For many visiting Oaxaca, the closest they’ll ever get to the heart of the mezcal world is a small shop on Calle Macedonia where they’ll be able to sip a little creme de mezcal or perhaps a quick nip of espadin. Those that feel truly adventurous, might visit a small palenque as part of a larger tour, maybe the one to Mitla and Teotitlán del Valle.
But if you really want to experience ground zero of the mezcal world, you’ve got to be prepared to get off the beaten track, take some time and go on an adventure. Otherwise you’ll never see a tehona, and never even come close to the oven where the agave is cooked. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.
Recently I took a small group of friends on just such an adventure.
We met Gilberto Sánchez and his Uncle Vicente of Mezcal Rey Campero and their sister brand, Herencia Sánchez, less than 20 yards off the zocalo in Oaxaca City early in the morning. Our small group hopped in their cars and we were off for our all day adventure.
After a quick stop for gas, we were soon in Matatlán, known to some as the “World Capital of Mezcal”, for a great breakfast of quesadillas and coffee. Back in the cars, we continued south to the town of Santa Maria Zoquitlán and then left pavement behind as we headed into the mountains and the little village of about 150 people called Candelaria Yergolé.
By now it was about 11:30 and it was a good thing we stopped for breakfast, because the first thing we did when we arrived was try some mezcal. And then some more, and then some more. Gilberto, Vicente and the entire Sanchez family were amazing hosts, opening their home, sharing their mezcal and answering any questions my small group had.
We listened as they shared the family story of how way back in the 1880’s, they were the first family making mezcal in their area. It was easy to sense their love for there area, and of course, for mezcal.
Mezcal Rey Campero has a great reputation. I first became aware of them when I asked Erick Rodriquez to give me five mezcals I needed to experience. One of those mezcals was something almost unheard of back then, the Jabali. Today, lots of mezcaleros are using the agave jabali for mezcal, but remember this… Rey Campero was the first to get it to the market. It is a great source of pride for the family.
As the afternoon wore on, Gilberto told us we were going to see the agave fields. Getting in the back of his cousin Romulo’s truck, we held on for the almost 30 minute ride up the side of a mountain and then the truck stopped. Now it was time to walk and soon we were at the source. There, spread out on front of were hundreds of agaves, both wild and planted.
I was particularly struck by the respect that Gilberto’s Uncle Ramiro showed the agave. It was as if he was listening for them to tell him when they would be ready to be mezcal.
As we finished our time we of course toasted the fields with the fruit of the plants labor, another bit of mezcal, and then we returned to the Sanchez home for a wonderful late afternoon meal of molé. Finally, as the day was starting to turn to night we got back inside our cars for the return trip to Oaxaca at the end of an incredible adventure.
A final thought… While my trip took all day, there are several other options to visit a palenque closer to Oaxaca City that can be just as informative and fun, and only take a few hours of your time. But I’ll warn you, once you go, you’ll be hooked and soon will be trying to find out how you too can get further off the typical tourist track and visit a place like Candelabra Yergolé, deep in the heart of My Mexico!
If you are interested in joining me in the future on an adventure like this, contact me here!