The Californian - April 2010
Some wines have seen sales rise in the recession. But it's been a harder sell for distilled spirits, said Joaquin Robles, owner of Salinas-based Tequila Don Elias.
Until now, at least. Robles got a boost in March when two of his four tequila varieties won prizes in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The company's Silver variety, which retails for under $40, won a gold medal. And Extra Anejo, which retails in the high-$90s, took bronze. Both varieties are sold in the standard 750 mililiter bottles. Distillers from 57 countries competed in various categories.
"I've been getting a lot of phone calls from bigger sellers," said Robles, 39.
Besides Silver and Extra Anejo, the company sells Reposado and 1-year aged Anejo. In Mexico, the tequilas are sold under the Con Alma de Mujer brand and the Silver variety is labeled Blanco.
Tequila Don Elias is named for Robles' late father. The family has been in the tequila business since Robles' grandfather ran a pair of factories in Zacatecas, Mexico, about 50 years ago.
Today, the tequila is bottled and aged in El Arenal, Jalisco, Mexico. Locally his Happy Boy Distributor ships to five Central California counties out of the company's Firestone Business Park facility. He has one full-time and two part-time employees here.
Robles, who's lived in Salinas for about 20 years while continuing to do business in Mexico, has only been selling tequila in California since September. He also runs Robles Trucking Quality Service.
"Sales were flat," he said. "That's why we decided to do better quality and bring it over here. Unfortunately in Mexico we're competing against 80 factories. Everybody wants to be in this market. And I live here."
Extra Anejo is the highest-priced of the tequilas because it's aged three years in oak barrels. Tequila is distilled from the blue agave cactus in Mexico.