We will be interviewing Casa Sauza's CEO, Servando Calderón, to learn more about the production of tequila. We here share with you the transcript of the first interview that we had in order to learn a little more about Casa Sauza.
Servando Calderon and Casa Cauza
Interviewer, Mauricio Romero (MR):
This is our first recording of the series of interviews that we'll be having with Sauza's CEO, Servando Calderon, who is here with me. Servando tell us about you, who are you? what do you do? for whom do you do it?
Servando Calderón (SC):
Thank you, Mauricio. I am an Agronomist. My training comes mainly from Casa Pedro Domecq with the production of grapes for the grapes supply for brandy, for table wine. Afterwards, I had the opportunity to start working at Casa Sauza in 98. I worked with grapes and agave from 95 until 2002. And practically from 2002 to 2006, I was in charge of all the production of the agave for Casa Sauza's supply. As of 2007, I am the General Director of Casa Sauza. That is broadly speaking, my trajectory here within the company.
We have gone through different stages. When I started, we were still a Mexican group, Spanish, I worked for a year year with Don Atonio Ariza. From 1994, Pedro Domecq was bought by Allied and Allied-Domecq was formed. From 1994 to 2005, Allied-Domecq was bought by Pernod Ricard and Fortune Brands, who owned Team Beam. Beam Global was formed in 2006 and Casa Sauza became a part of its corporate headquarters in Chicago. In 2014, the company was acquired by the Suntory Group and Beam-Suntry was formed. So we now are part of a Japanese corporate.
We have gone from Mexican, to English, to American and now, Japanese. It has then been a very enriching experience of different cultures, different ways to work, and of constant learning and development and well, having now the opportunity to be the head of this company has been very enriching for me as well as for the whole team, since we've learned and grown. There are always very interesting challenges to accomplish and well... that's been our trajectory.
Legends Around Tequila
MR: In these interviews, we will be talking about the tequila industry -its trends- and also about tequila. We will be deveopling these two topics. Servando, from yuor point of view, which are the concepts or myths that people have about the tequila industry and tequila itself?
SC: Well, there are always myths around ... not only tequila, I think in general, around alcoholic drinks, around gastronomy as well. There are always recipes, stories, all of them very interesting. I will, for example, go far behind, with the development of wine. They say that it happened once men settled down, considering that we were once originally nomads. It is said that beer had an even more previous origin to wine, since the latter requires to work on a crop for years and is produced annually. Not so, for example, with the case of crops that basically have short cycles, 90 days - 3 months, up to 5 months perhaps maximum, unlike a vineyard that you have to establish it, that takes time to grow, etc.
Plus, there are a whole series of stories which I always find very interesting. In the very particular case, for example, of the agave, there is a myth around how it was discovered. Well, it is said that it happened when lightning stroke on an agave plant. This lighting burnt of the plant and thus, cooked it. The main matter of the agave, the one we use, is a starch. When this starch was cooked, it turned into sugars and it was eventually fermented. Se we can say that this discovery was very... how can I put it?... very casual. People back then just tried it and thought "well, this is good". Especially since it obviously contains alcohol and alcohol always has different effects on people but, even in small quantities, or in a moderate consumption, it is good.
One of its benefits is that it opens the circulatory system. One has a better oxygenation which causes a good sense of humor since, the more oxygenated we are, the more pleasant we feel. That is why we talk a lot about what it generates ... one of our missions, our visions, is generating connections, and what tequila generates, is a good social sense, friendship, sharing, being together, celebrating.
So this is how tequila was discovered, this is the legend here of the agave and tequila.
Obviously, the distillation process wasn't known here in the pre-Hispanic era. We only knew fermentation processes, which come from a very natural process in which the sugar is fermented by the yeast and in this way, the alcohol is generated. And it wasn't until the Hispanic era that distillation was introduced to the agave process and it has ever since, been evolving.
