Move over, Tequila and Mezcal

100% Agave Spirits Made in India

Back in 2014, I wrote a number of articles about Desmond Nazareth and his Agave India products, as well as how agave made its way to India. (See articles here and here.) Recently, I learned that Desmond has joined forces with Martin Grassl, the founder of Porfidio tequila.

Here is how their joint venture is described on Old Town Liquor’s website.

The joint venture was created out of the mutual respect of two entrepreneurs of disparate backgrounds but with similar creative minds. They shared a profound admiration for a botanical wonder, the “tree of marvels” as the Spanish Conquistadors called the agave when they encountered it in Mexico.

The product is called SINGLE AGAVE® 100% AGAVE AMERICANA EDITION (Code Name: S3xA). It’s not made in Mexico but in southern India— the Deccan Plateau, a geographical area where the agaves grow. As the story goes… the agave was transplanted from Mexico to India by Queen Victoria for fencing off the railways of the Raj to stop Holy Cows from being crushed by trains. The Agave Americana is the producer’s way of celebrating that 100-year-old event by distilling the wild plants.

I spoke with Desmond Nazareth or DesmondJi, as his brand is called, and here are excerpts from the interview.

BB: How did your relationship with Martin Grassl and Porfidio come about? How did you and he meet?

DN: The relationship was born out of respect for each other’s achievements and each other’s product quality. Martin noticed articles about Indian agave spirits appearing around 2012 in the Mexican press and contacted me.

It was both Martin’s and my opinion that agave spirits— be it tequila, mezcal or other— are unique precisely because of the botanical uniqueness of the agave plant (“the inulin factor”), the true and only star of the equation, not because they are Mexican-made.

The idea, of course, is not new, as it simply mimics what Baron Rothschild did for the world of wines 50 years ago by creating the first non-French wines in Chile and Napa.  It was revolutionary idea at the time.

Both Martin and I strongly feel that Indian agave spirits, made in our craft distillery (India’s first), should be viewed in the same league as Mexican agave spirits like mezcal, by nature of being made from naturally grown and foraged agave plants, as opposed to plantation-grown agave plants. The fact that my products are made from 100% Agave Americana, rather than 100% Blue Agave, takes our premium products intentionally beyond tequila, along the lines of Mexico’s finest mezcals.

BB: This is a special edition product, how is it different from your other Agave brands?

DN: It differs in terms of product formulation from our other agave spirits products. Certain adjustments were made to the hydrolysis, fermentation and distillation process to create a product which is more attuned towards international taste profile preferences, rather than India’s domestic preferences. For this first special edition, a traditional process of heat hydrolysis has been used, the oven cooking method.

BB: Can you discuss the nature of the business relationship between the two companies?

DN: Single-Agave 100% Agave Americana is a joint venture product between DesmondJi and Porfidio. It forms part of Martin Grassl’s brainchild “world series” of non-Mexican made agave spirits, such as agave spirits made from Agave Cocuy (Venezuela), Agave Australis (Australia) and Agave Karoo (Africa). Agave spirits can be made wherever agave is grown, same as high quality wine can be made wherever appropriate grapes are grown. France certainly never liked the idea of the coming into existence of wines from Napa Valley, Barossa Valley and Mendoza, I guess it could not be helped, as it is the natural progression of things.

Agave India is essentially the ‘field-to-bottle’ producer of Indian craft spirits and Porfidio is a premium global co-branding and marketing partner We jointly decide what is an appropriate craft offering for the global market.

BB: Where do you see this joint venture going in the future?

The idea is to expand quickly into super-premium barrel aged expressions Indian Agave spirits, similar to Mexican Reposados and Añejos.  Ours is a step-by-step approach, with the Blanco-style expression simply a starting point.

BB: Tell us more about the story behind the idea— “the agave was transplanted from Mexico to India by Queen Victoria for fencing off the railways of the Raj to stop Holy Cows from being crushed by trains.”

DN: There are two happenstances which brought about the existence of Indian agave spirits. For one, the general nature of the so-called Colombian Exchange, by which the agave, among many other plants and animals, “went international.” In addition, the Agave Americana arrived in India as a cost-effective means of fencing off the British rails to protect its trains from killing or maiming animals.

