Petit Bourgeois Pandemic Blues

This blog post was supposed to be the first in a series about the limitations of the mezcal, raicilla and tequila Denominations of Origin. However, that just doesn’t seem very important right now.

Obviously, almost none of us expected to be where we are today, one month ago. The world – all our worlds- have changed drastically and probably for quite some time. Those in the hospitality and travel industries are feeling some of the earliest and most intense short-term economic effects. The layoffs and business closures plaguing our sector will likely become widespread very soon. I say all this to make it clear that, in describing my current reality, I’m neither seeking pity nor thinking I have it as bad as most of my peers right now, to say nothing of those who are actually ill and dying.

Experience Agave and La Cata

All of Experience Agave‘s tours – single day, four-day, custom, Jalisco and Oaxaca – have been cancelled for the remainder of this season. While that’s a tough blow for us to absorb, it worries me less than what is to come this fall. We typically make it through the summer lull on deposits for tours in the fall and winter. I am fairly certain we won’t be seeing any reservations for months, if at all this year.

The social development project with maestro tequilero Alfredo Ríos Landeros is necessarily on hold. I am in self-quarantine in Mexico City, without a clear idea of when it will be safe to return to Tequila. Most of the people who had pledged financial support for the project or now either laid off, trying to salvage a small business in dire straits, or have watched their retirement savings lose a third of its value overnight.

On Monday, March 16, we made the decision to voluntarily shutter La Cata Tasting Room for an indefinite period of time. Two days later, both the State of Jalisco and Municipality of Tequila made such a move mandatory. Currently, we are doing everything possible to continue making (reduced) payroll and maintain our employees’ health insurance during the public health crisis. The future of our bar is uncertain, like so much else.

The bigger picture in Mexico

In general, Mexico is wildly unprepared for the coming public health crisis that COVID-19 will bring. Reasonable people will agree that the Trump administration’s preparedness and response have both been disappointing, to say the very least. Sadly, Mexican president Andrés López Manuel Obrador is giving Trump a run for his money in this department.

AMLO has repeatedly downplayed the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in Mexico, and while public health experts were already calling for social distancing, he continued to hold mass events, kiss and hug supporters, and very pointedly refuse to use hand sanitizer. Aside from a month-long shut down of schools beginning tomorrow, there has been practically no action taken at the federal level.

Temperature screening upon arrival in Tequila, Jalisco.

The state of Jalisco, in contrast, is taking the issue very seriously and exercising decisive leadership. This may be in part due to the fact that members of its high society (including José Cuervo heir Juan Domingo Beckmann) contracted the virus in Vail, Colorado. In any case, bars, clubs and casinos have been closed, and restaurants are operating at reduced capacity. We are currently in the midst of a recommended five-day self-quarantine period designed to slow the virus’ spread.

COVID-19 Checkpoint in Tequila, Jalisco.

Political and business leaders in the town of Tequila are also taking the threat seriously. Bars and local tour operators have been asked to close, and the Red Cross has set up checkpoints on the main roads into town. Visitors are being screened for symptoms, especially high temperatures. It will be illuminating to see if Jalisco fares much better than the rest of Mexico in the coming months.

Because what’s coming for Mexico is grim. Mexico City, as of yesterday, seems to be carrying on largely per normal. And Mexico has half as many ICU beds per capita as Italy.

If there’s any silver lining to any of this, it’s that millions of people may be re-awaked to the reality that we are social animals and that we are ultimately only as healthy and well-off as the most vulnerable among us. There are tough times ahead throughout the world. Please stay safe, be healthy, and don’t forget to look for opportunities to help out in your community.

On a much lighter note, I am also considering ways to stay engaged while I have little “real work” to do, but have not yet gone totally broke. I have a huge backlog of notes, photos, and actual spirits. What would be interesting to people? Some kind of video blog? Something interactive? Tastings? Virtual tours of distilleries? Let me know in the comments or via email.