And I say evolving because our drink, tequila, has had different names. It started as mezcal wine, actually, the word mezcal was previously indistinctly used to name the plant itself. People talked about agave and called it mezcal. There are even still many people who call the agave plantations mezcaleras. The term started evolving from there, until we arrive to the 70's, when the denomination of origin was set. The Tequila Regulatory Council was also created back then, which was a very important event in order to guarantee that the rule that all tequilas should be produced within a denomination of origin, was followed. What is a denomination of origin? then when the origin can be verified.
And well, this is a very quick story of tequila.
MR: You've been talking about evolution, which is one of the main traits of Casa Sauza's DNA. Tell us, how have you participated in the evolution of the production of tequila?
SC: Since always, Casa Sauza has been a pioneer and has had an historic influence in all this process. Even from the achievement of the denomination of origin, to the creation of the Tequila Regulatory Council.
And, as I usually mention, Don Cenobio, who founded the company in 1873, had the vision of exporting tequila from the very beginning. So, from the beginning, he made sure tequila was known in places other than Mexico. He was the first one to export tequila to the United States and share it abroad since, well! one likes to share what one likes. So that's what we care about, to share our tequila that, within that evolution, has become a science and an art.
Tequila, Science and Art
An art, because it obviously appeals to our senses, to our taste. And it goes from sight, to smell, to taste, strictly speaking, and obviously, it's accompanied by the whole gastronomic part. On this artistic side, the tequila master distillers are always selecting, are always designing just that, this is evolution. They do so by constant tasting in order to refine certain notes or by giving a distinctive touch to our barrels, for example. This design is taken care of from the moment we do the process of extracting the juice of the agave, to its cooking and fermentation, until it is finally distilled.
And it is also science. How do we do it? In a way that we can guarantee sensory purity and also by doing it in this way... by taking care of each tequila profile, looking after this consistency with quality. We go beyond in terms of all the assets that a tequila must include as a general rule; we also focus on our internal specifications in terms of the content of certain substances. For example, when we make sure that the limits of these substances are not exceeded.
We must also mention a very important issue: efficiency. Not only in economic terms, but also in not wasting nature's resources. It takes so long to produce the agave -at least 6-7 years- that we can't afford wasting something so valuable, something that nature shares with us. I think we should make the most of that goodness that I insist, nature gives us, because in the end, the agave plant is our little machine. That's where it all starts: it's a natural machine and, with all its physiology, with all that it does during all those growing years, with its developing of this starch that we later turn into sugar, well... we just shouldn't waste it all.
That on the one hand, but also in the case of water. We take great care of our water consumption because we understand that it's a remarkable responsibility that we have. Today we are seeing important problems, for example in Mexico City, with the lack of water. So we must take care of our processes and that's where the efficiency is: we use as little water as possible throughout our process.
And, along with water, energy. I mean lower our energy consumption. Obviously accompanied by the caring of the environment, both of water as well as of pollution in general, it's fundamental to us.
So when I speak of efficiency, I'm not only speaking in economic terms, which evidently has an economic benefit, but also about the care of limited resources, such as water, as energy itself.
Developing the Talent of Sauza's People
We also encourage the development of our team, of all of our collaborator's talents. I don't think handling vey basic tasks could be very efficient for anyone. What do I mean by basic tasks? Starting with the process of loading the agave by hand during 8 hours, imagine that! On the one hand, you can have the benefit indeed of working out your muscles, of course, but it can also bring negative effects on ... for example, on the back, on other parts of the body. So we think that, well, those 8 hours spent on the loading or unloading agave... or on doing cleaning activities which are good, it's not that they aren't, physical activity is good and you have to do it, but ... I do believe that it's more efficient to boost a personal development, to deepen and better understand what we are all doing, what is going on.
We used to think that quality was something external but it isn't, quality is achieved by those who are producing. With this technological opportunity that each one of us now has, we can understand processes better. Starting from what we call Big Data; we have any amount of information available in order to explore and see what that data is telling us.
