October 4, 2012

Eric Shepperd

The Rise Of Scottsdale's Award-Winning CRUZ Tequila

When I was asked to write this story, the only thing I knew about tequila was a great deal is consumed each Cinco de Mayo. My education on this subject started when I was introduced to Todd Nelson, vice president of CRUZ Tequila.

Founded just seven years ago, CRUZ Tequila quickly became a classic drink, and word is spreading about this award-winning spirit. Haven’t heard of CRUZ?

L to R: Pep Katcher, Todd Nelson and Saulo Katcher of CRUZ TequilaHeadquartered in Scottsdale, CRUZ Tequila’s three principals, Nelson and brothers Pep and Saulo Katcher, have known one another since their college days at Arizona State University. Several years ago, the trio was swapping stories, and during that discussion, the Katcher brothers mentioned they grew up in the Mexican Highlands around Jalisco, Mexico and often played around the manufacturing plants in the Los Altos Highlands region. Upon returning from a recent visit, one of the brothers brought back a bottle of tequila that was being enjoyed by the trio, and someone stated, “We can make better tequila than this.”  Saulo left the discussion, called contacts in Mexico and inquired what it would take for them to make their own tequila. The year was 2005.

Three months after that call, the three flew down to Mexico and started researching the requirements for manufacturing their own tequila label. Armed with little knowledge, they set out to learn the basics. One thing they did know: they were after a unique product that was soft and very smooth with a distinctive flavor profile. It took more than three years working with their partners in Mexico to create the flavor profile they were seeking.

For the novice, tequila can come in many flavor profiles — even from the same manufacturing plant. The path to finding the desired product included finding the right agave plant region, how the plant is prepared, how the juices are extracted and how all of these processes go into creating the flavor profile. When asked about the CRUZ Tequila’s recipe, Todd noted it is proprietary and only a few selected individuals know the ingredients and process.

The first bottles of CRUZ Tequila were delivered in the spring of 2008. With the first batch of 650 bottles ready, the company selected Republic National (now Market Company of Arizona)  to distribute the product to the Arizona market. This process is supported by a three-tier system: manufacturer, importer and distributor. Today, CRUZ is distributed in Arizona, Texas, Illinois, West Virginia, Utah and Idaho with international distribution in Alberta, Canada. Indeed, CRUZ has come a great distance from the first 650 bottles delivered in 2008.

It can be a challenge working across international borders, but with family relationships extending to growers and manufactures in Mexico, a special, professional bond exists and frequent trips by the partners to the fields and manufacturing plants strengthen these relationships. This does not mean the process is easy as there still remain stringent regulations that CRUZ Tequila must follow to keep the product flowing; Mexico strictly enforces these regulations for all their international partners. Mexican laws state tequila can be produced only in specific regions of Mexico. Further, Mexico has claimed the exclusive international right to the word “tequila.” This process is closely regulated by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT) governing authority that monitors all growing, manufacturing and the distributing processes.

So why has CRUZ Tequila been so successful? Nelson thinks their attention to detail and being fanatics about product quality brought CRUZ to the top. This includes the selection of the agave farmers, monitoring the growing process through components of the cooking phase, through fermentation, storage, aging and final approval of the product when market-ready. These efforts have given CRUZ a very soft, smooth and elegant flavor profile that distinguishes its label.

Additionally, the packaging of the product is unique. CRUZ Tequila bottles are made from eco-friendly materials; the glass for each hand-blown bottle is recycled, and the metal caps on the cross (label) are made from recycled material. When you see a CRUZ Tequila bottle, you will appreciate its iconic look.  This distinctive packaging is further supported by the award presented to CRUZ at the 2008 San Francisco International Spirits Competition for Packaging. This is one award among 14 awarded to CRUZ since its founding in 2005.

Today, CRUZ Tequila employs dozens of workers in Mexico. In the United States, they are represented by regional ambassadors and this is further supported by a sales team who form partnerships with the distributors. These units are all supported and guided by the core management team, including the three principals.

To add to CRUZ Tequila’s success, in July, the Trinchero Family Estates (TFE), the Napa Valley-based, leading family-owned wine company known for its distinct wine brands such as Trinchero Napa Valley, Ménage à Trois, Napa Cellars and Sutter Home, added CRUZ Tequila to its portfolio. With the addition of spirits to TFE’s impressive wine portfolio, a new division, TNS Brands, has been created to include dedicated spirits sales and marketing resources. And this month, it was announced CRUZ will be adding Añejo
to the already successful and award-winning Silver and Reposado labels in November 2012.

When I think about CRUZ Tequila’s changes, an old proverb comes to mind that seems to fit this story’s ending. It simply states, “Change is the only constant” —  and so it is.

Want to know more about CRUZ Tequila or Trinchero Family Estates? Visit CRUZTequila.com or tfewines.com, respectively.