While the British probably single-mindedly aimed at protecting their financial assets— their trains—the concept of this fencing idea was equally a culturally-sensitive decision by the British Crown in protecting India’s free-roaming Holy Cows, one of our spiritual and cultural assets.

So, the “agave solution” was embraced by the colonizers and the colonized, as benefiting both. Neither “them” nor “us” grasped the true dimension of this pivotal fencing decision as the Mesoamerica-sourced Agave Americana proliferated beyond anyone’s wildest expectations on Southern India’s fertile soils, the Deccan Plateau Highlands. Why the Empire chose the Agave Americana towards such purpose—used in Mexico to produce some of the finest Mezcal—rather than any other variety, is a mystery still to be fully uncovered by botanical historians. Whatever the reason for the choice, it unquestionably benefited us.

BB: Other than in the US are there other countries where you’re working together?

DN: The US is the world’s biggest market for agave spirits. So, we thought it a good idea to do the initial special edition product launch in the US. Our next target market is Japan and China, based on Porfidio’s existing distribution platforms in these countries.

Thank you, Desmond.

Indian Agave Americana
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Well Hung Vineyard

Making a Dream Come True

Late last year a man by the name of Peter Marlin contacted me (not his real name for reasons I’ll explain in a moment). He told me he had read and enjoyed my book—already I like him a lot—and wanted my help in marketing a wine brand called Well Hung Vineyard. Now he really had my attention.

Peter has a full-time job as a business advisor, doing quite nicely, but his dream was always to go into the wine business. So, he bought a brand in Virginia, kept it under the radar, and set out to develop it until such time as he was ready to go at it full time.

It didn’t take very long for him to realize that part-time is no time to build a brand in the booze business.

How the Name Came About

As the story goes… There were three women in Virginia, all close friends, and they loved their late afternoon wine sessions. One of them owned a small farm that was just perfect for cultivating grapes and, over time, the vineyard grew and flourished.

One day, as the three ladies were touring this 2-acre vineyard, one of them grabbed hold of a cluster of grapes, laughed, and remarked, “girls, these grapes sure are well hung.” They had a good laugh. But, after a second or two, they looked at each other and had a eureka moment. A visit to a trademark attorney followed and a brand was born.

These grapes were made into wine at a local winery and sold each weekend at farmer’s markets, wine festivals, small retail outlets, and other venues around the state.

Over time, things began to change. One left for personal reasons and the others grew weary of running all over the state each weekend. It was time for them to move on. What began as a hobby—you might say a labor of love—was becoming difficult to manage.

So, reluctantly they began to investigate a sale of the small vineyard and, especially, the brand name.

Peter and His Dream

Eventually, through a friend of a friend—you know how that goes—Peter heard of the opportunity and negotiations began, were discontinued and back on again—you certainly know how that also goes. Finally, he bought the brand.

Peter, like most entrepreneurs, saw an opportunity for this brand to be bigger than it was and perhaps with a national footprint. His strategy was to continue to sell the wine locally, but also bought wine from producers and marketed them under the Well Hung Vineyard label.

From the website:

Founded in 2008 by three women who recognized the value of a good joke and a great glass of wine, Well Hung® Vineyard has a proud heritage and a bright future. Today, Well Hung® Vineyard is all about growth. Working with winegrowers across the country, we are able to source the best fruit to go into our up and coming wines.

An unexpected dividend cropped up. It turns out that the women who created the brand were savvy enough to also register the brand for clothing, nuts, and other items. And, these were and still are selling well.

Where do I Come in?

The call with Peter was candid. He saw great opportunities for his brand (and dream) but faced many obstacles—not least of which was the time and effort to build a brand and get the best wine available. In addition, despite the “I got to try this wine” attitude of consumers, finding distributors was more than just a challenge (see the previous article on LibDib), it was a major obstacle.

Peter wanted to enlist my aid in making his dream come true. As we talked a few things occurred to me.

First, in a cluttered wine market, name and packaging can cut through and quickly gain awareness in stores and on menus. In a world of Barefoot, Cupcake, Layer Cake, Little Black Dress, we also have provocative labels like Bitch, Fat Bastard, Old Fart, and more. The idea is to buy the first time because of the name/label and buy again because of the wine itself. Of the one billion wine gallons sold in the US, most are sold to non-maven and non-aficionado consumers who enjoy wine, the experience, and, yes, the label.

