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Tequila's popularity is also part of a subtle shift from the Old to the New World. For centuries, Old World wines and spirits dominated the world markets, just as Old World classical music and art dominated the cultural scene. But that has been changing this generation. New World counterparts are competing for awards that once went almost exclusively to Old World products. Just as Chilean and Australian wines challenge French and Italian wines, tequila is challenging cognac and whiskies.
Updated June 27, 2007
Tequila Culture in Mexico
According to figures released in 2006 by the Camara Nacional de la Industria Tequilera, tequila comprises 45% of all hard liquor sales in Mexico and production grew by 19% over the past year.
Compare this to the market share of 24% for brandy and 17% for rum. However, growth in the global market is outpacing growth at home. This has been changing since 1999, when 51% of total volume was sold in the domestic market. Tequila consumption outside of Mexico also continued to grow; sales jumped by 22% last year. Now exports outrun domestic sales.
Some industry sources note, however, that Mexican consumption patterns have changed some since 1995 because of economic considerations. One trend has been the increase in consumption of nonpremium tequila, said Eduardo Miquel, vice president of Tequila Cazadores.
Tequila continues to gain greater acceptance as a premium spirit in Mexico, as it becomes more popular across a broader spectrum of consumers, including women.
There is an old Mexican folk saying:
Para el cruel destino, vino;
Tequila's 10-year compound annual growth rate, even through the agave crisis of the early 2000s, outpaced all other major spirits categories in Mexico, growing approximately 7% on a compound annual basis. Sources: International Wines & Spirits Record (IWSR), Adams Handbook, Impact Databank.
Tequila is intertwined with many aspects of Mexican culture, from the oldest traditions of mezcal production, to modern national pride, from mariachis and charros to the bars of Cancun. It is the icon of Mexico, that one symbol that says Mexico everywhere in the world without any more words needed. It has become the emblem of Mexico, a flag that is celebrated worldwide.
There are many tequila-related events and fairs in Mexico, not always in the tequila producing regions. Some are meant to draw the tourists into a better appreciation of tequila, such as the tequila festival held in Puerto Vallarta in December, 2005. It was presented as the "First Annual International Tequila Festival:"
Count on the streets of Puerto Vallarta to be full of "spirit" this winter as the First Annual International Tequila Festival kicks off on December 6. Tequila aficionados from all walks of life are expected to attend this week-long event, but don't let the name "Tequila Festival" fool you - this exposition of prestigious beverages will extend to such spirits as champagne, cognac, sake and bourbon, among others. Not only will attendees be able to savor the tastes of these fine drinks, but they'll also enjoy a variety of musical, theatrical and cultural performances hosted by this Pacific coast city.
However, there is no indication the event was ever repeated. A similar event was held in Baja California, in March 2007. Perhaps the most famous of the tequila festivals is the National Tequila Fair (Feria Nacional del Tequila) held at the end of November through the first two weeks of December every year in Tequila, Jalisco. This more than just a festival for tequila, it celebrates Mexican culture and Jalisco's contributions to it:
Held annually in celebration of Mexico's beloved spirit, the tequila fair features an exposition of the primary tequila makers throughout the country, with demonstrations on how this famous spirit is made. The fair also features charreadas (Mexican rodeo events), cockfights, mariachi serenades and fireworks.
Some manufacturers have also attempted to position tequila - an their own products in particular - in a an artistic, sophisticated light, both for the international market and for domestic sales. One example is the 'original Sin' series of art photographs commissioned by Tequila Sauza for the Tres Generacionnes product. This associates tequila with fine art, appealling to the educated, literate buyer.
Another company have associated with now-cult-status artist Frida Kahlo and even produced a tequila named after her. The latter sparked a protest against exploitation of her name, and called for a boycott of the tequila:
Turning the Frida Kahlo legacy into a brand name tequila is the final straw when it comes to the "Fridamania" cult promoted by the unscrupulous capitalists the artist railed against her entire life.
And the UK Guardian reported,
...the commercialisation of the painter, who died in 1954 at the age of 47, has provoked a row between her friends, family and critics. Movies, biographies and exhibitions have promoted Kahlo as much for her work as for her lifestyle, leading to what critics label "Fridamania". Her work is held in most major collections, and the Mexican actor Salma Hayek portrayed her in a 2002 biopic. Famously bawdy, Kahlo married the muralist Diego Rivera but also had many lovers, including Leon Trotsky. One of the biggest collectors of her work is the singer Madonna.
Beverage Industry ran a story in January, 2007, about Tequila Don Julio partnering with The Mexican Museum to present Nuevo Arte: Coleccion Tequila Don Julio, an exhibition featuring new works by some of today's most innovative Mexican and Mexican-American artists. To augment the museum's permanent collection with artists whom are not currently represented, Tequila Don Julio is gifting Nuevo Arte: Coleccion Tequila Don Julio to The Mexican Museum. The exhibition was scheduled to travel to New York City, Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles in 2007.
