Ingrained into the culture of Oaxaca, mezcal is more than an intoxicating spirit. It is the sacred link that binds modern-day mezcaleros to their ancestors. Sons of Mezcal transports you into this living history, as it follows four families passing their traditions on to the next generation.
Beginning in 2018, Denver-based director, Stephan Werk, worked in association with Back Bar Project and Casa Cortés, to produce a documentary film featuring the families of mezcaleros that work within the Casa Cortés portfolio of mezcal brands: El Jolgorio, Nuestra Soledad, and Agave de Cortés.
Mezcal is more than an intoxicating spirit. It is the sacred link that binds modern-day mezcaleros to their ancestors.
Sons of Mezcal transports you into this living history, as it follows four families passing their traditions on to the next generation.
Maestro mezcalero Don José Cortés Santiago reflects on his life in mezcal as he narrates the film's mesmerizing exploration into the world of mezcal.
Shot entirely cinéma vérité, Sons of Mezcal explores the profound personal and cultural significance of mezcal for those families whose life is dedicated to making this sacred spirit.
Don José Cortés is the central character featured in Sons of Mezcal . At age 82, he represents the fourth generation of mezcaleros in his family, which has been producing mezcal in the town of Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca since 1840. For nearly two centuries, agave farming and mezcal production has been the lifesource for the Cortés family.
Don José was born in Santiago Matatlán and lives a life dedicated to mezcal and family. He began working on local palenques in his teens and belongs to a generation of mezcaleros who, in the face of many difficult years, remained steadfast in their commitment to preserve the culture and methods of traditional mezcal. Their work was an honor to their family and to the land. With nearly 70 years of working on palenques, Don Jose is one of the most experienced living mezcaleros in Mexico.
Early in his career, Don José mainly produced mezcal for his own family and community but he would also sell regionally, along his own ruta del mezcal, oftentimes at markets in nearby towns. During this time, mezcaleros would be known to travel throughout Oaxaca to personally sell their mezcales. Decades later, Don José is the inspiring figurehead of the Casa Cortés line of mezcales which has obtained international acclaim since its founding in 2010.
Today, Don José can often be found at home in Matatlán, spending time with his family. Although he has passed on the mezcal business he started to his children, he still oversees the production of special edition batches and is nearly always present when a pechuga mezcal is being made.
In 2019, Don José lost his lifelong beloved wife Doña Crispina Hernandez Romero. The Cortés family remembers Doña Crispina with fond memories, honor, and respect. They know her passing was not the end of life, but its continuation into a more colorful world on the other side.
Doña Crispina grew up on her family's palenque in Santiago Matatlán. She married her teenage sweetheart José Cortés, and they enjoyed a lifetime of loving marriage. A pillar of strength for the family, Doña Crispina instilled important lessons into the lives of her children, and grandchildren; especially remembering to honor their elders, ancestors and culture. Doña Crispina's resolve was ultimately rewarded when her family earned international respect and recognition, not only for the mezcal they produce, but also for their steadfast work to respectfully grow the mezcal industry.
A true Maestra Mezcalera, Doña Crispina Hernandez Romero was the heartbeat of the Cortés family. Her spirit and guidance laid the foundation for future generations of mezcaleros. Crispina's legacy in this world will live on through her children and grandchildren, who work tirelessly to preserve and promote the lessons she taught them.
Rolando Cortés, Doña Crispina's youngest son, said this of his late mother, "My mother taught me the meaning of 'Dixeebe,' a Zapotec word that embodies gratitude, love, and thankfulness in a way that is difficult to explain. When we drink mezcal with our friends and family, we say 'Dixeebe' to show them we are thankful to be with them. It was a tradition that was very important to my mother. Mezcal is an opportunity for us to pay tribute to my mother and toast with her when she is here from the spirit world."
Rolando Cortés is a fifth generation member of the Cortés family and currently serves as CEO of the Casa Cortés company. The youngest son of José and Crispina Cortés, Rolando grew up on his family's palenques in Santiago Matatlán, where he learned the value of his Zapotec culture and its inherent ties to mezcal. Twenty years ago, with the mezcal category still in a nascent stage, Rolando successfully set out to get his family's traditional mezcal placed in this burgeoning market, and in 2010 expanded their catalog with the widely-acclaimed international releases.