It seems to me that it's more interesting to have each one of our people work on that personal development, on that knowledge and those abilities needed in order to be able to
- Understand, to integrate that information
- Give an interpretation of the data and explore improvements
...than to load the agave by hand. That's what we're doing and that's where the subject of evolution and efficiency comes again. It honestly seems to me that for anyone of us, it's more efficient to dedicate our time on the development of the improvement of cases, than for example, doing very basic activities, such as the ones that I just mentioned, among others, there are be others.
MR: Servando, tell us something about the special sensory profile traits that Casa Sauza tequila's have, specially when looking after this purity of the product.
SC: We start looking after the purity of our products starting from the agave itself. As I mentioned before, what distinguishes a tequila is the agave that it's made from, within a denomination of origin, within an origin. It is a gift from nature that in the end, it is the agave itself that takes all the elements it needs so we can later turned them into our product: aromas, flavors, sensations, that fill all of our senses.
So, from the moment that we extract the agave juice, we want to preserve those notes that the agave gives us, we don't want that ... we want them to be affected as little as possible and preserve those floral, herbal, even spice notes that it naturally has, which is what the plant gives us, the agave plant. We want to keep that throughout our process. I speak of fruity notes, since citrus notes are very characteristic of our tequilas, they all have that trademark. Perhaps it's not only ours or unique, but it's very relevant, and it comes from preserving that purity of the agave's aromas, again, flavors, sensations, that the plant gives us, and being able to bring them to the tequila. As I mentioned, there is no tequila without agave. That's why we want to preserve the agave's purity.
Sauza's Production Processes
MR: And in technical terms, in all this evolution, which processes are different in Casa Sauza in order to achieve this purity?
SC: Well, we carry out what we call a soft extraction, an natural extraction of the agave's juice. By natural I mean that it hasn't undergone any process, we extract the juice as it comes from the plant and we later cook the agave's juice. This gives us a great benefit, since we don't extract the juice based on a press but with water and steam. We call it noble or soft extraction because it's the work of the very nature of the water, of the temperature, what extracts the juice. We do not force it and, by not forcing it, well, it also gives us the virtue of not extracting other unwanted components that come from the plant itself such as cellulose, as other elements that, for our tequilas, we prefer to avoid. We'd rather focus on those floral, fruity, herbal notes.
MR: I really liked the analogy you once made by comparing this process with juicing a grapefruit.
SC: Well, continuing with our whole process, when in a process of extraction, let's say of a grapefruit's, we abuse of its pressing, then the juice might come out bitter. On the other hand, if you make a soft extraction, then you get what you want, the flavor if the juice itself. This juice tastes more like the pulp, not the skin. You get what we can call the essence of the grapefruit flavor.
We are looking for the same here, we try to preserve the essence of those flavors, of those aromas of the agave. The difference starts from the moment of the extraction itself. We then manage everything in order to preserve those notes along the process as well.
The juice is cooked and all the treatment is done in stainless steel containers that are perfectly cleaned and sanitized after each process, of each batch, to start that process again. What is it that we want to do with this? to avoid cross contamination. We now know that if we abuse squeezing a grapefruit, we'll get notes that are not so likable, very different to the essence of grapefruit, and that the same happens with the agave. Now, it's even worse if we also don't preserve those specific agave notes and mix it all in containers that have already been used before which kept other aromas in them (and have not been properly sanitized). It would be like slicing a grapefruit with a knife that I previously used to slice an onion (and didn't clean it): the grapefruit will taste like an onion.
This is why we use stainless steel, that's why we sanitize and clean, in order to preserve the purity of that juice that we so gently extracted from the agave. We preserve it along all our distillation process.
MR: Well, it is all very interesting, Servando. We'll be talking about these topics, about how we can achieve purity, how we can improve our production processes.
SC: Thank you very much, Mauricio. Glad to have you here and happy to welcome all of our clients and visitors here at Sauza.
This is how the interview ended. If you want to come to Tequila, we have several guided tours that you can take in order to learn more about the production of tequila at Casa Sauza. We'd be glad to show you around!