How This Woman-Made Mezcal Combines Mexican Tradition and Modernity

Vogue Magazine, the epitome of what’s fashion and lifestyle is, dedicates this astonishing article to Doña Vega Mezcal in their online publication.

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When I first tried mezcal, I’ll admit it was an acquired taste. I’m Mexican, so I like to say (and believe) that tequila runs in my veins. But mezcal has always been the cooler, wiser older sister to my usual go-to. It’s smoky, bold, and imbued with a Mexican history so deep I couldn’t help but to be drawn to it. Since the taste has been acquired, I’ve never looked back.

On the road to Santiago Matatlán, Oaxaca, Mexico, the “World Capital Of Mezcal.” Photographed by Mallika Vora

Made in remote mountain villages around Mexico, mainly in the southwestern area near Oaxaca, mezcal is made in such a hyper-artisanal way that you can all but taste the tradition in every sip. “There’s something magical and spiritual about the way mezcal is made, because it’s under the ground,” Sonya Auvray Vega, founder of Doña Vega Mezcal, says. The agave used to make mezcal can be wild or farmed, takes a minimum of eight years to mature, and varies in taste and aroma depending on where it’s grown. The farm and palenque (mezcal distillery) where Vega sources her brand’s agave, La Curva, produces a liquor that has a light smoke with undertones of fruit and a white pepper—a bit softer than its competitors while still honoring the traditional mezcal bite.

When Vega first stumbled upon La Curva, a female-run farm operated by five generations of the Hernández family in Santiago Matatlán, the “World Capital Of Mezcal,” the goal wasn’t necessarily to find a female-led organization of mezcaleras. “I wasn’t seeking it,” she says about ultimately partnering with Doña Hortensia Hernández Martínez and her two daughters, Lidia Hernández and Nallely Hernández. “But knowing that Hortensia was the matriarch of her family, and that her daughters understood business and deadlines,” they became the obvious choice for a partner.

The Hernández women who run La Curva. From left: Nallely, Doña Hortensia, and Lidia | Photographed by Mallika Vora

La Curva grows different varieties of agave, also referred to as maguey, to make mezcal. For Doña Vega, Vega decided to begin with two expressions. There’s Espadín, which typically matures for an average of six years, though Doña Vega’s is matured for nine years, making it Espadín capón. Then there’s Tobala, a smaller, harder-to-yield variation of maguey which takes up to 12 years to mature, depending on the land. Once harvested, the maguey is cooked in an underground stone furnace heated by fire, oak wood, and volcanic river stones. The baking lasts approximately three days, during which one of the most unique steps in the process takes place.

The maguey fields of Matatlán are nestled in the valley between two ranges of the Sierra Madre. | Photographed by Mallika Vora

“Our producers’ ritual is to add a dash of chili and salt at the time of cooking,” Vega explains. “This is to take away the superstition of an evil eye.” Legend has it that whoever witnesses the agave cook may transmit a curse with their eyes that would have grave consequences. Although La Curva is its official name, the Hernández family likes to call their farm “La Eternidad,” as in eternity. You can certainly thrive forever if your product is curse-proof.

A horse pulls the tahona to pulverize the cooked maguey. | Photographed by Mallika Vora

Vega, a second generation Mexican-American born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, was first exposed to mezcal in 2012 at a close friend’s wedding in Mexico, where an impressive selection of mezcal was served. One sip and she was hooked. But: “I came back to the U.S. and I found a lot of the options to be really harsh and I didn’t like it as much,” she says. It was mezcal’s hit or miss flavor that inspired Vega to create a recipe for a wider audience. “Not modernizing it,” she explains, “but being the bridge” between the old and new. As she began her research, Vega explored her own family heritage. During a visit with her grandfather, Santiago “Tata” Desmond, before he passed away, he shared a formerly unknown anecdote.

Doña Hortensia demonstrates the last step of making mezcal: sanctioning the spirit into a hollow bamboo tube and pouring it from a height into a jícara, or dried gourd cup. | Photographed by Mallika Vora
The resulting “pearls” that linger on the surface of the liquid indicate a mezcal is of superior quality. | Photographed by Mallika Vora

Tata was born in Los Mochis in 1927, and grew up in the small town of Navolato Sinaloa. When he was 14 years old, his uncle passed away and the family moved to El Verde Concordia to be with his aunt. In order to provide for the family, his mother and her sister began a small business where they would go into the city to purchase basic items including sewing kits, soap, hair brushes, and bottles of tequila and mezcal for resale to the small villages. “Both his mom and aunt had a ton of energy [and] he referred to his aunt Victoria as a ‘businesswoman,’” Vega remembers. Even when they traveled for twelve hours in the heat alongside three burros carrying two boxes on each side, he recalls the women being dolled up in pretty dresses. And the most popular spirit ordered for special occasions? Mezcal.

Flowering maguey in the fields of Matatlán. | Photographed by Mallika Vora
Lidia Hernández trims maguey with a machete. | Photographed by Mallika Vora

Upon learning of her family’s connection to mezcal, Vega embarked on two years of trial and error to perfect her modern mezcal flavor. Thanks to her persistence, and the oak and volcanic rock that La Curva uses to cook the agave, Doña Vega Mezcal boasts two varieties of mezcal with a soft smoke to it—the exact taste a wider audience might appreciate. And for anyone concerned about the “authentic” tradition of mezcal being upheld with Vega’s recipe—and her brand’s look—your concern is duly noted, but not that appreciated.

The bar at the Hernández distillery showcases all the varieties of mezcal they produce. | Photographed by Mallika Vora
The final product: Doña Vega Mezcal. | Photographed by Mallika Vora

No stranger to the feeling of having her own culture questioned—something many of us in the Latinx community can relate to—Vega has been told that she, and therefore her mezcal, are not “authentic enough.” But with 17 years of experience in the fashion industry as the founder of Whetherly Group, a fashion PR firm, it’s Vega’s unique approach to building her business that’s ultimately become her biggest asset. “I literally would walk into places and do tastings with beverage directors on the spot,” Vega says. With little-to-no connections in the industry, Vega used the art of the pitch—a publicist’s key to success—to sell her product to food-and-beverage heavyweights. Doña Vega Mezcal won a double gold medal at the 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and is making an impression across the nation.

The women of Doña Vega Mezcal sample a batch. From left, Doña Hortensia Hernández, Sonya Vega, and Lidia Hernández. | Photographed by Mallika Vora

While you might be sipping Doña Vega Mezcal at Casa Mezcal on the Lower East Side, or incorporating it into your pre-dinner drinks rotation wherever you call home, consider where it comes from, and the women who made it happen. “It’s part of the earth,” Vega says. “It’s just very special.” Simply put: venturing into the realm of mezcal may prove to change your perspective on the casual cocktail, as it did for me. As you succumb to the subtle smoke of the spirit, pause for a moment and revel in the fact that you’re not just drinking any old drink—you’re celebrating a beautiful history and culture. “Most people are curious and want to try something new,” Vega reflects. “And that’s all I want—for them to try something new.”

The Hernández family likes to call their farm “La Eternidad,” as in eternity. | Photographed by Mallika Vora
Sonya Vega, founder of Doña Vega mezcal. | Photographed by Mallika Vora
The town of Matatlán. | Photographed by Mallika Vora
The morning market in the town square. | Photographed by Mallika Vora
La Bondadosa, a local bar that serves a large selection of regionally produced mezcal. | Photographed by Mallika Vora
A view of Matatlán. | Photographed by Mallika Vora

Vogue Magazine, the epitome of what’s fashion and lifestyle is, dedicates this astonishing article to Doña Vega Mezcal in their online publication.

View the article on