It was by chance that Bertha González Nieves met Bob Pittman, the founder of MTV, at a Brooklyn, NY party. González Nieves, who had worked for many years in the tequila industry, and Pittman, a tequila aficionado with a home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, got to talking about their common love and vision for tequila. In 2008, they started their own brand, called Casa Dragones, a 100% blue agave joven tequila made in Tequila, Mexico.
In a short time, Casa Dragones has made a big splash in the industry. Their $275 bottle made Oprah’s 2012 Favorite Things. It’s also earned a spot on Neiman Marcus’ Fantasy Gifts list for 2012: for $250,000, González Nieves will lead an official Casa Dragones tasting in your home, after which renowned chefs Thomas Keller, Jerome Bocuse, Daniel Boulud, and Rich Rosendale will prepare an in-home meal for 10, and each guest will leave with a personalized bottle of Casa Dragones. Needless to say, Casa Dragones has molded itself as the champagne of tequilas, and is proving that tequila isn’t just a faint college memory or a drink for the beach.
The Latin Kitchen spoke with González Nieves about what true sipping tequila actually is, the future of the spirit, and what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry.
TLK: How did Casa Dragones get started and why did Bob Pittman choose tequila?
Bob is passionate about Mexico and the culture. He’s an entrepreneur and visionary marketer. Once Bob and I met, we realized we had a very consistent idea and vision of where to go with our tequila. We functioned well as partners and we set on a quest to deliver a true sipping tequila, one that’s meant to be savored. We only produce one type of tequila— a joven —which is rare in the industry. The consumer is looking to drink less and to drink better, and that also applies to tequila.
TLK: How did you get to know tequila?
I was a young ambassador of Mexico to Japan in my early 20s and needed to be able to speak eloquently about Mexico's economy, culture, and industries. I made a lot of visits to our tequila distilleries and I fell in love with the industry. I went on to finish a master’s degree and work in management consulting for Booz Allen Hamilton. Then I held key positions for 10 years with Grupo Cuervo. As time went by, my passion and interest in tequila kept growing.
TLK: Why did you choose to produce a joven tequila, which adds a hint of añejo to a silver product?
We didn’t start thinking we were going to develop a joven tequila, but we had an idea of how we wanted the tequila to taste — we wanted to create a tequila with a complex, smooth taste that was perfect for sipping. I convinced one of the industry’s master tequila makers, Benjamin Garcia, to come out of retirement and help us push the boundaries of what had been done before.
TLK: What is it like to be a female leader in a male-dominated tequila and spirits industry?
I was so passionate and determined to go into the tequila business that I didn’t think about that at all until I got into it. When I became the world’s first female Maestra Tequilera by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila, which regulates the industry, I said to my mentors, “I almost had to grow a mustache for you guys to accept me.” We still joke about that. Yes, it’s a male driven category but it’s also a professional category. Everyone welcomes professional people.
TLK: What does drinking a fine tequila say about you, in business and leisure?
I think it sends the same message as drinking a fine wine or single malt scotch. It says that you are willing to make an effort to research what you drink. For example, we only produce a very limited quantity of bottles every year and we focus on producing only one style. We know our consumer appreciates the details of our process and enjoys talking about them with others.