That’s the title of this video promoting “Vive Mezcal,” a new mezcal event in Oaxaca scheduled for this coming September 12-14th.
As you can see the video is heavily business focused, very well produced, and culminates with a candle lit hipster celebration. What’s going on here?
Oaxaca claims mezcal
Clearly this is a major deal for Oaxaca. The state is funding Vive Mezcal and they aren’t shy about equating Oaxaca with mezcal. True, they do mention other states in the appellation but Oaxaca gets the lion share of attention and data to back up why that is. The organizers we spoke to told us that while the four other states that were initially part of the mezcal appellation (Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, and Durango) were invited but “only as part of inclusion and not dissemination of mezcal at the national level. The goal is to solidify and further position Oaxaca as the epicenter of the Mezcal Industry at national and international level.”
It’s not like anyone doubts Oaxaca’s leading role in the mezcal world. Yes, its production dwarfs every other state’s. Yes, it is clearly the leader of the mezcal movement in the popular imagination. And, yes, it is also the political leader: After all, the CRM is based in Oaxaca.
But there has been plenty of tension about this level of centralization. Other states have felt and demonstrated that they are left out of the legal mezcal market exactly because the CRM can’t or won’t reach them. And the CRM and state of Oaxaca are clearly coordinating in a push to keep control over which states can join the appellation. All of this could work out well but coming at this moment at best it feels tone deaf.
The business of mezcal
Oaxaca already has a consumer oriented mezcal festival in July to coincide with the Guelaguetza – the Feria del Mezcal – which this year moved to the convention center from its former home of El Llano. And, while it sounds like there will be some consumer focus, Vive Mezcal is pitched at business. The real question is which business and what goals they’re aiming at. The organizers told us that there are a number of initiatives and goals ranging “from platforms for exclusive experiences, online sales of mezcal, technology to transform agroindustrial waste into biofuels or usable alternative products, glass bottle caps made with agave bagasse and biobased resins, among others.”
Producers I’ve talked to seem confused about the goal, is it expansion into the European market? The American market? General category promotion or just for Oaxaca? Is it connected to the CRM or its own independent thing? The fact that these are coming from people attending says quite a bit.
We’re at a moment where mezcal is maturing on a variety of fronts: It has a full fledged industrial category, has been busily carving out its own identity, working out the marketing kinks, and figuring out all the sales channels. Whereas just a few years ago I would have remarked about one bottle at a bar, any good bar or liquor store has at least a handful, frequently a whole shelf. And whereas the story of mezcal was once a struggled narration it can now claim center stage in Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood.
So, is this a victory lap or the directed evolution of the category? And, does mezcal really need more promotion now or reframing and attention to the structural issues in the business like the appellation, sustainability, and equity?
Look, these things are hard. I’ve worked on Mexico in a Bottle for years and know how difficult defining yourself can be. But the fact that we’re at this stage in the mezcal boom when so many big questions remain unaddressed and aren’t spoken to in promotional material for events like this raises a lot of questions but chiefly, is it about the money or the mezcal?