through a long neck at the top of the still and collectS in the condenser coil. The coil is surrounded by a cuff of cold water which causes the alcohol to condense into a liqu id. Th.is alcohol, referred to as ordinario, is transferred to a holding tank to await the second distillation. By law, tequila must be double distilled. For quality assurance, the alcohol obtained at the beginning and the end of the distillation, referred to as the "heads and tails", is discarded or redistilled in the next run. The second distillation run turns the ordinario into tequila. When it leaves the still, the tequila is clear. Water is added to bring the alcohol content by volume to bottle proof, typically 80 proof (40% abv). It is again transferred into a holding tank, typically for 24 hours. At this point, some of the tequila is sent on to be aged in oak barrels, with the remainder being bottled as a blanco or plata (silver) tequila.

Types of Tequila

Tequilas can only be produced in Mexico, in the Tequila Region, and must comply with strict Mexican government regulations. In order to satisfy an ever-growing demand and a multitude of consumer's prefer­ ences and tastes, tequila is produced in rwo general categories and four different types in three of thosecategories.The rwo categories are defined by the pen:entage of juicescoming from the blue agave: made with 100% blue agave juices and must be bottled at the distillery in Mexico. It may be Blanco, Reposado, or Aiiejo. Tequila must be made with at least 51% blue agave juices. "Blanco or Silver" is the traditional tequila that staned it all. It's clear and transparent, fresh from the still and must be bottled immediately after the distillation process. It has the true bouquet and flavor of the blue agave.«Oro or Gold" istequila Blanco mellowed by the addition of colorants and flavorings, caramel being the most common. By law, "Reposado" (rested) tequila is aged in wood for minimum of two months, although most remain in the wood four to eight months. It is delicate like a blanco, but with the added richness of wood. It is the best-selling style of tequila in Mexico. To be labeled an Aiiejo tequila,the spirit must be aged a minimum of one year in barrels with most aged in 180-liter, oak barrels. They are typically smooth and luxurious, with a subtle amber hue. They are characteristically aromatic with an exceptionally rich, well-rounded flavor and a long, lingering finish.

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