Amidst all the holiday and family activities I also had the opportunity to attend a palenque christening in Sola de Vega, Oaxaca – a new venture from Don Luis Mendez in addition to his cultivation of silvestres project previously discussed here. He and four other men from Sola de Vega have restored an old palenque – with careful attention to all the details and traditional roots.

It’s a drive from Oaxaca – 2.5 hours on a good day, longer when you get stuck behind the many many peregrinos making the trek to Juquila in December. We met up at Don Luis’ house and waited for another carload of folks coming from Mexico City. Once there, we toured the plants and then decided to ditch the 5km hike and instead drive up the mountain — thank god as it was steep, hot and would have added much time to the already late start to the day.

The location was beautiful and had a view of the valley below. A simple concrete floor, tin roof with freshly cut wood beams, and all open sides. One man chopped wood that would fuel the horno, one ran us through the production, and then the work began, the frenzy of digging, several men taking turns so as to share the back breaking work (at 200 pesos a day – a good rate for here and well above the 70 peso a day minimum wage.)

From the earthen horneo, to the hand mash, to the clay pots, and wood funnel carrying mountain spring water, well, can’t wait to see what this holds. Just seeing the men uncover the roasted agave and all the work required to dig them out and then ready them for mashing was a reminder of why there is that important new category in NOM 70 for ancestral mezcal. This truly basic work is fundamental to what goes into your glass and yet it’s just one more piece of manual labor on top of an entire process that’s completely manually and totally intensive.

Once the temperature of the still was met with agreement, the priest gave his blessing, sprinkled holy water on the floor and the stills and so Los Reyes was christened. We finished the day with a delicious traditional feast featuring local dishes, and of course, mezcal, and tepache. Mexicano, Arroqueño, Tobaciche, Sierra Negra, Coyote, and Jabali were served and complimented the dishes perfectly.


The traditional clay still


Close-up of the clay still


Checking the perlas


Beginning to dig up the roasted agave


Mix of tobaciche, arroqueño, espadin


Seriously backbreaking work


Traditional masher


Los Reyes


The priest blessing the palenque


The mezcal selection

Empanadas with yellow corn and mole

Empanadas with yellow corn and mole


A pastel with chicken, pork, almonds, raisins and sweet corn masa


A hearty mole negro