QM Spirits, the producer of Mezcal Quiéreme Mucho, was founded in 2011, with production beginning in 2017. Rene Paz Muñozcano, the Managing Partner of QM Spirits, talked about the story of QM Spirits, land-to-bottle products, 150 years in the making. They use wild agave plants grown on his family’s hacienda in Oaxaca City, Mexico. The two Haciendas: Beneficio Viejo and Guegorene were acquired by his great-great grandfather, Frank Skidmore, who arrived from Texas to Oaxaca with his son Charles. Now, they focus on embracing and supporting the local environment and the community while producing exceptional Mezcal products.
In another exciting Brand Battle pitch competition with six strong competitors, a panel of wholesaler judges found Rene’s pitch worthy to advance in the tournament bracket and on to the Championship competition on September 14, 2021. Mezcal Quiéreme Mucho was also named the People’s Choice winner, voted on by the audience.
To learn more about the brand and their success story, and to inspire others, Michael Bilello, WSWA’s Senior Vice President of communications and marketing, as well as WSWA Access craft program manager, sat down with Rene for a Q&A immediately following the Tequila & Mezcal Brand Battle session.
Michael Bilello: Tell us about the founding of your brand.
Rene Paz Muñozcano: The brand was founded originally in 2011 by me and my uncle, Eduardo Muñozcano Skidmore. BUT these Mezcal bottles we're produced starting in 2017. It took us around seven years to build a distillery, to have all the negotiations with the artists that hand paint the bottles, and to define exactly what the concept of the product was.
This is a great product because we basically have three foundations, which are the social impact, the environmental sustainability, and traditions. This is a project that that took years to be accomplished and now that we have it, we are seeing the results.
Our story is great, because this comes from 150 years ago from my great-great grandfather, who was originally from Texas. He came to Mexico with some other Americans to the mining business in Oaxaca. The hacienda is located around 60 kilometers away from Oaxaca City, in the mountains and it's obviously a mining area. But my family acquired the haciendas at the time, in one of them they had the mining business and the other one was where they used to live. And my great grandmother, Maria Jimenez, she started to produce Mezcal, with all the agaves she's had in the haciendas for family consumption—not to commercialize that.
Mezcal has been an ancestral beverage in Mexico. But it was considered a beverage that poor people used to drink. About 15 years ago, it was in some important cities where they started drinking it, but now we have a trend, not only in Mexico, but in the U.S. too.
MB: Your brand has a lot of family history and it’s focused on supporting the local community. What does it mean to you and to your family to take this tradition and create jobs for the Oaxaca community?
RPM: Well, it's amazing! These little towns surrounding the haciendas like 100 years ago used to work for the mining business. Their grandfathers or their great grandfathers used to work for my family on the mining business. So when the mining ended (and this is part of the story of Mexico, the history of Mexico because they basically ended the mining business) these kind of communities were abandoned. This area is where alebrijes are painted. Alebrijes are a famous Mexican handicraft that people all around the world know. When people come to Mexico on vacation, they go back with an alebrije because it’s a beautiful handcraft.
Today we have around 130 people working for us, from those around 100 of those are artisans that paint the bottles and the other 30 of them handcraft the Mezcal within the distillery, the Maestros Mezcaleros….and then in the City of Oaxaca, the capital city of Oaxaca where we do all the bottling of the mezcal, we decided, a family decision to employ only women in this part of this process. Why? Because women are the core of the family and because women are the ones that control everything inside of a home and a family. By giving them a really well-deserved job, they are helping their families.
MB: Mezcal obviously wouldn’t exist without agave. You mentioned how your great grandmother would use wild agave off the land for family consumption. Can you talk about your process for sourcing agave for your products now?
RPM: We use three types of wild agave that are inside the hacienda, so we have selected them, protecting them, obviously. We don't take all the plants and we continue to plant them. But we wanted to share to educate the consumer on having this kind of very, very special agave. As I said in my participation the Tepextate Agave takes around 25 years in the land. So, it's a very mature plant when you distill it for Mezcal. You can feel because all these plants are in a part of the country where there is not much rain not much water, so the plant suffer in their natural habitat. And that's why they produce a lot of sugar to survive, and this sugar is what leaves all these different flavors.
MB: Mezcal continues to show strong growth rates compared to other sprits. How has this demand impacted your brand, and have you witnessed this growth in recent years?
RPM: From October of last year to now, the growth in the U.S. has been exponential. We have experienced big growth in the last four or five months because people are starting to appreciate the work and the uniqueness of the hand painted bottles.
Our expectations this year are big because last year, which we all know, was completely difficult for everyone, because of the economy and the pandemic. But we are in June, and we have already surpassed what we sold last year, so this is great news for us but also is a challenge. Because this Mezcal was conceived as a small batch product and it's becoming a fast favorite for people, for enthusiasts, for people who like to collect bottles, or want something different.
MB: Tell us about your experience in Brand Battle. What made you want to compete and what expectations did you have for the tournament?
RPM: I attended the WSWA Convention in 2017 and had a booth. We were just launching the brand; we had no sales at the time. We had lots of people come in to see us; lots of people tasting the mezcal; lots of people just grabbing, feeling and touching the bottle and saying, “I cannot believe this is hand painted.” I went to the to the final battle of the Brand Battle in Orlando and I saw the Brand Battle Championship. And I remember, if I’m not wrong, that a vodka from Ireland won. They had a similar story, and the original recipe was from his grandfather and, to be honest, all the people around me told me, “Your story is great, you need to tell your story, you need to come and participate in this tournament.”
Obviously, I know we were competing against great products, but I was completely confident because what we have been doing on protecting the bat colonies, in bringing bees to the hacienda, in helping the artists, in bringing women to do all the bottling, and then to tell the story, it gives me a lot of confidence, because I think we're doing the right thing.
I really appreciate WSWA giving this opportunity to emerging brands who are trying to open … in the U.S. [market]. Competing against the best brands in the world is really tough. So giving us this opportunity is great because now we can show you not only the story behind [our brand] but that we can bring something different, something special [to the market].
MB: What tips or advice would you share with other emerging brands in this industry?
RPM: I think the most important thing in this world is that brands cannot survive by themselves. You need to incorporate the society; you need to incorporate the different segments. In the case of Mezcal and Tequila, which are probably the two flagships of the Mexican culture regarding spirits, is we need to recognize the work and the effort of all the people behind the process. Being a land-to-bottle product, this is part of my heritage, is part of my legacy, because I am the fifth generation of a family that have it.
What I recommend is you need to tell all the story behind of all the people involved. How are you helping the people? How are you protecting the environment? How are you not only taking and cutting plants, but how many plants are you planting again?
I’m a businessman, and as a businessman I’ve learned that you need teamwork. This brand is a result of teamwork.