Don Julio Tequila: When Strangers Become Friends and Friends Become Family

Don Julio Tequila: When Strangers Become Friends and Friends Become Family

Jorge Raptis, the Don Julio Master Educator, has a special place in his heart for the Agave plant—it’s right there next to his friends and family, in the place of honor.

His respect for the rich heritage and the craftsmanship that goes into making every single batch of Tequila is infectious.

That must be why he’s been an official spokesperson for the Diaego portfolio, a Senior Tequila Ambassador for Don Julio, Reserve National Educator for Latin Spirits, and now Master Educator on the Diageo Hospitality Partnership for the last 16 years.

Named “Educator of the Year” in both 2018 and 2019, Jorge’s depth of knowledge, passion, genuine warmth, and cordial hospitality has turned many a Tequila newbie into a Tequila connoisseur.

Flaviar sat down with Jorge over a glass of Don Julio 1942 to talk about Tequila, Don Julio, and how the juice helps strangers become friends, and friends become family through the great food and drink experiences.

When did you know you wanted to become a master educator for Tequila/Spirits, and what was the main motivation?

I really believe in the Mexican saying: “Lo que es para ti, ni aunque te quites… Y lo que no es para ti, ni aunque te pongas.” This saying reflects a belief that when something is meant for you— no matter what you do—it will be for you.

That is how I feel about working in the Spirits industry and Tequila. Tequila chose me and not the way around.

This is how strangers become friends, and friends become family.

I remember how attached I felt to my Mexican heritage when I moved to Boston, MA, and since most of my friends did not know much about Mexico, I felt responsible to represent and educate them about it.

That was my main motivation, I wanted friends to understand my culture. I started by teaching them about Tequila, one of the best ambassadors of Mexican traditions. I started to educate them on the liquid, the Agave, the process, and how it plays a major role in social gatherings. From that point on, life just guided me to where I stand today.

How would you explain your job in one sentence?

To mentor and share my passion for Agave Spirits with my team. To educate the trade and consumers to promote a better appreciation of Mexican Spirits and traditions.

What’s the most valuable lesson you learned doing your job?

To always be humble. The more you learn, the more you understand how little you know.

Who’s your inspiration, and why?

My father! He is one of the most honest and reliable people you will ever meet. He taught me many values by example that shaped me to become who I am today.

The most important room in the house is the kitchen.

That is also one of the reasons I feel so close to the Don Julio brand and its founder Don Julio Gonzales Estrada who also shared those same principles and values. The world needs more people like them today.

What do you do when you’re not around fine Spirits?

I love to cook for friends and family. Now that my family lives in Greece, I get nostalgic about celebrating with them. I feel that I inherited cordial hospitality from my mother who taught me that the most important room in the house is the kitchen.

I continue that tradition when I invite guests to my home. We gather around the kitchen and partake in pre-dinner spirits as we all wait impatiently for the food to be ready.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To be able to read people’s minds. It would so much be fun!

How would you describe Don Julio in three words?
Agave. Craft. Delicious.

What are the five favorite bottles in your home bar?
The very limited Extra Añejo Tequila Don Julio Ultima Reserva made with the last Agaves that Don Julio Gonzales and his family planted. Pierde Almas Mezcal Wild Tepextate made with a wild and rare Agave that takes more than 25 years to mature. Tanqueray 10 with its exceptional citrus heart. Lagavulin Distillers Edition double-matured in ex-Bourbon and Pedro Ximenez Sherry Casks. Zacapa Rum XO aged in 5 distinct types of barrels using the laborious Solera system.

What would you eat and drink for your last supper?
Without a doubt the authentic Mexico City-style Tacos al Pastor.

A Genie tells you to pick someone to share a drink with; dead or alive, real or fictional. Who would it be? Why?
I’d share some Tequilas with General Francisco “Pancho” Villa and learn more about the historical event of the Mexican revolution.

Please tell us more about Don Julio as a brand and a product.

There are too many brands available today. Even though I represent all the other Diageo brands and the various Spirits categories, everyone knows my love for Don Julio is very special and it is because it is exceptionally crafted!

It is no coincidence that Don Julio Tequila is the #1 ultra-premium Tequila in Mexico.

Everything starts with Don Julio González who was, in simplest terms, a dedicated and passionate farmer who believed that the Agave plant, and how you cared for it, ultimately created the best possible Tequila.

The story starts in the Jalisco Highlands where Don Julio decided to establish his distillery, La Primavera. The Highlands are considered the Napa Valley of the Tequila industry.

Unlike most other producers, Don Julio believed that the Agaves should be planted 1.5 meters (4.9 ft.) apart allowing each plant room to develop. This gives Agaves the opportunity to draw more nutrients from the soil and get more sunlight to allow maximum photosynthesis.

Our “jimadores” (Agave farmers) carefully select and plant the best “hijuelos” (Agave sprouts) and tend to them throughout their life until each one is hand-selected at their peak maturity. At Don Julio, we only harvest individual plants as they are hand-selected for their perfect maturity regardless of age. Some Agaves can take up to 12 years to fully mature and we wait until then if needed.

The short bottles were chosen by our founder to make sure guests could see each other across the table.

Once the Agaves are ready, they are harvested by exposing the heart of the Agave. At Don Julio, we harvest the Agaves closer to the core to get rid of the waxes and chlorophyll that impart Tequila with bitter flavors—the same thing happens with the “cogollo” (the bud) of the plant.

