The Sisters Creating Spirits Honoring 400 Years Of Mexican Heritage
While growing up in Washington State’s Yakima Valley, Rosalinda and Elizabeth Mendoza held dear to them the values their immigrant parents and grandparents taught them about farm work. The sisters witnessed these lessons first-hand by visiting rural Michoacán, Mexico, and seeing the diligence required by people who worked the land.
This instilled within the sisters a great appreciation for what it takes to cultivate a meal or drink and led to a years-long journey creating Mocel. Their company, Mocel, leverages simple ingredients to make clean spirits celebrating the rich legacy of Mexican mezcal. The Mendozas share more on launching their company, how they are honoring 400 years of Michoacán families’ heritage, and tips they have for fellow entrepreneurs interested in entering the spirits industry.
Embracing 400 Years of Heritage
“My sister and I started bringing bottles of mezcal a number of years ago to events to share with friends and family. We loved that it is something that has brought people together for generations,” says Elizabeth Mendoza. However, the sisters realized that the market had a limited variety of mezcal as most of the mezcal was from Oaxaca, southwestern Mexico, and only leveraged one kind of agave—an ingredient that is integral to the spirit. As the Mendozas became more passionate about bringing something special from their parents’ and grandparents’ birthplace to the United States, they eventually took the plunge and launched Mocel, with the first bottles shipping to customers in early 2022. With the launch, their goal is to share a new facet of Mexico, establishing a mezcal culture in the United States that celebrates 400 years of artisanship and its resonance with Michoacán people today.
“We feel fortunate to work alongside Michoacán families because together we are investing in a rural community where few economic opportunities exist and positioning Michoacán mezcal as a high-end artisanal spirit,” Rosalinda Mendoza shares.
By keeping Michoacán traditions alive and thriving, the Mendoza sisters are helping local families remain connected to the land and to each other. And while supporting a country that is home to their family, they are making strides as women entrepreneurs offering a fresh approach in the spirits industry where less than 5% of all wine and spirits brands are owned by women or people of color. “As Latinas and Millennials in the spirits industry, we aim to illuminate the viewpoint of a consumer that is more diverse and seeks to connect with the products they consume. We also want to share a lesser-known perspective of Mexico, through our lens, telling the story of Michoacán through mezcal,” the Mendozas share.
Simple Ingredients, Rich Differentiator
The Mendoza sisters’ company has been able to preserve the centuries-old tradition of producing mezcal the Michoacán way: by cooking agave in an underground volcanic stone oven, fermenting the agave mash in open-air wooden vats, and distilling it in a wooden still. This production process and the mezcal bottling all take place in Michoacán.
In the Mocel spirits, the Michoacán region’s most distinctive agaves, like the cupreata and inaequidens, are leveraged. Mocel uses two ingredients–100% agave and water–and the distilled mezcal is done in a wooden still that is unique to the Michoacán region in a way that embraces the richness of the agave. “We don’t use additives to speed up the fermentation process. The distillation process is time-honored and time-intensive, resulting in limited, small batches, each with a distinct flavor profile,” the Mendoza sisters share. Mocel’s artisanal mezcals are then bottled into artistic handmade ceramic bottles featuring artwork inspired by textile patterns native to Michoacán. “We wanted all the hard work and beauty of making the mezcal to be reflected in the bottle,” Rosalinda Mendoza explains.
Inspiring Future Spirits Entrepreneurs
When the entrepreneurial sisters initially noticed a gap in the spirits industry and launched Mocel, they recalled asking one another “why not us?” but felt intimidated. “Our grandparents never learned how to read or write and our parents never had the opportunity to attend high school. My sister and I had just forged our way through academia, me in business school and then in a tech career, and Elizabeth in law school and as an attorney. We thought we had built on the success of previous generations,” says Rosalinda Mendoza. But when Elizabeth Mendoza unapologetically began to question the idea, it brought to light for the sisters the importance of telling the story of Michoacán mezcal through Mocel.
“Sometimes when we don’t see ourselves represented in an industry, our knee-jerk reaction is to think ‘somebody should do something about that,’ i.e. not me… But it can be you,” the Mendoza sisters share. They’ve found it important to encourage women and BIPOC communities to take a chance on entrepreneurship as it creates opportunities for new talent, passion, and business ideas to enter the industry.
They share the following tips for those who wish to become entrepreneurs in the spirits industry:
- Know your why: “The spirits industry is competitive and rife with complex rules, so you will need to know your ‘why’ to get through the frustrations and challenges. A question we often get asked is: aren’t you intimidated by big brand ‘ABC’ or celebrity brand ‘XYZ?’ Our answer is unequivocal–no. We are not intimidated because Mocel is an artisanal mezcal rooted in our Michoacán history. And we are building a brand that we are proud to share with others. At the end of the day, we knew we wanted Mocel to showcase this deep sense of connection with our heritage, our community, and our customers. As long as you are proud of your brand and you know why you are entering the spirits field, you will have a head start.”
- Be vocal about what you’re building: “When you let people know that you are entering the spirits industry, family and friends are better able to connect you with other amazing spirit brands and resources. In talking with others in the industry, we have learned so much about what to do and what not to do. Share your excitement and people will gravitate to help you on the journey.”
- Enlist the experts: “When starting out, your immediate inclination may be to do everything yourself, but don’t cut corners when hiring partners who have pieces of the puzzle you don’t – especially legal help! From setting up your company to protecting your intellectual property (e.g. brand name, designs, etc.), working through U.S. liquor laws with legal experts can be instrumental.”
The Mendoza sisters are building a community similar to their mezcal with simple ingredients, an openness to learning, and a nod to history–lessons that through tested practice will play a positive impact well into the future.