By: David Othenin-Girard
K&L Staff Member
In February 2019, I travelled to Michoacán with the incredible Suro Imports to explore the wonderful mezcals of this underappreciated region. Michoacán has a vibrant culture of mezcal production, but the dominance of Oaxaca in the marketplace and the daunting complexity of the American market has made it completely out of reach. Thankfully, David Suro has committed to making mezcal from Michoacán a thing and we're now seeing high quality production at extremely reasonable prices hitting the market from a variety of producers. Suro and I visited the Emilio Vieyra's Vinyata (equivalent of the word winery as in Vino de Mezcal) Don Mateo. It's widely regarded as one of the region's very best. The old distillery is located in a area appropriately named Pino Bonito, a dense Pine and Oak forest, less than an hour outside of Morelia. At the base of a winding dirt road, the little Palenque is situated completely out of view from the main road and has several security fences to cross before entry. This part of Michoacán is relatively safe, it was not always that way, the Vieyra's have been targeted before due to their success and take every precaution to keep their property safe. We arrive and immediately feel at home. Emilio and his mother Delia are the most inviting and hospitable duo you could imagine. They're feeding us thick handmade bean tacos before we get started. Today we're distilling Pechuga of Delia's own recipe. She's an incredible cook and is manning the kitchen when we arrive while her son and his team prepare the stills. It is her recipe that is being distilled and her face on the bottle. She's created this special recipe exclusively for us as true expression of her heart and soul. The quintessential Mexican matriarch distilled spiritually and physically to her most pure form. After beginning the distillation, we loaded up into the back of two pickups and headed out to see the agave fields, mezcal in hand. The primary agave used here is Cupreata. This wonderful varietal has the quirk of not reproducing asexually, as most agave species do, so full sexual reproduction is required. That means they must leave several of the plants to reach full maturity for pollination to obtain seeds. The main pollinator for this plant are several species of bat that migrate across Mexico, following the agave bloom each season. The bats feast on the sweet nectar of the agave flower and cover themselves in pollen to help propagate this special plant. Once the seeds are thrown, they're collected and cared for in an adjacent nursery before being replanted on the hillside. The rancho, El Limon, where most of the agave for this batch were grown is just a few miles from the Vinyata, but the drive takes nearly 2 hours. The amount of effort it takes to produce one batch of mezcal here is absolutely flabbergasting. Backbreaking work from this first moment of its inception, until the final moment of bottling, yet the Vieyra's do it with pride and an extreme sense of joy. When we returned to the palenque, Delia has Picadillo de Conejo ready and waiting for lunch. In most of Mexico, this dish would look more like hash, but here it is an rich oily rabbit stew that's so perfectly spicy it makes your eyes water while you uncontrollably scoop up another spoonful. The perfect pair for a sweet smoky mezcal. When we returned the next morning, the distillation is finished. They've separated the heads, heart and tails, into 5 different sections. Each will be tested for compliance with regulatory limits and if they pass, they'll be blended together and rested for a minimum of 6 months. We ask that they not add any water to our batch, which is unusual for the Vieyra's, and they agree (note that the labels are for the standard Pechuga and were not amended to exclude this element). We also used some Cenizo in this batch, which was harvest at their other rancho about 30 miles to the south. This info is also not included on the label. This incredible batch of Pechuga, one of the finest mezcals of any kind that we've ever had the privilege of selling, is absolutely one of kind. Typically, when we see Pechuga we're expecting to charge close to $200, but this special batch is selling for nearly half the price of its Oaxacan rivals. It's equal if not better in every way to even the most special offerings from Oaxaca. Pechuga is meant to help celebrate the holidays and the harvest. I can't think of a better way to do that than this incredible product. The nose is a bevy of wild aromas -smoked citrus, roast apple, guava, fresh lime, mango peel, lacquer, numbing clove, hints of carne seca and balsam wood. The wild palate is rich and oily, with the smoky oak aromatics mingling with the bright citrus and stone fruit aromatics perfectly. This thing absolutely loves air and I think, unlike almost any other spirit in the world, will actually significantly improve from even these incredible heights in the bottle. We've bought every drop of this batch, but I'm buying cases to age and enjoy over the next decade as we never know when a spirit of this quality will come across our path again.