Tequila, a Royal Princess and George Clooney

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Interview with Rodrigo-Alonso López-Portillo y Lancaster-Jones

When Princess Anne inaugurated the XXVII International Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences and in 2006 in St Andrews (Scotland), she saluted all participants, among them, was the only one representing a Hispanic-American Country, that was presenting a lecture and thus officially representing Mexico; and in a way, the whole Spanish speaking world –not even Spain had someone presenting a paper in St Andrews that year.

This man is interviewed for this issue of Totalprestige Magazine, a Mexican real estate entrepreneur who shares a partnership in the family business: Rodrigo-Alonso López-Portillo y Lancaster-Jones, an avid traveler who divides his time between Mexico City and London; as an Academic has contributed in specialized magazines since 1988 and a published author in Scotland and Mexico. Inspired by his lecture in St Andrews come his latest work: “José Cuervo. La Empresa Tequilera más Antigua del Mundo a través de una Historia Familiar” (also translated into English). Here, the reader is taken with passion to a world where tradition, creativity, business entrepreneurship and, a history that can be traced back to the origins of nations, resulting in the narration of the very history of this unique spirit.

Just to mention that Hollywood super star George Clooney has recently launched his own tequila brand in early March this year “Casamigos”, says a lot about how trendy this drink has become.

And the numbers of Tequila lovers and devotees keep piling up, as last year was a paramount in Mexico’s tequila export: it reached 163.9 million liters. According to Mexico’s Consejo Regulador del Tequila, the world’s top tequila consumer is the United States with 80% of total exports, and the 20% remaining is shared among 95 countries. The latest tequila hotspot in Europe this year is Poland; other important consumers are: Netherlands, Germany, the U.K., France and Russia.

What symbolizes Tequila to Mexican culture?

A great-great-grand-uncle, during his stay in London as Mexico’s Ambassador to the U.K., wrote in late 1901 that “tequila is a new and exotic drink to European taste…” In the past, this drink of Western Mexico succeeded and thus crossed boundaries thanks to its unique and distinctive features that brought fame to the spirit’s name. Tequila’s global success nowadays could be viewed in a way as the expansion of Mexico’s image and traditions spreading and influencing even the remote corners of the world.

Socializing, conversation, recreation: Tequila and its unique aromas, flavours and colours could also be a representation of fiesta, a Mexican fiesta! It symbolizes a joyful explosion filled with cheerful music that invites to dance, sing and celebrate; representing good things in life… When you make a toast, you celebrate; means positive things have or will happen. Some might even say: “Take life with a grain of salt and a slice of lemon and a shot of tequila.

Did you find interest on the subject in St Andrews?

Being Scotland the land of Whiskey means of course that they know what a unique drink could represent for a country and community, for the nation’s history and pride. So I was always amazed and thankful by the positive reaction and curiosity showed by everyone, from the Scientific Committee of the Congress (the one that accepted and gave ‘green light’ to my lecture on the subject) and, by every person that attended the lecture and that I met in St Andrews. I was really honoured by the great interest and questions that simply showed me just how intriguing and attractive the history of this drink can be to so many.

How did you become interested in the history of tequila?

My grand-father Ricardo Lancaster-Jones y Verea was a diplomat, scholar, professor, art collector, sugarcane entrepreneur but also a historian who published books and wrote many articles. Besides of being an architect, my father, Armando Lopez-Portillo y Garcia-Rojas has been always interested in history, so I guess I inherited some of this interest.

