The mezcal family suffered an immense loss this week with the passing of Don Aquilino García López, patriarch of Mezcal Vago. From the Vago family:
To those in the mezcal community, he was an absolute legend. To a lucky few, he was a friend. To us, he was Don Aquilino, “el maestro,” and a treasure of a human being. Aquilino was the epitome of the heart, the care, and wisdom that we all have come to treasure about this incredible liquid that brings us together and gives us a community. For many of us, Aquilino and his mezcal were the ones warmly pulling back the curtain and inviting us in.
When you sip your next copita with those friends, please take a moment to look around and enjoy the company you are in, and give a thought to Don Aquilino. He will be missed.Mezcal Vago
It is not romantic for me to say that any of us who ever had a sip of his mezcal had a chance to know him. Mezcal makers leave traces of themselves in every batch they make, like any artist creating a work of art. And Don Aquilino was quite an artist.
I met Don Aquilino one time, on a visit to the palenque in July of 2015. There was no mezcal being made as it was the rainy season and the focus was on planting new agave. Don Aquilino was in the fields and I drove with Judah Kuper and his daughter to meet him there. We climbed higher and higher on a rutted out dirt road, heading to what felt like the top of the world, a mountain top that sat higher than all the others around us. Arriving at the field was to see agriculture at its mist bucolic and pure, two oxen pulling a plough between rows of agave in preparation for the planting of corn, clouds against a brilliant blue sky, one perfect shade tree.
Despite knowing his story, nothing quite prepared me to meet him in person. He was the perfect embodiment of manliness, an aura of strength and resolve fully surrounding him. We walked across the fields, new acquisitions he was able to make due to the success of Mezcal Vago in the market. We returned together to the palenque, sharing a beautiful comida, Don Aquilino also feasting on the just off the comal delicacy of wasp larvae. I didn’t talk much, I was so in awe of Don Aquilino, of the place and beauty and quiet, and of sitting with the family. We tasted some mezcal, including a batch of corn soaked puntas, before making the trek back to Oaxaca to beat the dark.
My next encounter with Don Aquilino was on the big screen in the documentary Agave: Spirit of a Nation. Once again his mere presence calls to mind strength and resolve. He is a man of few words but those few words and his stance say volumes. The film is a gorgeous exploration of the lives of three makers and it is must see viewing for anyone wanting to understand mezcal.
Whenever we lose a mezcalero it is a loss for the entire mezcal family. I do not use the word family lightly, it is something I feel deeply. Some of the greatest friendships I have developed in the course of my life can be traced to a shared love of mezcal. This passing hit me deeply, and it is amplified because it feels like we are losing so much this year – lives, businesses and the reason why so many of us have spent these years coming to know mezcal and the people involved.
I have found myself stumbling these past couple of months as I’ve seen our family breaking apart. Unable to meet in person, we have transitioned to an online world, where in our grief and the tumult around us, we have turned on one another. I understand this stage of grief, the anger, not often recognized for what it is and how it so easily can become righteous indignation, I have been through it, losing my home, my sister, my father and my livelihood in the span of two years. And I feel it now as I wonder what the future of Mezcalistas ultimately will be, when we’re struggling to find the joy that was at the heart of this venture in the first place. Somehow we must as a mezcal family find our way through this dark time, together, focusing on all of the things that united us in the first place – love of mezcal, the culture and the people, and all the joy it can bring us.
My heart goes out to the Vago family, with what is such a devastating loss. Just like his mezcal, Don Aquilino was truly magnificent. Descanse en paz.