Fundamentally, the question boils down to this: will the Norm follow the model of Tequila, and allow for potentially unlimited growth in production, or the model of Cognac and limit production methods (and therefore growth) to preserve quality and increase prices? This will be the central conflict of mezcal in the coming months and years.
It’s fantastic that COMERCAM has gotten this far and that many of the parties are involved look to Cognac as a model. I’ve advocated the wine world’s model of denomination of origin, Cognac’s works perfectly to achieve the same goal because it focuses on the constraints inherent in the mezcal industry materially (there is only so much agave to go around as well as other environmental factors) and culturally (there is a definite tradition of mezcal production that’s worth protecting).
The proposal as defined now does a pretty good job of achieving these goals and that alone is something of a triumph. Of course it’s very early in the process. Clayton spends a good chunk of his article looking at how the larger industrial powers within the mezcal industry are working against these proposals because they want to create a mass market from mezcal.
A key letter (in Spanish or English in Clayton’s translation) from Javier Flores on behalf of Casa Armando Guillermo Prieto which is the company behind Zignum, makes it very clear how the industrial producers look at the issue. To paraphrase ‘Mezcal has a great history but in order to fulfill global demand we need to increase production because that’s what consumers demand. Consumers also demand a product that is certified by chemical analysis. And, by letting us produce mezcal in volume we’ll employ local workers. Remember, we’re wholly owned by Mexicans unlike some mezcal and many tequila brands?’
Clayton also highlights the efforts of long time mezcal advocates Erick Rodriguez aka Erick Almamezcalera and Marco Ochoa from Oaxaca’s beloved Mezcaloteca to carve out a third “rústico” category of mezcals that would apply to the truly traditional palenquero who uses only the most basic and time honed techniques.
Perhaps most important you get a chance to comment on the proposal so definitely tell COMERCAM what you think through their page here.