Jose Manuel Mendez
- Hometown: San Dionisio Ocotepec
- Favorite Agave: Tobalà
"It’s a labor of love that we do with much care. That’s how we are. As we cut the maguey, some of us are singing, others are whistling. The whole process is done with much joy. While we bake, we spend time together. We make food and eat with the workers. We always have some mezcal before we begin. The whole process is done with care. That’s why our mezcal has that authentic flavor"
José Manuel Mendez is a third-generation maestro mezcalero. Born in his current town of San Dionisio Ocotepec, José started his future path at a very young age. His school shift was always in the afternoon, so he began each morning by helping his Dad with the family mezcal business. Zapoteco was the main language spoken in José's family and community and it was only through school that he learned Spanish. As a small child, José started helping first by walking the horse and cleaning the palenque, which grew to more labor intensive work as he got older. After high school he wanted to go to college, but the money was not available. Plus, it was five years to graduate, and he preferred to start making mezcal (and money) right away.
José's father, and both sets of grandfathers, were mezcaleros. From these generations, the trades and tricks of mezcal production have been passed down and not much of the actual process has changed. José still proudly produces mezcal the way his father taught him and his father before that. His father (Manuel) still helps José from time to time, although he is officially "retired".
Through this familial lineage, he was taught all aspects of becoming a mezcalero which focus on the artisanal practices and methods.
José is concerned these traditional, artisanal ways will one day be lost - pushed aside to the efficiencies and ease of larger, industrial production factories. He hopes to share his love, knowledge and mezcal with the world and also teach his newborn son how to make mezcal in the same way. Achieving both may help ensure these ancestral mezcal processes won't soon be forgotten.
Learn about the detailed process of artisanal mezcal production.