Need help navigating the rapidly changing and dangerous shoals of the mezcal world? Well, we have the event for you. Coming March 13th-14th in Oaxaca City Mezcanautica is set up to be a deep dive into the issues and questions driving the mezcal world today. Punning aside this looks like it’s going to be incredibly exciting and my Skype call with the organizers over the weekend only confirmed that expectation. And what an intriguing team it is: Graciela Angeles Carreño from Real Minero, Ulises Torrentera from In Situ, and Marco Ochoa from Mezcaloteca with an assist from William Scanlan who has been working with that group for some time. William also graciously helped translate.
The event in brief
Mezcanautica is envisioned as an annual event and since this is the first edition the theme is appropriately “The Origins of Mezcal.” It will encompass workshops, lectures, tastings, and a mezcaleria tour. The full price of the event includes all of the above except the mezcaleria tour because no one really knows how much you’ll end up drinking; best to leave that to your budget, if you know what I mean. You can find the full schedule here.
Saturday will have workshops presented by Marco, Graciela, Ulises, and others on a variety of fascinating topics ranging from Marco on the history of mezcal to Erick Baron on how to classify the scents in mezcals. The Sunday workshops will take you into the field with Graciela guiding you through the Real Minero palenque or you can visit palenques that work with Mezcaloteca. There will, of course, be structured tastings.
The lectures sound really interesting. Remember that great map of the diversity of agave across Mexico? That was created by Jorge Larson who will be giving a talk on the Denominacion de Origen. Others will address the aromas in mezcal and a dive into the evolution of agave in Mexico.
And then there are the mezcaleria visits. You could do it all by your lonesome but the sort of company that this sort of event attracts will simultaneously deepen your understanding and appreciation for the culture that creates mezcal while allowing you to taste truly rare distillations.
I was really curious why such an event hasn’t happened before. Oaxaca has it’s annual Feria de Mezcal timed with La Guelaguetza in the summer and is quite a drinking scene. Graciela told me that a loose group of mezcal promotors, creators, and purveyors had long been interested in creating a more academically focused event that pulled together the people who would speak to the big questions and ideas in the mezcal world. It’s just that they’d never been able to get the organization right.
Everyone involved agreed that their goal is consumer education. Marco noted that the primary focus of “other mezcal fairs is try to sell product rather than educate consumers.” Ulises articulated the goal of Mezcalnautica as giving “the consumer credible information based on academic research and findings.”
While this conference is obviously focused on Oaxaca, everyone involved is thinking about the larger global market, especially in North American. Mezcanautica was created to really dig into the question of what tradition means and build a branding message for the North American market that is clear and resonates. As William Scanlan put it, “the US market hasn’t been pumped full of misinformation yet. This is our opportunity to give them something that’s lacking, an academic perspective, and define mezcal as a traditional, cultural, and spiritual beverage.” It’s a tough road but it is early days in mezcal’s international reputation so it’s still very possible to own that message.
Not your everyday mezcal topics
They aim to address the messaging issue by really digging into the traditional culture invested in the creation of a mezcal and the cultivation of agave. Jorge Larson is going to focus his speech on the idea of defining the Denominación de Origen (DO) by the community that produces the mezcal rather than the geographic distribution of the agave. That may sound esoteric but consider that most European wines are defined by their community names and standards rather than what vines grow wild within a certain geographic area. Sure, it’s much more complex than that but the point is fascinating. Put another way, should we be defining mezcal by the taste of the community that created it rather than by the agave that goes into it?
If you’ve been to Mexico in a Bottle or one of his earlier tastings then Iván Saldaña’s topic at Mezcanautica needs no introduction: He will be presenting on terroir and the implications for flavors in mezcal. Despite a Mexico in a Bottle audience member’s argument that we should abandon the use of the term terroir and embrace instead the Spanish word terruño, Ivan and everyone else in the world has stuck with terroir as the common description of the land and local process that gives a mezcal a distinct flavor. This is obviously one area where, despite anyone’s effort, the French have won. Aside apart, Ivan contributes enormous intelligence to this topic and is an incredibly engaging speaker so I really look forward to hearing his latest thoughts on the question; especially because the mezcal world is expanding so quickly that classic community oriented terroirs are appearing on the more global market so frequently.
There are obviously many more speeches to attend which fill out pretty much any interest in the world of mezcal. Dr. Abisaí García will be talking about the history of agave in Mexico while Xitlalli Aguirre who also contributed to that famous Artes de Mexico map of agave distribution across Mexico will be returning to that topic for her presentation.
Jules Verne loved mezcal
And now for the fun stuff. The phrase Mezcanautica comes from Ulises’ term Mezcanaut in his book Mezcalaria to mean ‘an explorer in the universe of mezcal.’ While we can guarantee that you won’t meet Laika on this journey, you will encounter the awesome aquatic branding courtesy of Mariana Garnica, Marco Ochoa, and Belem Romero. They took the Mezcanaut idea into a parallel and opposite direction by embracing the iconography of the 19th Century Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and diving down under the waves to discover rarefied mezcals and agaves. It’s fun stuff, check out more of Belen’s art.
Up up and mezcal to the future!
Everyone involved with Mezcanautica would love to see it flourish not only as an annual event in Oaxaca but as a roadshow across the United States. It’s early days for that latter concept but things like this have been known to come together quickly so stay tuned, you may be able to receive your official Mezcalnaut Badge of Courage in a nearby town soon.
Cost for a ticket is just shy of $300 US or $4,500 Mexican pesos for all events in the three day conference except for those evening mezcaleria jaunts. You can register here. Just be warned that the proceedings will all be in Spanish so start that language refresher course today. Email William Scanlan for more details including how to take advantage of group rates at local hotels.