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NETA - Destilado de Agave

Date

Spring 2021

Releases

Espadín, Tequilana, Bicuixe, Ensamble, Arroqueño, Madrecuixe.

We first met Niki Nakazawa during harvest 2018 at Lucy Margaux (Adelaide Hills - Australia), who at the time had just wrapped-up consulting on the mezcal program for the Noma pop-up in Mexico. Her intentions were to get her hands dirty, making wine to better understand the similarities it has with the agave spirit – indeed both beverages draw clear parallels from their incredibly diverse worlds.

NETA (which translates as ‘truth’ or ‘real deal’) was established by co-founders Niki Nakazawa, Max Rosenstock and Yuskei Murayama. The trio works primarily with several small, family farmers/distillers from the community of Logoche, in the district of Miahuatlán, Oaxaca. Situated at the southern tip of the Central Valleys and the foot of the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains. An area that is well renowned for producing some of the finest mezcales and agave spirits anywhere in Mexico – owing to the strong character of its people, its diverse landscapes, and the rich agricultural and culinary traditions that have been maintained throughout generations.

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Celso and family

Some mezcaleros follow their grandfathers’ traditions to the letter, while others experiment to carefully fine-tune the laborious process in accordance with their own tastes, observations, and relationships with the natural world. The maestros follow ancestral methods: they cook their magueyes in conical earthen oven, the mashing is done by machete and mill, fermentation occurs with native yeasts in cypress wood tanks, and distillation is made in copper pot stills. No two productions can ever be the same as environmental conditions, well water, natural yeasts, and soil types all contribute to their nuances just as much as the touch of their maker – the definition of 'terroir' par excellence!

We feel fortunate to receive a selection of these extraordinary spirits from some of Oaxaca tight-knit rural communities. They would never be found outside of their place of origin if it was not for the hard work and integrity of the passionate bunch behind NETA. The current releases focus on single-varietal agaves, that represent the flavour and landscape of Miahuatlán, as well as a unique field blend or 'ensamble' – the most traditional type of agave spirit and, inherently, the most sustainable in its production.

01_Vine_Trail_Neta_Mezcal_Tepextate The wild Tepextate

Cándido García Cruz

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Espadín (46.1%) - 400L produced - November 2018

Though espadín is now widespread in Oaxaca, it is not actually native to the region. Some claim that it began to appear in Oaxaca as early as the 1930’s, but most references date its arrival several decades later when government programs and Matatlán based business interests began to promote its cultivation. Because of espadín’s ubiquity, the spirits made from this species serve as an excellent lens for understanding the different terrains and production methods of Oaxaca.

The older brother to Celso (see below), Cándido has followed in the footsteps of his forefathers, farming and distilling agave his entire life. Working with 'quiotudo' agaves, meaning he cuts each plant’s 'quiote' before it has a chance to flower – a method which concentrates the agave’s sugar in the piña, increases yield, and develops a richness of flavour not found in less mature agave.

In October 2018, Cándido and family selected around 90 of their ripest espadín piñas for the crafting of this batch. Like most of their cultivated maguey, these espadín grew alongside seasonal plantings of corn, black beans, and squash in a mineral-rich, red and rocky soil (typically called 'cascajo rojo' in Oaxaca) . Under careful management, well-maintained maguey in this type of soil matures at a faster rate than their counterparts, and generally grow large with high sugar contents. While this maguey may not be endemic to the region, its relatively quick maturation time, ease of reproduction, and high yield has made it a favourite of growers and distillers in Miahuatlán. However, with little regulation and control on a state or federal level, the region has been left with very few organically grown and mature espadín plants, making a batch of this size and quality something of a rarity these days.

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Tequilana (49.9%) - 220L produced - March 2015

The tequilana plants in this production come from stock that was originally acquired in the mid 1990’s through local mezcalero associations – in the context of increased contact with middle men and representatives of the Tequila industry. Despite existing regulations around the use of agave from outside the territories established in the Denomination of Origin of Tequila, Oaxaca became a source of raw material in times of agave shortages, spurring the movement of clones to Oaxaca, where they could be grown cheaper and brought back to the industrial factories of Jalisco. While the majority of these crops were sold back to Jalisco, local producers kept some for themselves after quickly taking note of the sweet flavor of the cooked agave and the high yields of the starch-rich 'blue weber', referred to in Logoche as tequilana, tequilera, tequilero, or azul.

Although the stewardship of local species and micro-endemic cultivars takes priority, farmers in Logoche continue to propagate small amounts of these 'imported' agaves out of genuine curiosity and passion for growing and crafting them into spirits.

The particular plants used for this batch were from the first generation of tequilana to be reproduced and grown in the red soils of Cándido’s 'tierra cascajo'. Cándido crafted this lot in 2015, and won’t be producing any more spirits from Agave tequilana for another few years, making these 220 liters a real rarity.

Celso García Cruz

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Bicuixe (46.3%) - 200L produced - May 2019

The bicuixe, or cuixe, as it can also be called in the area, plays such a quintessential role in local mezcal and agave spirits production that it could be considered the most archetypal and definitive expression of the tierras and culturas of Miahuatlán. While it is primarily a wild species, it could also be considered semi-cultivated as it is frequently transplanted and used to demarcate property lines and prevent soil erosion in the fields. This subspecies is far from uniform in appearance as there are multiple phenotypes and ecotypes, but one of its primary characteristics is its long and relatively thin tree-like stalk, often larger than the actual piña in size. While the bicuixe piña has a moderate sugar content, they are small in comparison to other A. Karwinskii varietals and have a much larger stalk to piña ratio, which can translate into slightly bitter notes, lending the distilled spirit an incredible balance of flavours.

