Kendall Jenner, Michael Jordan, the Rock. Why accomplish that many celebrities have tequila manufacturers?

2021-08-17 14:30:47

Folks within the tequila business name it the “Clooney impact.”

In 2017, actor George Clooney introduced he was promoting his 5-year-old Casamigos tequila model to a British beverage firm for the staggering sum of $1 billion.

Nearly in a single day, it appeared that each A-list movie star was debuting a tequila label — from Arnold Schwarzenegger to LeBron James, Nick Jonas and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

The flood of movie star manufacturers has helped gas report development within the business. Mexico, the supply of all tequila, final yr produced 60 million gallons — 800% greater than twenty years in the past.

The increase is seen right here, a metropolis the place the slim, cobblestone streets are jammed with vacationers and seemingly each distillery is present process an enlargement. Within the surrounding hills, blue agave, tequila’s primary ingredient, is promoting for report costs.

People stroll along Calle Jose Cuervo in Tequila, Jalisco

Folks stroll alongside Calle Jose Cuervo in Tequila, Jalisco in July.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

“We are able to’t sustain with international demand,” mentioned Augustin Velázquez Servin, an agave producer who additionally has a small label known as Ruiseñor. “Anybody who has tequila proper now could be promoting it on the worth of gold.”

However not everyone is proud of the business’s speedy development, which carries each an environmental worth — as farmers bulldoze forests to plant extra agave — and a cultural one — with foreigners enjoying an ever-growing function in one in all Mexico’s proudest cultural traditions.

“Personally I discover it very unhappy when hundreds of years of historical past are diminished to a advertising and marketing marketing campaign from a really well-known particular person,” mentioned David Suro-Piñera, a conservationist who owns the small tequila label Siembra Azul. “Every little thing that actually issues about these spirits is being diminished to movie star.”

Salvador “Chava” Rosales Trejo, who helps run the craft distillery Tequila Cascahuin and is the grandson of its founder, mentioned many celebrities don’t grasp what it actually takes to make tequila.

Monsarat Delgado checks tequila bottles for impurities

Monsarat Delgado checks tequila bottles for impurities earlier than being labeled at Cascahuin Tequila distillery.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

“They don’t perceive the earth, they don’t perceive the uncooked supplies, they don’t perceive what agave is, they don’t perceive the assets now we have right here,” he mentioned.

These tensions bubbled to the floor this yr when supermodel Kendall Jenner unveiled her newest enterprise enterprise: a spirits model known as 818 Tequila.

Critics cried cultural appropriation, stating grammatical errors within the Spanish on the early labels and lambasting adverts that confirmed Jenner astride a horse galloping by fields of agave. Jenner, who named the model after the world code for the San Fernando Valley, was accused by on-line commenters of tequila “gentrification.”

However like so many stars who’ve embraced tequila, she had the final giggle.

After months of teasing the label to her 182 million Instagram followers, Jenner’s first batch of tequila offered out virtually instantly.

Blue agave fields with the Sierra Madre Occidental seen in the background in San Martin de las Canas, Jalisco.

Blue agave fields with the Sierra Madre Occidental within the background in San Martin de las Canas, Jalisco.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)


The manufacturing unit that makes Michael Jordan’s model sits alongside a busy freeway on the outskirts of Tequila, the place the town offers strategy to rolling fields of silver-toned agave.

Celia Maestri was a Mexican American spirits importer in Houston when she purchased the distillery together with her husband in 2008. Their enterprise, Casa Maestri, was nonetheless in its infancy when Clooney offered. That very same day, their telephones began ringing. Caller after caller wished to know if the distillery may assist them make their very own tequila label.

As we speak, the manufacturing unit produces practically 150 manufacturers — greater than another distillery in Mexico.

“We’re dream-makers,” mentioned Maestri, whose sprawling industrial facility now features a luxurious lounge the place purchasers can select from a number of lots of of bottles, stoppers and labels.

The corporate has produced tequila for an array of worldwide stars — together with Elon Musk, rapper E-40, actress Shay Mitchell and Third Eye Blind frontman Steven Jenkins.

However Casa Maestri’s most well-known model is Jordan’s Cincoro, which is available in a bottle formed like an agave leaf and slopes at an angle of 23 levels — a nod to Jordan’s uniform quantity when he performed for the Chicago Bulls.

With a worth that ranges from $75 for a blanco to $1,568 for an additional añejo, it is without doubt one of the costlier tequilas available on the market.

A man holds an empty glass bottle. Shelves of bottles line the walls

Mario Villanueva, operations supervisor at Casa Maestri tequila distillery, with varied bottles that manufacturers can select from to bottle their product.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

However is it actually what Cincoro Chief Govt Emilia Fazzalari promised in a current Forbes interview — “a brand new tequila, a greater tequila?”

Like all of the tequila made at Casa Maestri, it’s distilled from juice extracted from agaves which might be cooked partly in an oven and partly in an autoclave, a high-pressure steamer that producers like for its effectivity however that many tequila connoisseurs disdain as a result of they imagine it compromises taste.

