Tequila Herradura at Hacienda San Jose del Refugio


Just outside Amatitan is the Hacienda San Jose del Refugio. This beautiful old ranch is parked right in the middle of Tequila country. Padre José Feliciano de la Trinidad Escobado Romo was ordained in 1802, and purchased this beautiful ranch which became known then as Hacienda del Padre. The ranch had all the elements of a true hacienda: a great house, a chapel, housing for the workers, livestock, crops, and a business. In this case the business was producing a fine Mezcal wine. Padre Romo left the Hacienda del Padre to his godchildren, the three orphaned Zalazar sisters. They managed the Hacienda for many years with the help of Félix López, who would later found Tequila Herradura at the Hacienda. The name Herradura means “horseshoe” and the symbol is inlaid in the cobblestones and is painted on walls. It was chosen as a symbol of good luck.
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The Aztecs made a fermented beverage from the agave plant. In the mid to late 1500s when the Spanish came to Mexico they began using agave juice as a base for fermented beverages too. For many years the beverage was known as Mezcal and later as Tequila. While Mezcal can be made anywhere, Tequila is the name of a special kind of Mezcal made in the area around the town Tequila. Five states can produce Tequila: Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit and Tamaulipas. There is a special “blue” volcanic soil in this part of the world which provides the perfect environment for growing Blue Agave. By law Tequila has to be made from Weber Blue Agaves, while Mezcal can be made from other agave plants.
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Plants can be grown from seeds but it takes longer to do so. Most are taken as agavitos (little agaves) from the roots of “mother” plants growing in the field.
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When an agavito is planted it must grow 3 years before it too may also become a mother plant. After the agavitos are harvested from its base, it is allowed to grow another 3-4 years before it produces a tall flower stalk with flowers that eventually become seeds. This signals the end of the agaves life and the plant begins to shut down and the heart turns from a blue-green color to a reddish or brown color.
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A Jimador (harvester) cuts the leaves from the plant in the field so they can be collected and the fiber used for other products or they turn to compost and stay in the fields.
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The Jimador then cuts the heart of the plants from the roots and the hearts are loaded onto trucks to go to a processing plant.
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Each tequila maker handles the process a little differently. Herradura bakes the hearts in 40-ton batchs in giant clay ovens for roughly 28 hours. The agave hearts are placed in the oven by hand, and after cooling for a day, they are removed by hand labor too.
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The agave tastes like a baked sweet potato now, and is stringy and fibrous.
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The cooked hearts are run through a milling process. All the fibers are processed into either biofuel, textile fibers or compost. According to the guide nothing at Herradura goes to waste, and everything is organic.
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The liquid removed in the milling process is transferred to vats for fermentation which takes 7-9 days. These giant open-air vats release lots of gas and bubble and froth while producing lots of heat.
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After fermentation is complete the liquid becomes still and is moved into the distillery for the next step in the process. Tequila has to be distilled at least two times, although it can be distilled more than twice.
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Then the Tequila is placed into oak barrels to age for various periods of time, depending on what kind of Tequila is being made. Blanco is “white” and is aged no more than two months. Reposado means “rested” and is made when Tequila is allowed to rest in the barrel for between two months and one year. Anejo is “aged” Tequila and is Tequila that rested in barrels for between one and 3 years. Extra Anejo is aged three years or more.
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We tour the first factory built at Herradura in 1870. Before that the tequila was made in small batches and the name Herradura hadn’t been registered. So in 1870 the company and family took a huge leap forward. There are old clay ovens with wooden doors here for baking the agave hearts. There is a mill room with belts run by steam boilers above the agave ovens that process the hearts into juicy shredded fibers.
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The fibers were transferred to a cobblestone pit with a 3-ton stone wheel pulled by a burro to crush the fibers and extract the agave juice.
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The juice was bailed out and stored in pits in the floor during fermentation.
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Then the used “must” was distilled in giant copper stills before being put in barrels. Essentially the same process that is used today.
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We finish the tour with a tasting. And as much as I don’t love tequila, I have acquired a love and respect for the history of Tequila. What an incredible place to visit.

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