The tequila industry has also played a focal role in Mexican film and TV shows. In 2005, the movie, Corazon de Tequila told the tale about a fight to keep a 'secret' family recipe for tequila out of the hands of an evil competitor. from the description on Amazon.ca:
One man's success brings out the evil instincts in his enemy in this drama from Mexico. Don Pancho Murguia is an honest man who has built a successful business making tequila, which is regarded as the best Mexico has to offer. But he has a bitter rival in Mateo San Juan, whose corruption matches Don Pancho's skills. Determined to overtake Don Pancho in the marketplace, Mateo and his men set out to steal the elusive formula to his tequila, and when this proves difficult, Mateo declares that human lives are not too high a price to get what he wants.
A telenovela (soap opera) that ran on Mexican TV is Azul Tequila (80 episodes from 1998). from a Web site description:
Set in Mexico at the end of the 19th Century, a story of love tinged with the most international flavor of Mexico...Tequila. Azul is a young woman who has been engaged to the arrogant and cowardly Arcadio, though she is really in love with her fiance's brother, Santiago. On the day of the wedding, a peasant revolution breaks out and Santiago joins them to fight against his powerful father, Adolfo Berriozábal. His father had always preferred Arcadio, maybe because Arcadio was his firstborn or maybe because he had always doubted that Santiago was really his son. Azul is kidnapped by a band of outlaws, along with Lorenza. Believed dishonored and dead, her life is changed forever by a venomous lie. Meanwhile, Santiago will dedicate himself to keeping the memory of his love alive by creating the finest tequila in the world... AZUL TEQUILA.
The agave itself still has a powerful hold on the imagination of Mexican artists. It is seen in print, film and paintings throughout Mexico.
The tequila industry has spawned a sister industry for agave growers, which recently formed its own union. The Blue Agave Union now has almost 3,000 members in the five states that legally grow blue agave. The union works with 72 tequila companies and there are discussions with the tequila companies to set minimum pricing for the blue agave. However, if this is accomplished, there may be future issues of creating a monopoly in the industry.
A newly created "Mexican Commodities Exchange" (the National Agriculture and Livestock Market, MENGRO) was developed to help farmers and growers to get the best price for their products. Jose Angel Gonzales Aldana, blue agave union president, has said his union will monitor the exchange, and represent the blue agave interests.
Not everyone is impressed with tequila's growth of late. Activist Daniel Chavez had written that the recent popularity has helped obfuscate tequila's less-than-savoury past:
One of the most salient products from the time of the construction of this modern national identity is tequila. Even if many of the values and nationalist symbols of Mexico's Golden Age of cinema were abandoned or displaced by others at the end of the century, media portrayal of tequila as the Mexican drink par excellence is still a current practice. However, what the stereotypical and modern marketing of tequila as a fashionable drink almost always fails to communicate is that this beverage is the product of a long colonial history.
Chavez goes to to analyze the impact of tequilas increasing globalization on the campesinos (as well as on popular Mexican culture and the telenovelas)
The effective economic reconversion of the tequila industry from a small traditional enterprise into a global player in the production and commercialization of alcoholic beverages had striking material effects on all parties involved, but this process also altered the symbolic contract between rural society and the nation state.
Writing about Mexican culture in the Houston Press, Gustavo Arellano wrote,
"During the Second World War, a time when Mexico's film industry experienced a renaissance that scholars refer to as La Época de Oro (The Golden Age), Mexican movie studios produced great social tales, comedies and horror films, but the ones that received most acclaim were the comedias rancheras. They starred matinee idols such as Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete, who meted out frontier justice and wooed the chicas guapas from underneath sombreros — while always guzzling tequila and riding on horseback. The image came from the state of Jalisco, birthplace of mariachi and tequila. "Needing a people who could personify hispanismo," wrote Joanne Hirschfield in "Race and Class in the Classical Cinema," an essay in the anthology Mexico's Cinema: A Century of Film and Filmmakers, "its proponents found them in Los Altos de Jalisco. The mythology of Los Altos created a horse-riding people who were devoutly Catholic and capitalistic, had never intermarried with Indians, and played Mariachi music."
In December, 2005, the University of Guadalajara offered a three-month course on the role of tequila in rural development and popular culture.
As reported by David Agren in the Herald Mexico, the course delves into topics as diverse as tequila’s origins, its role in rural development and its growing influence on art, music and popular culture. The first "El Tequila, su cultura y su entorno," course saw teachers, foreign graduate students, tourism officials and journalists enroll. It may become part of the university's degree program in the future.
Perhaps a more sour note for Mexicans, the success of the tequila industry has attracted international buyers. As William Dowd wrote in the News Observer, Jan. 24, 2007:
As consumer preferences increasingly favor the spirits segment of the adult beverage industry, to the detriment of beer sales, there is increased interest in gaining control of quality brands that sell.
As reported in Hispanic Business and Rawstory, Jan. 12, 2007, the global success of Mexican tequila is growing, and posted records in both production and exports in 2006, according to the CRT.
Cuervo and Sauza, the two largest tequila companies, sold to international corporations many years ago. In January, 2007 a deal was finalized to let Brown Forman purchase Herradura, the largest family-owned tequila manufacturer, and the fourth largest company. Many others have already been approached by larger American or international firms looking for a good investment in the escalating tequila market. Some of the newcomers like Partida are backed by significant money from American investors. Others like Patron, Cabo Wabo and Voodoo Tiki Tequila were American operations from the start.
One has to wonder how much longer tequila can remain a truly Mexican industry, and a Mexican icon, if it loses control of a large portion of its producers.