Blue Agave and Its Importance in the Tequila Industry
Tequila, North America's first distilled spirit and first production alcohol, is known to most North Americans as a fiery beverage consumed during week long vacations in Mexico or by inebriated college students. Vast over-commercialization and misinformation concerning the product obscures the economic importance of the Blue agave (Agave tequilana Weber) the tequila-making industry, and their place in Mexican history. There are 136 known species of agave, but only one is used to produce tequila (2,p.4).
During their exploration of the New World in the late 1400's and early 1500's, Spanish conquistadors discovered a fermented ...view middle of the document...
In the early to mid 1800's, many tequila distillers began large-scale production. Some businesses eventually failed but two of the largest are still in business today. The first licensed manufacturer was Jose Antonio Cuervo who began cultivation in 1758. His Casa Cuervo proved very profitable. By the mid-1800's, his families fields had more than 3 million agave plants. Cuervo was also the first distiller to put tequila into bottles. Today Cuervo is the largest manufacturer of tequila, with a huge export market. In 1873, another major distiller, Don Cenobio Sauza, acquired La Antigua, a company founded in the early 1820's. In 1888 Sauza changed the name to La Preservancia and the business is still in operation today under that name. One legend says it was Don Cenobio who determined the blue agave was the best maguey for making tequila, in the 1870s, and the rest of the distillers followed his lead. Sauza today owns about 300 agave plantations and is the second largest tequila manufacturer (3,p.2).
Throughout the twentieth century, tequila has continually grown in popularity. Modern manufacturing methods became available in the 1920's and prohibition increased demand for tequila just as the demand for Canadian whiskey increased at that time (1,p.6). Following World War II, the availability of distilled spirits from Europe had fallen which also increased tequila's popularity. The late 1940's saw the first modern efforts to regulate the industry, which culminated in the establishment of the Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM) in the 1970's. The NOM is the official "tequila law." It states that legal tequila can only be produced in an area within roughly two hundred kilometers of Guadalajara. The NOM also states that legal tequila must be at least 51% blue agave. Premium tequilas are usually 100% blue agave and are proudly labeled so (1,p.6).
Today, over 90,000 acres of blue agave are under cultivation in posteros, or pastures, in the tequila-growing region of Mexico with the greatest concentration near the town of Tequila. More than 52%, almost 82 million liters, of all tequila is produced in the city of Tequila. The second-largest producing area is Arandas, with over 10% of production, followed by Guadalajara at 6.9%. The state of Tamaulipas makes about 43,000 liters and Guanajuato 177,000 liters. Employment in the tequila industry has risen steadily since 1984, when 17,130 people were employed. Most of these, 14,800, were farmers and farm hands. Only 80 technicians were employed then, which grew slowly to 113 by 1997. Today about 38,000 workers are employed in the industry, 33,000 of them farmers and field workers (3, p.3).
Agave fields are planted from mecuates, small offshoots growing from the base of adult plants, but they can also be grown from seed. The offshoots are usually started in a nursery for a year and then transplanted to the fields. Usually 1,500-2,000 mecuates are planted to each acre and each plant requires 7-10 years to reach...