Celso has been involved in the family business since he was a child, but it wasn’t until returning from eight years of military service in northern Mexico that he began to dedicate himself full-time to cultivating and distilling maguey. His wife Felipa is also of strong mezcalera heritage, she and their children help with nearly every batch they produce at their palenque in Lachigüizo. The family works together unearthing the cooked piñas, chopping and mashing the agave, and watching over the old sabino wood fermentation tanks. Celso distills around 1,000 liters of agave every year, batch sizes range from a miniscule 20 liters to around 400 liters, depending on the quantity and variety of agave he uses.

Finished in May 2019, Celso with the help of his family, followed his signature recipe, harvesting 300 piñas of wild growing bicuixe plants from their rocky 'cascajo rojo' parcels, all of which were carefully selected for their ripeness. The maestro maintains the practice of resting his freshly cut agave for several days before and after the cooking process, a method for maximizing flavors and yield.

07_Vine_Trail_Neta_Mezcal_Bicuixe Bicuixe

Miguel Sánchez

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Ensamble Madrecuixe/Jabalín/Bicuixe (50.7%) - 110L produced - November 2019

Predominantly composed of madrecuixe and jabalín harvested from family land in a neighboring community, this field blend was made with a mix of wild magueyes that were cooked together, and co-fermented before distillation. The crafting of 'ensambles' forms part of a long-standing regional practice that reveals the complex flavors of the local landscape. While jabalín is a maguey common to the Miahuatlán landscape, it was never used in mezcal production until recent years.

Miguel Sánchez is a young multi-generational mezcal producer and also the son in law of the producers Hermogenes Vásquez and Paula Aquino Sánchez (see below). After marrying their daughter Felicitas, he made this first batch on their palenque. The proceeds from selling this batch were used for the baptism of his and Felicitas’ newborn daughter. NETA was able to purchase half of this batch while the rest was sold locally to friends of the family. Not only is it a remarkable spirit, but these field blends, or ensambles, also represent the most traditional type of agave spirit and are inherently more sustainable in their production.

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Hermógenes Vásquez

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Hermógenes and Paula

Arroqueño (50%) - 60L produced - April 2020

In Oaxaca, the once cherished, but slow growing various Agave Americana cultivars were beginning to be displaced by the 'imported' espadín by the 1960’s. A situation in which many magueyeros decided to abandon the slow maturing A. Americana types in favour of the high-yielding espadín, which would allow the magueyero to harvest nearly twice the amount of agave mass and profit during the same time period. Prices for agave were flat across the board, so the farmer had great incentive to plant and grow the new espadín.

Over the last decade or so, many communities and families have focused their cultivation efforts on the revitalization of rare agaves which are now being reproduced and cultivated from both seed and clone. The conservation of these often hyper-regional magueyes is important in the maintenance of healthy ecosystems, but for many, it is also an attempt to preserve the 'gusto histórico' of local flavors and recipes.

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Arroqueño

Hermógenes and his wife, Paula Aquino Sánchez, both descend from a long line of palenqueros from the villages outside of Miahuatlán de Porfirio Díaz. Carrying on the family tradition of growing agave, they plant espadín, tobalá, bicuixe, madrecuixe, and other local varieties on the lands that surround their ranch in Logoche. The family always work in congruence with natural and lunar cycles, and their maguey matures alongside their annual crops of corn, beans, and squash.

Because of how scarce this agave has become in the region since the 80s, this is the first 100% arroqueño batch that the couple have made in their lifetime. They used 9 arroqueño piñas purchased from a local friend in a nearby community which yielded 60 liters of this incredible spirit.

Grupo Logoche

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Madrecuixe (46.7%) - 399L produced - October 2016

The maguey known locally as Madrecuixe is a truly remarkable plant. In Miahuatlán, this particular agave Karwinskii varietal includes the word 'madre' (mother) in its name because the plant is capable of cross-pollinating (with the aid of bats, hummingbirds, and nocturnal moths), and producing seed that develops into very distinct varietals. Seed from the Miahuatlán madrecuixe will often yield the varieties verde or cuixe verde, tobaziche, jabalí and coyote. Often, the mezcaleros and growers find expressions that they themselves have never seen and cannot identify. This type of mixed outcome is so commonplace, that in order to ensure the reproduction of pure madrecuixe, many maestros prefer the use of plantlets to propagate from the agave’s root system. However, growing from seed ensures strong and healthy plants while also maintaining the biodiversity for which Miahuatlán is so renowned.

This 399ltr batch was made by the collective efforts of the mezcaleros of Grupo Logoche in Lachigüizo in October 2016, just before the Day of the Dead celebrations. Only fully mature, cultivated and semi-cultivated maguey were harvested by the community, keeping production as sustainable as possible and ensuring the continued existence of this beautiful maguey.

01_Vine_Trail_Neta_Mezcal_Madrecuixe Madrecuixe

The Process

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Candido and Celso getting the piñas ready for cooking ...
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... in conical earthen oven
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Maestro Ranulfo and a few cooked magueyes ...
... to be chopped with machete
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Milling in preparation for mashing
Wild fermentation
Distillation of the wild ferment
Mezcal bien servido, salud!
1_Vine_Trail_Neta_Mezcal_Oaxaca Landscape of Miahuatlán