Is it advantageous being the biggest designation of origin in the world?
Have you traveled around Mexico? Did you notice agaves everywhere you went? Well, agave is a plant that has been utilised by Mexicans from centuries and they learned to distillate it and they called to the spirit “Wine Mezcal”. Now, the world “Mezcal” is legally protected (because it got “Designation of origin”) and only some Mexican states are able to label their spirit with this name. In @Agavache we promote “the good” mexican agave spirits, wherever they come, either from areas with designation of origin or without it. In this post we will tell you the meaning to be part of this “distinctive label” and why we agree with other academics that this “marketing strategy” should be improved.
According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), “Designation of Origin” means:
“The name of a region, a specific place or, in exceptional cases, a country, used to describe an agricultural or food product:
– originating in that region, the specific place or the country;
– the quality or characteristics of which are exclusively or essentially due to natural and human factors inherent to a particular geographical environment, and
– the production, processing and preparation of which take place in a
defined geographical area”.
The Secretaría de Economía de México (Mexico’s Economy Secretariat) declares that denominations of origin are not obtained or given by any authority or governmental decree, but that they exist as “matter of fact”. This means that first they must be used and consumed, become popular and acknowledged by the public, and after this they can be protected by an appropriate declaration.
The Consejo Regulador de Mezcal (CRM) (Regulatory Council of Mezcal) has repeatedly declared that the DO Mezcal is the biggest denomination in the world with over 500 thousand square kilometres, but why would that be a good thing? In 2018 the states of Aguascalientes, Morelos and Mexico State requested to be included in the DO, but many mezcaleros (guided by the then president of CRM, who had originally promoted and helped those states in their request to join) objected and made legal appeals in the courts against this expansion, stopping it even though the IMPI (Mexican Intelectual Property Institute) had already voted in favour. In a press conference reported by El Financiero (article: “Mezcaleros de Oaxaca en contra de ampliar la denominación de origen”) several organisations of producers from Oaxaca highlighted that their opposition was out of concern for the risk that artisanal mezcales have as they are unprotected against big producers from other states or foreign interests with a higher commercial and industrial capacity and which could affect the sales and survival of the small producers.
The affected states by the appeal against them joining, made in turn their own appeal at the courts and the cases remain unresolved to this day. The CRM celebrates what they call a “victory over political interests” (with no mention that they were part of the stirring up of those same political and economic interests), while the governors of the states of Aguascalientes, Morelos and Mexico State assure their producers that they will soon obtain the denomination and try to encourage industrial projects and investors. Even with this precedent and uncertainty, the state of Sinaloa requested its inclusion into the DO in 2020 claiming to process historical proof that validate its claim.
Regardless of the DO, there are mezcales of great quality all throughout the Mexican territory, but if your business is Mezcal, we recommend that you check out these infographics regarding the DO, its territory and levels of production:
- To identify the 9 Mexican states which are legally part of it.
- To know that the states have been added in different years.
- To understand that DO protects some areas of the states and not all the states municipalities are under protection.
- To know the mezcal production per state.
In the aforementioned report by El Financiero, they make the comparison between the size of the DO Mezcal and that of the Romanée-Conti wine, which is barely 18 square km. However, they fail to analyse that “wine” is a generic term used all over the world and “Romanée-Conti” is the AOC (Appellation of Controlled Origin) which is the equivalent to the DO. This correct comparison would be if “Mezcal” was followed by the place of origin, such as: “Mezcal de San Dionisio Ocotepec” or “Mezcal Matateco” rather than the generic term mezcal. This would actually refer to a product from a specific region, with particular characteristics in it’s production and socio-cultural environment, of a given quality and, therefore, a corresponding price range.
In an interview with Jorge Amigo published in CRM magazine, who was the first director of the IMPI and who was in charge of the creation of the DO Mezcal, he acknowledges that from the beginning they had foreseen problems with the designation of the DO because mezcal was the generic term for the agave distillates produced in several regions of Mexico. He also mentions that there was a proposal to “regionalise” the DO, such as “Mezcal de Oaxaca” or “Mezcal de Guerrero” but that the problem with this would be that it left the door open for “Mezcal from the USA” or Mezcal from any other part of the world regardless of tradition, process, or of the fact of where the agave originated. Something of a “lose-lose” situation for mezcal and its traditional producers.
The production of agave spirits in other countries was completely inevitable and having a DO as big as it is makes the product lack particularities that would otherwise identify and differentiate it against foreign products. New producers and products tend to generalise and seek to fit into an existing “successful” model without consideration for cultural or gastronomic factors. Their concern is to appeal to a certain market rather than to follow the tradition and flavours unique to their regions. We consider that Mezcal should be considered a generic denomination and that smaller regions should be designated by their historical tradition, unique characteristics, and their accomplishments, such as “Mezcal Minero of Santa Catarina”. Furthermore, denominations with their own unique regions and characteristics should be encouraged and promoted, as is the case with Bacanora and Raicilla.
Cruz, Alfonso, Mezcaleros de Oaxaca en contra de ampliar la denominación de origen, publicado el 02 de diciembre 2017 en: https://www.elfinanciero.com.mx/empresas/mezcaleros-de-oaxaca-en-contra-de-ampliar-denominacion-de-origen/
Estrada, Luis, “Solicita Sinaloa modificar Denominación de Origen Mezcal para incluir su destilado”, publicado el 19 de agosto 2020 en: https://oaxaca.eluniversal.com.mx/cartera/19-08-2020/solicita-sinaloa-modificar-denominacion-de-origen-mezcal-para-incluir-su?amp
Jímenez, Cristian, “Juez ordena suspensión definitiva a modificación de Denominación de Origen del mezcal, publicado el 02 de agosto de 2020 en: https://oaxaca.eluniversal.com.mx/estatal/08-02-2020/juez-ordena-suspension-definitiva-modificacion-de-denominacion-de-origen-del?amp
Las 11 denominaciones de origen, Revista el Conocedor publicado el 15 de mayo de 2018 en: https://revistaelconocedor.com/las-11-de-denominaciones-de-origen/
Fundación del IMPI y la Denominación de Origen Mezcal, entrevista con Jorge Amigo, publicado en Revista 2020 del Consejo Regulador del Mezcal: http://www.crm.org.mx/publicaciones.php
Reporte anual 2020 del Consejo Regulador del Mezcal.
Secretaría de Economía Gobierno de México: https://www.gob.mx/se/articulos/denominaciones-de-origen-orgullodemexico
Law on Desinations of origin, Geographical indications and Indications of Traditional specialities guaranteed for agricultural and food productos, https://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/me/me026en.pdf