Tequila ventures into vintage and terroir

Tequila ambassador Tomas Estes is using his Tequila Ocho brand to explore the implications of vintage and terroir for the category.

With the first vintage produced in 2007, Tequila Ocho is the result of a collaboration between Estes, official Tequila ambassador to the European Union, and the Camarena family, who produce Tequila Tapatio.

The family works with over 100 different ranches, producing to order a range of what Estes claims are the only single ranch Tequilas on the market.

Explaining the project, Estes said: “I wanted it to be as complex and nuanced as possible, to express the breadth that agave has.”

For this reason, the Ocho Tequilas are aged for “the minimum time allowed” in neutralised barrels and the core of the range is made in a blanco style.

“On my own, I would always have a blanco and have a cocktail made with blanco too,” remarked Estes, who described the addition of reposado and añejo styles to the range as “somewhat of an afterthought”.

At a recent UK vertical tasting of Ocho, Julio Bermejo, son-in-law to the Camarena family and owner of Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco, highlighted the rarity value to vintage Tequilas.

“Once harvested, you’re not going to see agave from that field for a generation,” he observed. “It might take three years to harvest one field because you want exactly the right ripeness.”

Estes confirmed: “It would take a decade before we would see any of these ranches come back,” as he highlighted the collectability of the range “for anybody who cares about that kind of thing.”

Bermejo predicted an increase in the number of age-statement Tequilas in the near future, observing: “The industry’s basically going to follow what Scotch whisky has done; you need to add SKUs to your line-up so it’s a natural progression.”

As for the impact of terroir on Tequila, Estes conceded: “It’s still a big question, but I think we’re going to find out.”

However Bermejo offered some insight into the potential range of expression, observing: “There are 600 different compounds in agave and just 200 that they’ve found in wine.”

For the moment, however, Estes admitted: “People don’t understand what makes it different. In the Côte D’Or they’ve been studying it for centuries; we’ve literally only been playing with terroir for 10 years.”

Explaining his decision to explore these fresh avenues with the brand, Estes remarked: “There’s no way we can play with the big guys – they don’t have money, they have capital. We have to play with creativity.”

In line with this, Estes also touched on a separate project of his, which sees blanco infused with cooked agave fibres. “Everyone’s excited about 100% agave, but this one’s like 100+”, he enthused.

Estes is currently looking for a larger partner to launch this idea on a major scale. “I want to get in with a big guy so we can then say indisputably ‘We are the first’,” he explained.

Although the UK has been slower than the US to embrace Tequila, Estes, who founded Café Pacifico in London in 1982, picked out the capital’s bar scene as being “far ahead of the US.” In particular, he pointed to “the excitement and the cocktail level in terms of quality, innovation and high standards.”

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