A Tequila Expert Gives You A 'Behind the Barrels' Look At How Your Favorite Tequila Is Made

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Whether you're savoring a blood orange margarita around the guac bowl or sipping it slowly from a snifter, authentic tequila is lovingly made in Mexico and most likely went on a long, complex journey from the agave plant to the bottle. Even if it's your favorite Saturday night drink, there are probably a lot of things you don't know about tequila, including the fact that it's one of the most popular liquors paired with food, it's one of the few  alcohols that can fit into a paleo diet, and that the finest tequilas are distilled by dedicated, passionate artisans.

One of these passionate producers of ultra-premium tequila is Lorena Diaz Vargas, a liquid production manager — a truly awesome job title, by the way — at Tequila Don Julio. The Don Julio brand could not be more authentic, from the painstaking aging process to the life story of the man who created the tequila at the legendary La Primavera distillery in Jalisco, Mexico. We partnered with Don Julio to speak to Vargas about the process of creating this ultra-premium tequila and the passion that goes into it. Come with us as Vargas tells us the story behind the barrel of what happens at La Primavera distillery in Mexico!

BUSTLE: Though women have been distilling for hundreds (even thousands) of years, distilling today tends to be a male-dominated industry. What piqued your interest in the tequila industry? Were you inspired by friends, family? 

LORENA DIAZ VARGAS: I didn’t have a specific plan to explore the tequila industry, but an opportunity presented itself, which led me to it. Once working with the spirit, I began to truly love it and have so much respect for the process and everything that goes into making a quality spirit with so much heritage like Don Julio. My dad has always been passionate about tequila, and I immediately realized why he loves the spirit as much as he does once it became my career.

What background do you need to get into the industry? 

The wonderful thing about tequila is that there is so much that goes into the process to produce it, so truly there are people of all professional backgrounds who contribute to the process every day. From technical engineering to administrative work, everyone who works for the brand has a special role in maintaining the quality and consistency of our product. Don Julio González was a family man in every sense, and I think that family atmosphere remains with the brand today, which is very important since we have a great sense of community and pride for what we do.

How and when did you start working at Don Julio? What drew you to the brand? 

I began working for the brand in November of 1996; I was getting my MBA and noticed a position for a production position, assistant plant manager, for a tequila company. The job listing didn’t name the brand, but I decide to submit my résumé and interview anyway. When I got the job, and learned what the brand was, I was so proud and immediately fell in love with the product and industry as a whole. It makes me so proud that our product, and tequila as a whole, is a representation of Mexico across the world, which motivates us every day to maintain the process that Don Julio González established more than 70 years ago. We hope to make him proud!

Did you work with Don Julio González?

Yes, I had the great honor of working with and had the opportunity to spend personal time with him. When I was first introduced to him, he immediately asked me a difficult question about growing agaves, and I was so nervous to answer it right and impress him. I really didn’t know what he was talking about, but he was such a great teacher, who was passionate about every step of the process, and I was able to learn so much from him. I am honored to help carry out his legacy!

What is your role in making Don Julio? How long have you worked there? 

I have been with Don Julio for 20 years, and I am responsible for the production process and its aging, which is really quite a lot, but I love what I do!

What do you love about the brand? 

I love that despite how long it's been around, and how much the brand has grown, we still maintain the traditional way of making tequila and we strictly protect the quality standards that Don Julio himself established. People who love Don Julio deserve to taste the same tequila every time they enjoy it, so we are obsessive about maintaining our process to ensure that we make the best tequila possible, at all times.

What are common misconceptions people have about tequila and what do you want them know about it? 

Many people don’t understand how tequila is made and as a result don’t understand the quality of the spirit. So much goes into the process, so it’s always my goal to teach people first how it’s made and then to learn how to drink and enjoy tequila. Once they can start to identify the differences in aging and the flavor nuances, I truly believe they will learn to love it. It’s such a complex and wonderful spirit, and personally I have such pride since it’s our national drink and something that I love enjoying with my friends and family. Today, it’s recognized across the globe, and I know this would make Don Julio astonished but also incredibly proud.

This article is sponsored by Don Julio.

DON JULIO Tequila. 40% Alc/Vol. Imported by Diageo Americas, Norwalk, CT. Please do not share with anyone under the age of 21. Sip responsibly.