Interview with Partida Tequila Master Distiller: Jose Valdez

Sarah Velasco: Can you tell us about yourself? How did you get started?
Jose Valdez: Before I became the official Tequila Maker of Partida, I was a Tequila aficionado, enthusiast and consumer. My passion for Tequila started when I was a child and my father taught me that Tequila is our national beverage and we should be proud of this product. I remember he had one of two neat Tequilas before the family meal every Sunday. With his example I learned that Tequila is something special that has to be drank slowly and responsibly. Later when I moved to Guadalajara to begin College I started visiting some Tequila distilleries. Also I got involved in many events such as seminars, tastings, tours and more. I learned from many people involved in the agave fields and distillery, people who have been doing the same activities form many generations such as jimadores (agave harvesters), producers, tasters, distributors and consumers. I had a dream to produce Tequila by my own (and a team of course) with all the passion and knowledge I acquired during those years. So when I met Mr. Shansby I realized that this dream can become true with this project called Partida.

Sarah Velasco: Can you tell us about Partida Tequila? How did that begin?
Jose Valdez: After a couple years working in the electronic and manufacturing industry I met Vinicio Estrada (VP of Partida in Mexico and my current boss) and he introduced me to Mr. Gary Shansby, the founder of Tequila Partida. Mr. Shansby told me about the project and offered me to join to his new company and I accepted. I had been working in the production process of Partida since the birth of this company so I have had the opportunity to be part of all the production batches we have produced. My team and I at the distillery have been witnesses to the high quality standards and consistency we have established for the production of all the Tequila Partida. Literally I have tasted every single production of Tequila Partida. Now I hold a Tequila Expert and a Tequila Producer degree: Also I am Tequila Master Taster and a few years ago I became member of the Mexican Academy of Tequila Tasters.

Sarah Velasco: What does your role at Partida Tequila entail? What does an "average day look like for you?"
Jose Valdez: My role at Partida is to lead the production activities in order to have the finished product on time, ensuring quality and consistency along the Tequila Partida products line. This role includes many activities and responsibilities such as:

  • Direct the activities at the distillery. Monitor the controls for the agave selection, production activities (cooking, milling, fermentation and distillation), aging, bottling and tasting and manage the people involved in these activities.
  • Create and execute the master production schedule that involves production, bottling and aging quantities and timing as well as purchasing of packaging materials (bottles, caps, labels), barrels, agave.
  • Participate in the Operations Committee monthly meetings with the global executives of the company (USA and MX).
  • Lead visits and tours at the distilleries with influential people of the industry: International authorities, VIP clients, distributors, magazine and news writers and reviewers, chefs and mixologists.
  • Manage the relationship with Tequila and Government Authorities and Institutions having brand exposure in many events all over the world. Also being aware about the Tequila regulatory changes in the production and distribution.
  • Educate and train clients, distributors, mixologist, chefs, Tequila enthusiasts, aficionados and consumers about Tequila production and presented tasting and pairing for people all over the world.

Sarah Velasco: How do you make the Tequila? How is it produced?

Jose Valdez: The production process is very similar in all the production of Tequila, Mezcal, Sotol, Bacanora and all the spirits that come from agaves. There are mainly 5 steps: cooking, milling, fermentation, distillation and aging. There many differences in Tequila and other spirit beverages that come from agaves. The most important difference is the type of agave. In order to called Tequila the only agave that can be use is Blue agave cultivated in the appellation of origin land (the whole state of Jalisco and a few municipalities of Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacán and Tamaulipas). Our philosophy in the production of Tequila Partida is to focus on the quality and consistency starting with the raw materials which in the case of Tequila 100% Blue Agave is only two: agave and water. We only use very high quality Blue agave form the Tequila Valley cultivated in a natural field and avoiding the use of pesticides and herbicides.
The production process is also very important. In Tequila Partida we combine antique and modern methods. We use autoclaves (stainless steel ovens) for the cooking process. We make this process longer (lower temperature) than normal to ensure the agaves are cooking evenly. Also fermentation occurs in open stainless steel tanks. We don´t use any type of artificial yeast, only the wild yeast that comes from the agave on from the environment. The distillation occurs in alembics made out of stainless steel and some copper. Finally for the aging process we use 200 liters Jack Daniels barrels made out of once passed white American oak. Our aging times are 6 months for Reposado, 18 months for Añejo and 40 months for Elegante. These times are above the minimum required which is 2 months, 1 year and 36 months respectively.

Sarah Velasco: What sets Partida Tequila apart from others on the market?

Jose Valdez: Tequila Partida is a boutique premium Tequila brand made out of 100% blue agave produced with high quality standards. We select the best agaves of the Tequila Valley and the use of only stainless steel during the whole process. The slow production process makes Partida unique in the industry. Tequila Partida is 100% natural, avoiding the use of pesticide or herbicide in the agave field and artificial flavoring and coloring in the production process. Quality, consistency and passion create Tequila Partida flavors: earth, critics, fresh and cooked agave, vanilla, pepper, flowers just to name some.

Sarah Velasco: Can you tell us about the different products Partida Tequila has? How are they different? 

Jose Valdez: All of the Tequilas from Partida are produced with 100% agave sugar. The Partida portfolio includes Blanco (no aging), Reposado (6 months of aging), Añejo (18 months of aging) and Extra Añejo (40 months of aging). Partida use one passed (3 years) Jack Daniel´s barrels made out of with American oak.

Sarah Velasco: What makes a good distiller?

Jose Valdez: I would say that the equipment, the water source, production capacity and the people.

  • Equipment: The design of the equipment allows the production of high quality products. Also all the equipment that is in contact with the raw materials, work in process and finished goods during the production process is made out of stainless steel.
  • Water source. The distillery has its own source of spring water, its own well. This is very important because the only two raw materials needed to produce Tequila are agave and water.
  • Production capacity. The installed production capacity at the distillery is around 1,000,000 liters of 100% Tequila at 40% AbV.
  • People. The most important asset in any organization is its people and this is not an exception. The people will make things happen. They have to be trained and aware about the importance of the quality and consistency, and pay attention to little details. The more the people are aware of the importance and impact of their actions in final product, the better for the quality and consistency. People need to be involved and engage with the principles of Partida: Integrity, focus and results.

Sarah Velasco: What are the most common misconceptions about tequila?

Jose Valdez: I would say that would be that Tequila is a cheap, easy to make and produces a hangover. Most people have a bad experience with cheap Tequila. Also, many people don’t really know where Tequila is produced and how it is made. A lot of people don´t know that Tequila has a appellation of origin and it can only be produced in certain regions in Mexico. Moreover, many people believe that all Tequilas produce a terrible hangover.

Sarah Velasco: Can you tell our readers one of your favorite cocktail recipes that they should try? 

Jose Valdez: Tequila is a very versatile beverage for cocktails. Now that there are more premium Tequila brands available such as Partida, the popularity of Tequila cocktails is growing. I think the most common Tequila cocktail is La margarita. 
There are many recipes and formulas to prepare margaritas but a high quality margarita needs to use high quality ingredients. In Partida we have our own recipe and we called “Skinny Margarita” or “Guilt Free” Margarita." It is prepared with 100% natural and high quality ingredients: lime juice (1 oz), pure organic agave nectar (3/4 oz), pure spring water (3/4 oz) and Tequila Partida Blanco, Reposado or Añejo (1.5 oz). All ingredients must be combined in a cocktail shaker with ice. The second most common cocktail is La Paloma which is grapefruit soda (Squirt), lime and Tequila.
There are many more cocktails with Tequila such as La Perla, Ruby Partida, Heated Affair and more.