We found a number of great organic tequilas for our recent Huffington Post article, and we were especially impressed with Tequila Alquimia produced by Dr. Adolfo Murillo, an optometrist from Oxnard, California. We spoke with him find out more about his fantastic tequila.
How does a doctor from California wind up in the tequila business?
I've been in private practice for 28 years, and have a BA in Biological Sciences. I never imagined that I would be returning to my family ranch in Jalisco, Mexico. But 18 years ago I became the third generation to take over, and the first to grow agave.
From the beginning we used the ranch as an outdoor laboratory to study our organic protocols and then used it as a classroom to teach other growers our organic methods. Not just for agave, but for different crops for different states. We taught farmers how to match our methods to their own soils and crops.
We have avocado growers using our methods, as well as citrus, strawberries garlic and chile farmers. All of our teaching is for free. Once they learn our methods, and see the results, they turn around and teach others. I can only do so much myself, but if I can recruit others we start to really see more and more acreage going organic throughout Mexico.
What made organic so important to you?
I thought about the way my grandfather used to farm. He had great respect for the earth and grew crops that other people weren't able to grow. He did it all using the most natural methods possible. Using his natural methods and my scientific methods we have the best combination of organic and modern techniques.
Agriculture in Mexico is very chemical intensive. They rely heavily on toxic pesticides and herbicides. All those chemicals will grow crops, but do it artificially. It kills off all the activity in the soil. We take soil samples from our ranch and analyze them in our lab. We see the affects in our plants. They are better able to defend themselves since we eliminated toxic pesticides.
Our plants are so healthy.The average weight of our agave is much higher than those throughout the state if Jalisco. In a really good harvest theirs will weight maybe 60-80 pounds. Our record setter weighted in 304 pounds. So we have the size, but what about the quality? The sugar content is a good indicator. Average in a good harvest is low to mid 20s (measured in Brix). We're averaging about 42. Our agave develops a better root system. It brings up traces and elements that make our tequila more complex.
Ever thought of being the first Biodynamic tequila?
Absolutely. A lot of what they do is what we do in our fields. I have memories of my grandmother who taught me the affect of the moon when you plant, when you harvest. We planned our planting around the cycles of the moon, bringing into use my grandmother's beliefs. It may seem hocus-pocus, but once we saw the affects of everything we do in our fields, I don't know if you can argue against it.
How hard was is to get U.S. certification?
Our products had to be certified by USDA, so we follow their regulations and it is a long and expensive process. We have to go back and submit years of documentation, show them everything we do in the fields. As a usual practice they don't leave the country, but they did send inspectors down to our ranch, to do a physical inspection. They also inspect the distillery, to make sure once our agave gets there it is not contaminated by any other non-organic product. At our first inspection we passed with flying colors, and exceeded the requirements.
How long have you been farming agave?
18 years. The first few crops we sold to other producers. By the fourth harvest, as we improved our soil, our yields were superior. It was getting too good to sell to other companies. We decided to complete the cycle, create the Tequila Alquimia brand according to our own specifications. My wife and daughters helped me to design the labels and bottles, which are made from recycled glass. A local family makes the bottles for us. Almost 4 years ago we imported our first tequila, and we received USDA certification 3 years ago.
Organic and quality go hand in hand. Some folks don't realize the sheer volumes of chemicals that go into producing crops in Mexico. This is part of our education process. If you grow agave with chemicals, they can grab their essential nutrients on the surface of the soil. They have no incentive to go down deep. We appeal to both markets; folks that want a high quality tequila and those who appreciate organic practices.
When I went to optometry school in Berkeley, we'd go up to Napa Valley and do wine tasting tours. As students, it was hard to turn down free wine. I became enamored of having a house on the hill, surrounded by vineyards. I came close. A house on the hill in Jalisco, surrounded by tequila.