Rolando's goal in all of his work is to honor his family's Zapotec heritage and preserve their deep cultural ties to mezcal. He also wishes to highlight the different agave varieties and mezcaleros throughout Oaxaca's Valles Centrales region. This led to his family's long-running collaboration with over a dozen mezcaleros in the area. This familial partnership amongst four of these mezcal producing families is documented in Sons of Mezcal, showing the deep familial bonds and generational ties that mezcal has in the lives of those who produce it.
Gregorio Martinez Jarquín grew up working on palenques with his family members around his hometown of Santiago Matatlán at the age of 13. He befriended some of the Cortés brothers at an early age. He eventually joined the family with his marriage to Epi Cortés and began working on the "De Cortés" palenque, as it was known then.
These days, Gregorio has been showing his two sons, Oscar and Eduardo, the family craft of mezcal production as they step into their roles as the next generation of Matatalán mezcaleros. This evolution can be seen in Sons of Mezcal as Gregroio brings Oscar with him to harvest a load of Espadin magueys, giving the youngman a glimpse into the early mornings and laborious hours involved with working the fields. Gregorio is known to be a man of few words, but his true voice comes through in his mezcales and they speak loudly and with great expression.
Francisco Cortés is a maestro mezcalero living in his hometown in Santiago Matatlán. For most of his life, Francisco Cortés worked closely on the palenques with his father Don José. While in his 30's, Francisco helped Don José restore the palenque he owned as a young man.
Francisco is now the owner and caretaker of his father's original palenque, the site of numerous Cortés family stories and folklore. With four decades of experience making mezcal, Francisco earned his own title as a maestro mezcalero in the Cortés family.
Pedro Vásquez is a third generation mezcalero from the remote region of Lachiguí. The landscape there is a nearly impenetrable zone in the Sierra Sur Mountains, stacked with miles of jagged mountains rising up from valleys filled with deep shadows and ancient secrets. Tio Pedro is one of the most experienced mezcaleros working in this area, and as the years have passed, his three sons, Librado, Eugenio, and Pedro Jr., have taken on larger roles at the palenque. Under the guidance of their father, they have become maestro mezcaleros themselves, and recently, even their sons have begun to work hands-on in the palenque. This has created a moving scene of three generations of one family working together, and it has fulfilled the fathers' promises to pass on these traditions to their children.
There are a select few families who produce mezcal in these wildlands, and their personalities and the spirits they distill reflect this bold, spectacular area of theirs. Tío Pedro has been producing traditional mezcales here with unrivaled quality and flavors for decades. Sometimes it's hard to tell where Tío Pedro's palenque ends and where the spectacular natural vistas surrounding it begins. The man himself is also notably connected to these hills. He will notice a stray twig encroaching on the well-worn path leading down to his well. He will take his young grandson into the wilderness at sundown to harvest agave on a full moon. He proudly upholds his obligations as a mezcalero and he remains committed to his land, his craft, and his mission to honor his ancestors as he passes his family's legacy on to the next generation.
In memoriam to the late Maestro Rafael Méndez Cruz. (1953-2021)
"Don Rafa" was a maestro mezcalero, an outdoorsman, a farmer, but most notably he was a proud husband, a father to eleven children, and an especially generous friend and family man. Visitors to his home in San Luis del Río would be invited in like old friends and leave feeling like family. Don Rafa's larger-than-life character and his exceptional skills as a mezcalero for over fifty years made him revered in his hometown and renowned throughout the mezcal world.
Espadin from San Luis del Rio is a storied combination of plant and place in the mezcal realm. Batches of mezcal from this region are renowned, and Don Rafa's skills as a true maestro tended to raise his lotes to the top of the top. As he grew older he focused more on distilling small batches of magnificent, wild mezcals like Tobalá, Madrecuishe, and the coveted Tepeztate.
Don Rafa understood his obligation to help ensure a healthy future for mezcal and his community. He strove to protect and perpetuate the ways of traditional mezcal production in San Luis del Río.He led a vigorous reforestation campaign which planted about a million baby agaves annually across the San Luis del Rio region. His exquisite mezcals are highly sought after and to meet that demand he would buy loads of fresh, ripe agaves from fellow farmers in the valley. This model helped uphold local economies and support his neighbors.