It has a comparatively low rating on the crowd-sourced ranking app Tequila Matchmaker, with one reviewer describing the flavour of Cincoro’s $130 añejo as “vanilla LifeSaver sweet dipped in coco powder” and concluding “there’s nothing right here that’s anyplace near what an excellent, historically made tequila strives to be.”

And but the model has been wildly profitable, tripling gross sales because it launched in 2020.

The important thing, in fact, is Jordan, who seems in promotional materials for the tequila alongside his co-investors — 4 NBA crew homeowners — and sips it all through his Netflix documentary “The Final Dance.”

A pioneer of movie star entrepreneurship, Jordan has made greater than a billion {dollars} peddling all the pieces from Nike sneakers to Hanes underwear to McDonald’s hamburgers. He blazed the path for stars resembling Rihanna, who grew to become a billionaire and the richest feminine musician on the earth, not from report gross sales however from her cosmetics model.

Customers shop at tall shelves filled with tequila bottles

The Nuestros Dulces retailer sells over 2,000 completely different bottles of tequila.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

Jenna Fagnan, who cofounded Teremana Tequila with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, mentioned prime executives within the spirits business at the moment are used to assembly with celebrities, who additionally dabble in wine, vodka and whisky.

“Whenever you sit down with them, you notice the vast majority of them need to begin a spirit as a result of they assume it’s a good way to make fast cash,” she mentioned.

Fagnan insists that Johnson is completely different — a real tequila nerd who is much extra concerned in his model than different stars. Not like most movie star labels, Teremana has its personal distillery, and the household that makes it’s a co-owner of the model.

However Fagnan demurred when requested if the plan is to at some point promote large to a liquor conglomerate.

“It’s actually DJ’s name,” she mentioned, referring to Johnson by his initials.

Fagnan was beforehand president of Tequila Avion, which offered to the French beverage firm Pernod Ricard in 2018 for round $100 million.

That model was additionally partly owned by a star — rapper Jeezy, who promoted it fervently, most memorably in a music with Sean “Diddy” Combs known as “Bottles Up.”

“Bottles up, maintain ‘em excessive,” the rappers belted earlier than name-checking Avion in addition to DeLeon — a tequila model that occurs to be owned partially by Diddy.


Pre-Hispanic Indigenous teams in Mexico had been fermenting agave right into a viscous alcoholic drink generally known as pulque for hundreds of years when Spanish conquistadors arrived within the sixteenth century and first distilled tequila.

It has since developed into an $10.8-billion-a-year business.

In winemaking, the French phrase “terroir” is used to explain how the distinctive features of a grape-producing area form the flavour of the wine made there. Increasingly more, the phrase can be used to speak about tequila.

A man sniffs a glass of tequila

Erick Velazquez, 34, an skilled in tequila tasting with the El Tequileno distillery.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

A taster with a refined palate can inform the distinction between agave harvested from the state’s colder highlands (sweeter) and people from the hotter valley surrounding the town of Tequila (extra earthy and herbaceous). They will sniff out whether or not the drink is 100% agave or a mixto, which means it’s derived partially from different sugars, and whether or not the flavour has been boosted with components.

In response to Mexican regulation, tequila just isn’t tequila except it’s produced in Jalisco or in choose municipalities in 4 different states. But there isn’t a regulation prohibiting the possession by foreigners of manufacturers or distilleries, and over the past 50 years, tequila has gone from a spirit largely distilled by small Mexican producers to a worldwide product dominated by multinational firms.

Ivan Rosario Perez Lopez loads blue agave cores to be baked by steam in an oven.

Ivan Rosario Perez Lopez hundreds blue agave cores to be baked by steam in an oven.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

Practically all the world’s prime tequila firms — Jose Cuervo is a notable exception — are owned by overseas firms. Connoisseurs grumble that the style of these manufacturers, which embody Sauza, Cazadores and Herradura, has declined with the arrival of ever-more environment friendly industrialization, together with the diffuser, which cooks agave much more quickly than an autoclave.

A worker agitates sweet agave juice to later be fermented with yeast at Cascahuin Tequila distillery.

A employee agitates candy agave juice that can later be fermented with yeast at Cascahuin Tequila distillery.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

Rising American demand has been a key a part of the transformation. Final yr, 72% of all tequila produced was exported to the US.

No less than 700 new manufacturers have been registered over the past 4 years, and extra are coming, mentioned Grover Sanschagrin, an American who together with his spouse, Scarlet, co-founded Tequila Matchmaker.

“We get telephone calls and emails continually from folks saying, ‘We’re making our personal model,” he mentioned. “It’s virtually like a guidelines, like, ‘Oh, yeah, we acquired our distribution discovered. We acquired our movie star.’”

The couple’s assortment of a number of hundred tequilas consists of many movie star manufacturers, most of which aren’t even offered in Mexico.