An so, to make a long story short, a century before Mexico became independent; by father-side, the López-Portillo had been involved first with the Tequila region, then with the spirit. My great-great-great-great-great-grand-father, Captain Don Juan-Antonio López-Portillo y Galindo was Chief Magistrate (Corregidor) of the District of Tequila. One of his grand-sons, Don Nicolás López-Portillo y González de Alcocer, go into the Tequila business in the late 18th Century; he also owned a mining business and participated with the Insurgent Army as General of Brigade with his own contingent of military men and horses fighting precisely, for Mexico’s independence. He died in a famous battle, known as the Battle of Puente de Calderon in 1811. Grand-nephew of this last one was Don José López-Portillo y Rojas, an important man-of-letters and politician, Governor of the State of Jalisco, Mexico’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Director of the Academia Mexicana de la Lengua; he’s also acknowledged as the first one who wrote a novel which takes place around the District of Tequila in the countryside, narrating the spirit’s production process and the life of a typical Tequila hacienda; this work was published in 1887… By my mother-side, Don Ricardo Lancaster-Jones was a British-Mexican banker and among other businesses and endeavors he was also a Tequila producer in his Hacienda of La Venta del Astillero in Jalisco; his products were successful and sold abroad, mainly in California; some of them were brought to the U.K. by his brother Don Alfonso Lancaster-Jones, when he was appointed as Mexico’s Ambassador to London in 1901 by President Diaz.

Don Ricardo was a descendant of Joseph Lancaster who was my great-great-great-great-grand-father and creator of the Lancasterian System of Education which was adopted by the world leaders of the time, like George III in Great Britain, President James Monroe in the USA, Tsar Alexander I in Russia, Simon Bolivar in Great Colombia or Ferdinand VII in Spain; they all approved and used the Lancasterian System of Education. Such system was applied successfully in almost all countries of the world.

When did Tequila received its name?

Like in many other cases, the Geography gave the name to the drink… The origins of the District of Tequila can be traced back to 1530 when a new urban centre was established by Friar Juan de Calero, who founded the village of Santiago de Tequila with some other Franciscan missionaries and a group of local natives who moved to this new promising location. This new village got its name from the ancient region of Tequillan (a name in Náhuatl language which means: the place in which cutting is done; from téquitl, to cut, and tlán, place). This region was first settled by members of Mexica and Chichimeca tribes, with a numerous variety of sub-tribes and families. The Tequis or Tecuexes were those who inhabited the region when the first Spanish conquistadores arrived in those lands in 1525. If we make a stop at this point in the space/time, and think about the meaning of the word Tequillan (the place in which cutting is done), we will find out that the main activity of those local natives was agriculture, and their main product was a plant which in Náhuatl language it was called as métl.

This plant was cooked to extract a kind of syrup very rich in sugar, after fermentation, this primitive beverage was ready to drink. Thus, as the act of cooking was called as ixcalloa in the same Náhuatl language; after some time, the specific plant used in such process was called metzcalli or metxcalli; a word that came into Spanish language as mescal. Therefore, for Spanish conquistadores such kind of ‘wine’ that was produced from the mescal plant got the name of mescal-wine. Through the passing of time, the mescal-wine produced in the District of Tequila became more famous, and at the end, the name Tequila prevailed over the first one. This happened during the late 19th Century. Some documentary evidence about the use of Tequila as a name describing this spirit is curiously represented on a private family letter written by the banker Don Antonio Iglesias to Don Ricardo Lancaster-Jones in 1894, Mr. Iglesias asked Mr. Lancaster-Jones, and I quote: “I need you to send me by express, to my name at the National Bank, some tequila to make a gift…

Can you tell us the difference between mescal and tequila?

The difference is each spirit’s source. Both are originated from two plants which belong to the same family but have some differences… As for Tequila, it’s originated from the blue agave. This emblematic plant, in addition with many other circumstances, was emphasized in 2006 when UNESCO included the Tequila production area in the World Heritage List, with the name of “Agave Landscape and Industrial Facilities of Tequila“. Therefore, a quality Tequila must be made from 100% blue agave. Nowadays, the Tequila area and the name of its products are protected internationally, like Champagne or Cognac, by the Appellation de Origin Controllée. The differences between the blue agave among its cousins had been established and catalogued since 1902 by the French botanist Dr Frédéric-Albert-Constantin Weber, of whom I have made a research and wrote a biography, he had a fascinating life and it’s curious that is not well known, even if his name goes linked to the one of ‘agave’. Even some people interested in the subject, don’t know that he was French, confusing his origins as his surname sounds German they think he must’ve  been from Germany.

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