Lessons serve as legacies as one generation passes its knowledge onto the next. His memory is cared for by his wife Tia, and his dream of his sons taking up legacy has come true. Ivan and Paco continue to work the same family palenque they have their whole lives, but now their father is watching them from above, rather than working beside them.
"One must drink mezcal with their soul because it comes from the spirit of the maguey." - Don Rafael Méndez Cruz.
In a half century of making mezcal, Ignacio "Don Chucho" Parada has dedicated his life to the craft of making traditional mezcal. He has risen from being a young apprentice on the palenque to a respected Don in both his local community and on the international mezcal stage. Don Ignacio Parada comes from Santa María Zoquitlán, a small town cradled by two converging river valleys and flanked with steep hillsides studded with rare agaves such as Jabalí and Tepeztate.
It is within this wondrous territory of rugged ridgelines and sweeping river basins where Ignacio works with his son José, who is following in his footsteps as the next generation of a Parada family mezcalero. When the father and son duo are not working their fields, Don Chuco enjoys playing cards with his pals at the palenque on lazy Sunday afternoons. The tradition of mezcal production in this area dates back generations, and the area boasts a unique array and concentration of wild magueys that are rarely found in other areas. Together, Don Igancio and José are making traditional mezcales in the same style as their forefathers and carrying on this special legacy and craft into the 21st Century.
José Parada started making mezcal under the guidance of his father, Igancio "Don Chucho" Parada, before he was even a teenager. In the following twenty-two years, he has accrued the knowledge and experience rarely found in someone his age. At 34-years-old, José has already ascended to the level of maestro mezcalero.
José has not always worked alongside his father. In his early-20s, José made the hard decision to leave his hometown to work in the United States. His sacrifice would provide support for his loved ones, and this dedication to family would remain an important value to José. He returned home to work with his father as the demand for the family's mezcal grew. José has been gleaning valuable insights from his father and he rises to become the next of generation in a long lineage of mezcaleros in his family. José has uncles and cousins on both sides of his family who are also mezcaleros. José lives with his wife and their young child back home in Zoquitlan. This life of mezcal has been a calling that José was born into, and he has embraced his role with dignity and wisdom that surpasses his youthful age.
"Patience is key. When I drink mezcal I respect it because overdoing it is not good for you." -José Parada
Valentín Cortes is eldest son of Don José, and along with his brothers they represents the fifth generation of Cortés family mezcaleros. Born and raised in Santiago Matatlán, Don Valentín has been working with mezcal since he was a young teenager. Valentín's impeccable eye for detail, commitment to quality, and immense knowledge for his craft, helped elevate his personal reputation and his family's mezcales to international notoriety.
With over 40 years of experience and success, he has solidified his status as one of Matalán's finest mezcaleros. His new ventures with his son Asis, and their partners in Durango, ensures that Valentin's impact on the mezcal world will not only survive, but expand far beyond the borders of his home state of Oaxaca.
Asis Cortés is the grandson of Don José, and the eldest son of Valentín Cortés. Asis grew up on his family's palenque in Santiago Matatlán, later studying design and marketing in Oaxaca City. In his twenties, Asis became a prominent figure in his family's business, working as Casa Cortés, chief graphic designer. He created the iconic abstract imagery that would become synonymous with his family's renowned mezcales. Asis also travelled the world as an ambassador of Casa Cortés, educating the wider world on mezcal, its ancient backstory and his family's role in that history. Steeped in knowledge, Asis is well-known and respected in the global mezcal community for his spiritual and artistic approach to understanding and sharing the importance of mezcal culture.
In 2019, Asis and his father split from Casa Cortés, creating their own personal line of mezcales from Santiago Matatlán called Dixeebe. They have also partnered in Durango, Mexico to create Origen Raíz, a brand of mezcales which showcases the varied species found in this agave-rich state.
is considered one of the most biodiverse places in the world. Its high desert mountain ranges, arid, open plains, and rolling river valleys have created the natural habitats for the largest variety of wild agave species on the planet.