They don’t love most, however get pleasure from just a few, together with Mala Vida, which is owned by the Mexican rock band Maná.

“A celeb can come right here, make an awesome tequila,” Scarlet Sanschagrin mentioned. “It simply depends upon what sort of associate they’re selecting and what the method is.”

She thinks the current assaults on Jenner’s model had been sexist.

“Gringos have been making tequila without end,” she mentioned, noting that former Van Halen frontman Sammy Hagar based his Cabo Wabo tequila in 1996 earlier than promoting it for $80 million in 2007. “There’s an extended line of males that got here earlier than Kendall Jenner that no one ever mentioned a phrase about.”


As morning fog drifted over a sprawling subject of agave a couple of minutes outdoors of Tequila, a dozen males in wide-brim hats bent over orderly rows of crops, whacking weeds that had sprouted throughout current rains.

Guadalupe Ramos Santos uses a coa, a special knife, to cut the leaves on an agave plant.

Guadalupe Ramos Santos makes use of a coa, a particular knife, to chop the leaves on an agave plant.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

Certainly one of them was Armando Gonzalez Castillo, who grew up in these fields, working together with his father each day after faculty.

At 17, he left Mexico, annoyed by the low pay. He went to Colorado and spent 15 years in development earlier than he was deported earlier this yr.

Returning to Tequila for the primary time just a few months in the past, Gonzalez was shocked by the quantity of vacationers packing the town middle with their outsized tequila cocktails — and the city’s seeming prosperity.

This was his first day again within the fields since 2006, and, though it was a far cry from the $200 a day he had earned in Colorado, he was glad to be taught that the pay had doubled from $7.50 per six-hour shift to round $15.

The good points for agave plantation homeowners have been far bigger, as over the past decade the value per kilo has climbed from lower than a penny to as a lot as $30.

“Each plant is a enterprise,” mentioned Ruben Ravelero, who was serving to oversee the employees that day.

However he apprehensive that the increase would backfire. Crops have lengthy been thought-about mature sufficient to cook dinner at round 8 years outdated, however at the moment are being pulled as younger as 4, earlier than they’ve absolutely sweetened.

There are additionally rising environmental issues. Tequila-making requires numerous water and produces quite a lot of waste, and agave fields are encroaching on what was as soon as wild land. Ravelero pointed to the steep aspect of a close-by hill, the place guava bushes and nopal crops had as soon as flourished and now solely agave grew.

He was a baby when his father taught him develop agave, planting it subsequent to beans, squash and peanuts, a farming method meant to imitate the variety of nature. He sees the short-term advantages of elevated tequila manufacturing however worries that the rising monoculture, in addition to using pesticides, may ultimately smash the business.

“If we’re killing the soil, we’re killing ourselves,” he mentioned.


Guillermo Erickson Sauza stepped proudly into his buzzing distillery, trailed by his Labrador retriever, Molly.

“It’s like strolling again in time,” he mentioned.

His firm, which sells within the U.S. beneath the identify Fortaleza, is without doubt one of the most conventional tequila manufacturers available on the market. As a substitute of milling cooked agave with a mechanical shredder, he crushes it with an enormous volcanic stone. He ferments the juice in picket barrels.

Workers place labels by hand on bottles of tequila

Staff put labels on bottles of tequila on the Fortaleza tequila distillery in Tequila, Jalisco.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

Within the 1870s, Erickson’s great-great-grandfather based the model Sauza, which remained within the household till 1976.

Erickson, who grew up in a suburb of Chicago, was 20 when his grandfather offered it to the Spanish firm Pedro Domecq, and he at all times regretted it. He moved to Tequila to start out Fortaleza by revamping an outdated distillery on an 80-acre property that the household managed to maintain.

The corporate’s first batch, in 2002, was 100 circumstances. It now churns out 30,000 circumstances a yr. The corporate not too long ago moved from two to a few shifts, so the distillery is now working 24 hours a day, six days per week.

A man and his dog pose next to oak barrels

Guillermo Erickson Sauza, 64, proprietor, with Molly, within the tequila getting old room on the Fortaleza tequila distillery.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

Erickson mentioned he isn’t positive whether or not movie star tequila is an excellent factor or not. He thinks it would ultimately assist create a brand new wave of tequila aficionados, which might be good for his enterprise. “It’s made tequila much more accessible to extra folks,” he mentioned.

It was a heat afternoon and Erickson was hiding out from the solar with a glass of tequila beneath a stately mango tree that had been there since his grandfather owned the land.

One factor he is aware of is that he has a distinct purpose than most celebrities.

“Positive, I may promote, and purchase an enormous boat. However then what?” he mentioned. “I find it irresistible right here. I need to die right here. “

When he goes to commerce exhibits, he generally wears a home made T-shirt. It says: “Not on the market.”

A bartender pours tequila into mixed drinks

Aaron de Jesus Mercado prepares a Batanga drink made with El Tequileno tequila at La Capilla de Don Javier cantina.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Occasions)

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