Minimal chemical herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers are used in Ocho's fields. All of the agaves used for Ocho’s production are owned by the Camarena family, which means they have complete control over how the plants and soil are treated. Crops are rotated in order to ensure that the soil remains healthy (and does not get depleted of nutrients): generally this involves 8-10 years of one full growth cycle of agave and then 2-3 crop rotations of other plants like corn.
The vinaza (leftovers from distillation) and the leftover fibers from milling are used for producing compost to be sent back to the fields (some of the vinazas are also used to help break down the fibers). We run a business that has integrity and respect as its core values. Both of these attributes are relevant when discussing sustainability.
We have respect to ourselves (to create tequila that we are proud of and that we believe in), to our consumers (we take it as our responsibility to create the highest possible quality tequila, without cutting corners or adding any additives, besides blue agave, water and natural yeast -- something that is safe to drink and of course tastes great), to the members of our team ('social sustainability' - i.e. making sure that all the employees of the distillery are well care for), and of course respect for the raw material - the agave.
This last point goes back to minimal chemical pesticides or herbicides used and the long-term sustainability initiatives we are undertaking (Bat Friendly Program).
From generation to generation the workers of La Alteña have learned the Jima (harvest), the Distillation process and mostly all that we do.
When we say that this is a “Family Company” we don’t refer to the fact that the owners are family, we refer to all the families that have been working for us during generations. A lot of people that work nowadays at La Alteña, their fathers worked here before with Don Felipe Camarena 20 or 40 years ago, and their grandparents before with Felipe Camarena Hernández 60 or 70 years before. It is really nice to feel that we have all these people’s support through all this years.
“Take care of my old people”, used to say Don Felipe Camarena. He always keep saying to his son Carlos Camarena, “…because they have been working for us for the last 40 or 50 years, they deserve the right to be here and get paid.” Lets keep them feeling useful, this is a way to pay back to the people all they have been doing for us this long time.
Bat Friendly Program
Long-term sustainability of the Blue Agave species: This is somewhat of a 'hot topic' at the moment for those in the tequila community. Because the blue agave used for tequila production is essentially a monoculture (each plant is almost completely genetically identical), each plant is resilient to all the same things, but also potentially susceptible to all the same diseases/pests/etc.
The goal with the Bat Friendly Program is to try to reintroduce genetic diversity into the blue agave by letting the quiote grow and flower. As the flowers open during the night time, the idea is that bats (being nocturnal) will help cross-pollinate the plants, and thus help naturally reintroduce genetic diversity in the Blue Agave species. This project may take 50 years or more to see results and also means a great deal of lost profits due to the fact that when agaves’ quiotes are allowed to grow, these agaves can not be used for tequila production.
The long-term sustainability of the blue agave as a species is a significant potential issue to those in the tequila community. Carlos is one of two tequila producers committed to reintroducing genetic diversity in the species, in order to help hedge against the potential risk of the entire species being put at risk by one single disease.
A bit more on this program:
The "Bat Friendly" agave program was created with the aim of sustaining and enhancing the population and migratory patterns of our agave pollinating friends. Bats feed on the agave's quiote, or flower, and pollinate over 180 species of agave and several other plants throughout Mexico. Tequila producers typically prevent the agave from going to flower, as once the quiote grows, the plant is no longer of use for Tequila production.
Bat Friendly Tequila Producers have agreed to let at least 5% of their agave's flower, allowing the bats to feed on the quiote and do their magic. La Alteña, where Ocho is produced, is one of the first two distilleries to participate in the Bat Friendly Program, and hope to be a catalyst for more producers to take notice and help to sustain Mexico's agave crop for generations to come.
In short, this all comes down to respect for the agave, reverence for the land, and an initiative to protect the future of tequila.