Strongly associated with Mexican national identity, tequila is subject to numerous stringent regulations. A Mexican eau de vie, tequila is made from the fermentation and then distillation of agave juice; it can only be produced in five Mexican states, from a particular variety of agave: Tequilana Weber Azul, commonly known as blue agave.
A highly protected spirit
After a first initiative in 1949, the Official Journal of the Mexican Federation published a protected designation of origin declaration for tequila on 9 December 1974.
Strongly associated with Mexican national identity, tequila has since been subject to numerous stringent regulations. For example, the Tequila Regulatory Council, founded in 1994, monitors each stage in the production of tequila, from the agave plant to the labeling of the bottles.
A pure product of Mexico
Like the AOCs for French spirits, tequila can only be produced in Mexico within a precisely defined area. The state of Jalisco and its 125 municipalities form the heart of the agave production, the area in question has now spread to encompass four other states: Tamaulipas, Nayarit, Guanajuato and Michoacan. However, only a few municipalities within the latter have the right to grow the only legally authorised variety of agave, Tequila Weber Azul, commonly known as blue agave.
Five states (Jalisco, Michoacan, Guanajuato, Nayarit and Tamaulipas) are authorised to produce tequila, and within these states two regions have the greatest concentration of agave fields:
- ‘Tequila Valley’ which includes the towns of Tequila, Amatitan and Arenal. The agave plants ripen slowly due to the climate and the resulting tequila is mild and fruity.
- The Los Altos region, sometimes known as the ‘Highlands’, includes the towns of Atotonilco, Tepatitlan and Arandas, where the climate is drier. The tequila is characterised by an earthy, vegetal taste with woody flavours.
Agave: a slow growing crop
A member of the Agavaceae family, also known as the maguey or century plant, agave only flowers after 7 to 10 years of growth. This single flowering, which takes place in the summer can produce stalks several metres high that use up the plant’s reserves and result in its death.
It is up to the agaveros (or magueyeros) to judge the best moment to harvest the agave heart (or piñas). This can weigh from 35 to 80 kilos in the Lowlands and up to 125 kilos in the Highlands. Harvested too early, it will yield insufficient sugar; too late and the plant will have digested the sugars in order to produce a flower. Already weakened by monovarietal farming, agave crops suffer from worms and diseases that can ruin several years of work.
In the case of tequila, care must be taken throughout the growing period, and the crops must be maintained until the extraction of the agave hearts.