At the distillery, we cut the Agaves into the same-size pieces before cooking, so that they all cook evenly. We slow-roast our Agaves in mason ovens for 3 days.

Our ovens have vents that allow the steam to escape, so that pressure doesn’t build within the oven. As the Agaves start to cook in the oven their juices drip onto the floor to be collected—the initial juices tend to be very bitter so we discard the ones that drip out in the first 5 to 8 hours.

Once the Agaves are cooked, we extract their juice with the help of roller mills. We call this juice “aguamiel”. The aguamiel is then fermented. Fermentation starts with our proprietary wild yeast strain, specifically cultured for Don Julio and kept in two separate laboratories, one located in Mexico City and the other one at the La Primavera distillery.

I tend to let the liquid speak for itself most of the time.

After the aguamiel is fermented we twice-distill the “musto muerto” (dead must) in alembic-style pot stills. Once distilled, we can bottle it as Tequila Blanco or we can age it to produce Reposado, Añejo, or Extra Añejo.

What’s the craziest anecdote behind the making of Don Julio 1942 (or other luxury Tequilas) you’re willing to share?

Most people do not understand why Don Julio 1942 comes in a tall bottle, breaking away from the tradition of using short bottles.

The short bottles were chosen by our founder to make sure guests could see each other across the table. This was the first Tequila packaged in short, square bottles, which came to characterize Don Julio Tequila.

The reason why our founder chose a tall bottle for Don Julio 1942 is due to his love for the Agave plant.

He wanted the bottle design to serve as a tribute to the noble plant, so if you look closer you can see how it is shaped as an Agave leaf.

Can you tell us a bit more about Don Julio 1942? What is its flavor profile? What makes it different from other Tequilas?

Don Julio 1942 was created for sipping and celebrating in good company. It has become a true icon of luxury with its velvety and complex character.

I have not met a single person that has told me they do not like Don Julio 1942.

This is the final variant that Don Julio González created in his life-long career and is the ultimate tribute to passion. It was created to commemorate Don Julio’s 60th anniversary of producing the highest quality Tequila.

In it, you find flavors of vanilla, caramel, and toffee, with a sweet agave-laced finish.

Imagine the perfect evening with Don Julio 1942. Who are you sharing it with? What are you eating? What’s the soundtrack to it?

Don Julio 1942 was meant to be enjoyed with friends and family, but it can also be a great way to create elevated moments with new acquaintances. This is how strangers become friends, and friends become family.

If I had to pick a single person, it would be with my wife who once surprised me with a bottle of Don Julio 1942 in the mountains of Arachova in Greece on Christmas day.

On that occasion, I had been looking for a bottle of Don Julio 1942 to celebrate the holiday without any luck, but she never gave up and her perseverance paid off.

When I tell them it’s Tequila, most don’t believe me.

So, I imagine sipping on Don Julio 1942 while overlooking the small charming town covered in snow, enjoying a Greek dessert called Kataifi, and listening to “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong.

What would you say to someone not familiar with Tequila in general and Don Julio to get them excited about trying it?

I tend to let the liquid speak for itself most of the time. In my almost 17 years representing Don Julio Tequila, I have not met a single person that has told me they do not like Don Julio 1942.

On many occasions, I have sneaked a pour of Don Julio 1942 into the hands of people that say they do not like Tequila, without telling them what it is. Right after tasting it, they all tend to ask “what it is?” When I tell them it’s Tequila, most don’t believe me.

The flavor is subjective, but I have learned that Don Julio 1942 is a great way to get people interested in the category as it breaks away from the preconceived ideas people have about Tequila.

What are the must-have bottles of Tequila in any proud connoisseur's home bar?

A proud connoisseur should always love Tequila Blanco. Don Julio Blanco is a must-have as it is truly the celebration of the Agave plant in its purest form.

The Tequila-making process is hard, long, and costly. The point of waiting many years for the Agave plant is to create a Tequila that showcases the plant's amazing flavor and complexity.

All the primary flavors in Tequila come from the plant itself and then the multiple decisions during the production process chosen can enhance, change, or destroy them.

The Blanco expressions in most Tequilas are the heart and soul of the portfolio since that same Tequila tends to also become a Reposado, Añejo, or Extra Añejo after aging it according to the laws.

That is why at Tequila Don Julio, we make sure to use balanced aging techniques and time periods that continue to highlight the Agave plant flavors, and where all the aromas and flavors work in harmony to create the best version for each of our expressions.

What’s the most exciting upcoming project?

The past summer we introduced a very limited run of the new Tequila Don Julio Primavera—the first Tequila in our portfolio to be finished in orange Wine casks.

This deliciously smooth expression features a sophisticated, silky flavor with light hints of citrus. Only 15,000 cases were available in this initial run, and it was so well-received among consumers that we are already anticipating the expression’s return in March 2022.

Where do you see Don Julio in 5-10 years?

While I don’t have a crystal ball to foretell the future, I think Tequila will continue to be the #1 fastest growing spirit and will only get bigger. Don Julio has been a leader in this growth thanks to staying true to its beginnings.

At Tequila Don Julio, we produce our liquid in the same way that our late founder Don Julio González first established nearly 80 years ago.

He led a life devoted to Tequila-making and created a process to craft the highest quality Tequila to enjoy with friends and family.

From whispering to his Agave plants to planting them uncharacteristically further apart in the Highlands of Jalisco—Don Julio González’s principles elevated the standards of Tequila-making and through these same principles, we will continue to propel the brand into the future.

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