Mezcal Unión’s Toño Vilches on origins, growth, and unity

10 November, 2022

Mezcal has become a spirits category for the cool kids. But so much sudden attention on the agave spirit leaves its producers, which are often small-scale operations, and the slow-growing agave crop, open to exploitation.

Mezcal Unión is a brand in counter to that, one created with love and respect for the liquid and its architects but that doesn’t shun the world stage. Drinks International caught up with co-founder Toño Vilches.

What was your inspiration behind creating Mezcal Unión and how did you want the brand to differ from other mezcals?

“It all started in 2008. There were only 25 mezcal brands back then and we were part of a generation that was attracted by conscious entrepreneurship, by doing things we were passionate about while being aware of the impact we would have.

“Back then mezcal was very much unowned and even less consumed. One could drink it in small or even illegal mezcalerías. We fell in love with everything it represented and realised that mezcal could be the perfect project with which to share our passion.

“That is when we drove to Oaxaca and spent some time in its Sierra, driving from one small palenque to another, understanding the complexities of life there, its challenges and everything that came with it. In each Palenque, we were greeted with a bottle of very high-proof mezcal and a fascinating conversation with a maestro.

“We came back convinced that we wanted to be a part of mezcal and searched for our role. We found it through unity and collaboration. We wanted to find a solution to the false dichotomy that growth and craft are opposite to each other. That point of view argued that mezcal should stay small and walk away from growth. We challenged that false dichotomy by establishing a social supply model that united mezcal-producing families and agave farmers in different regions, sharing the idea that only with unity we would be able to preserve our craft while driving growth.

“That is why our mezcal is called Unión. Today we unite more than 15 mezcal producers in different villages and we unite around 500 hectares of land with 750,000 plants of agave in 9 regions of the state of Oaxaca. Altogether we produce and bottle Mezcal Unión for 15 countries around the world respecting the process and spirit required to distil a handcrafted mezcal.”

Internationally, mezcal has become a phenomenon, it’s gone from being for people in the know to the spirits world’s most open secret. Is there a danger that without proper management from producers that the spirit will become unsustainable both socially and ecologically?

“The social and ecological challenges that exist in the world of mezcal represent a responsibility and an opportunity for us. We strive to develop the proper social models and implement the right practices to mitigate these risks.

“This is a great moment to trust our proven models and practices. They assure that mezcal keeps its essence for future generations of producers and consumers, sustaining its growth on traditional values, respectful agriculture and the very characteristics that consumers are seeking when they drink mezcal.”

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