Theme this month is around Leonista. How it all started, the journey, the ups and downs and a few interesting events in between.
So to kick off - how did it all begin? How did I start an Agave spirit (Tequila/Mezcal) company?
I always loved Tequila. I was the girl who came to the party with a bottle of tequila in hand drinking nothing else until the sun came up. I discovered the difference between good Tequila and bad tequila and the effect they had. The more expensive, good stuff is 100% agave i.e 100% made from the plant. It can be sipped like a whisky, is an energy giver and if treated with respect doesn't give you a hangover. A “Mixto” is the cheap stuff. Mixed with cane spirit to make it cheaper, served to you in a plastic shot glass with salt and lemon to make it palatable and gives you a horrible hangover.
I was so intrigued by 100% agave spirits that I experimented in starting to make it at home, for fun. My apartment became a bootlegger crack-den. The garage was filled with a homemade still, fermentation buckets and a little gas stove to heat the still and convert the fermented “mash” to spirits. The first labels were designed by a friend and bottles were old Inverroche bottles. I took these early experimental bottles to Africa burn and they became my Gift for fellow burners. A spirit from the desert made for the people of the desert. The response was always, always so positive that the idea stuck in my head even when the dust washed away.
The home distillery in the early days:
This idea that wouldn't go away forced me to book a trip to the origins of Tequila and agave spirit, Mexico. To meet the Maestro distillers and have a Tequila, Mezcal tasting adventure around Mexico.
Leonista became the lovechild from that Mexican adventure. I was inspired by the industry and culture around Tequila, Mezcal and all the agave spirits and other products that could be made from the plant. After that trip I had a monkey on my back that wasn’t going to quiet until I recreated what I saw in Mexico back at home in South Africa where I knew agave grew very well.
The Mexican Adventure:
My favourite part about the agave plant is that it grows in hot, dry, arid conditions with little water. Perfect for places like the Karoo. Karoo farmers grow it in large quantities as an emergency crop for animals in times of drought. They call it their emergency “bank account” to use when they have nothing else left. I found some farmers who believed in my dream to create an industry around the plant and a distillery that was willing to take a chance on me. We built a wood fired oven and started to produce 100% agave spirits in the traditional Mexican way. By laws similar to the ones protecting Champaign, agave spirit cannot be called Tequila or Mezcal if it is not made in Mexico so in South Africa it is called 100% Agave Spirit.
The birth of Leonista started in 2016 with R60 000 I earned from planting 115 000 trees over 3 months in the forestry industry in Canada. With that the first 1000 bottles were bottled and gave me a 6 month runway to make this dream into a reality. Sustainability and having a positive effect on the planet is very important to me and so very important to be part of the Leonista DNA from day one.
I'll touch on what happened between from then to now and our goals where we want to be in the next 5 years in the next blog. For now, know that Friday was the launch of a huge milestone. The Leonista online store. https://leonista.shopstar.co.za/ This is a dream come true project. A tool for the company to better understand our consumer and so, better serve. We can offer added value branded gear, larger discounts, and create online events tailored to customer requests.