|Juan de Dios and his team of oxen|
Juan de Dios is a mezcalero, a distiller of the maguey cactus that is the signature alcoholic spirit of Oaxaca. He has been in the mezcal business for forty-six years, since he was five. His still is on the family ranch in Santiago Yogana, Oaxaca, where his father farmed and produced mezcal before him. It is a trade that is passed down in a family and you learn by doing. You inherit the land and the work that goes with it.
I first met Juan de Dios at my friend Luis’ place, in Ejutla, an hour and a half outside of the city of Oaxaca. Luis is a leather artisan and a participant in my “oficios” (occupations) project. I had told Luis that I was looking for a mezcalero to photograph and interview and he told me he would introduce me to one. The next time I visited Luis, Juan showed up and invited me out to his still the next day to photograph. I gladly accepted.
|El Equipo: The Crew and me|
|Grinding the maguey cooked piñas|
|Delivery of Tobalá piña|
Juan is a small producer. He still does things the way that his father taught him many years ago. He does not have the right to bottle and label his mezcal and thus has to sell his product in bulk at a very low price. He sell his mezcal for 150 pesos for five liters. ($7.50). That is $1.50 a liter. In high end bars in the Oaxaca, mezcal is going for 100 pesos a shot ($5). He dreams about finding a market in the USA; he even suggested that i might help him with that. But I am afraid that is well out of my realm of expertise.
When I asked Juan what was the most difficult thing about his work he said,"being a mezcalero is not work. Some youth choose to go north to the USA to earn money. You need to have "ganas" (desire) to be a mezcalero. I enjoy my work, I learned how to do it well, I am proud of the mezcal that I make, and it allows me to provide for my family". What more can a man ask for?