Come on… compared to the lame names cited above, you have to admit that “Well Hung” is amusing, a double entendre, a play on words, and a fun way to offer someone a glass of wine. A smile and a conversation are bound to follow.

Second, while I liked the idea of helping, this was more than I could handle in my consulting practice, even if I knew more than I do about the wine business. So, I needed a partner.

Enter Rob Warren

Rob and I knew each other well at Seagram and also worked together when he was with Diageo and I was an advisor to Jose Cuervo International, which they distributed at the time. We think alike and have lots of mutual respect. Besides, he has a great sense of humor and in between moments of marketing and brand building excellence, we laugh a lot.

It didn’t take Rob and I long to figure out that without money, resources, and the need for much time, building a wine business was more than just an uphill battle. Think Mount Everest. And so, the idea of licensing the name, Well Hung Vineyard, came readily to mind.

Peter was already selling wine from winegrowers around the country and it’s not a big leap to enter into a business arrangement with a company who initially can produce a red, white, and others. Eventually, varietals and vintage could be added to the mix. In the right hands and with the right wines, this brand could be a winner.

The clothing and other items under the WHV brand would only add to the allure.


That’s where things stand at the moment—a search for a business partner interested in licensing the name. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know how things develop.

Oh, by the way, Peter also owns the trademark that should help with an Australian wine producer. It’s called Well Hung Down Under.

Disclaimer: While Rob is calling the shots, and taking the lead, I’m along for the ride. Hey, who says I can’t also have a dream or two?

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Liberating the Alcohol Distribution System

LibDib—The Web-Based Distribution Platform

The actual name of the company setting out to address the booze business wholesaler problems is Liberation Distribution (known as LibDib). The Founder/CEO is Cheryl Durzy and I spoke to her at length recently and, let me tell you, her business model could very well be a game changer in how beer, wine, and spirits come to market.

Cheryl has close to 20 years’ experience in the wine industry, managing wholesalers of all sizes, and learned firsthand what a nightmare it is for a small company to get to the shelves of restaurants, bars, and stores. She set out to fix the problem.

I’m very impressed with her web-based platform and think it’s a major positive development for producers (she calls them Makers) and restaurants, bars, and retail shops (RB&R). As Cheryl puts it, “Our goal is to make it easier for small businesses (Makers) to do business with other small businesses (RB&R).

But, as you’re about to learn, it’s much more than that. It’s a boon to the producers, the retailers, the consumer, and, even the current wholesalers.

The Problem

First, the background, as I’m sure nearly all of you know.

The three-tier system of alcohol distribution was set up after Prohibition and consists of producers, distributors, and retailers. Producers can only sell to wholesale distributors who, in turn, can only sell to retailers who sell to consumers.

The system favors wholesalers, especially in view of the consolidation of this tier—which has reduced the number significantly and increased their size. At the same time, it favors the large producers, who have the clout to get attention. Both work closely together for obvious mutual benefit. As I’ve written many times before, “follow the money.” The produce-wholesaler business model is based on volume; the distributor sales rep compensation is based on volume as well. If you were a sales person for a large distributor, which would you focus on—a 3 bottle placement of a craft product or a hand truck of a leading selling brand? Let’s be fair; they are in business to make money,

As a result, small and mid-sized wine, beer, and spirits producers have limited distribution and face many obstacles. Often the large distributors will turn them down or worse, take them on and not pay attention.

Oh, and don’t forget the small RB&R operator who also suffers from the focus on bigness. I follow many bartenders and managers on Facebook and Twitter and there are complaints aplenty about delayed shipments around holidays and long weekends when they can’t get their craft products their customers want. As one prominent Food and Beverage manager told me, “my customers come here for boutique brands that are not mainstream … and getting a timely delivery around the holidays is a nightmare.”

According to Cheryl:

Efforts to change distribution laws have been ineffective, however the market is ripe for disruption. Just as the hotel and transportation industries were disrupted by technology, the alcohol distribution market now has a technology platform that is shaking things up with a new option for small to mid-sized Makers.

The LibDib Solution

If you look at what the platform offers both producers and accounts, I think it’s very impressive. So much so that I have suggested to a number of startup clients of mine that they give this serious consideration.

Currently, LibDib is operating in CA and NY (with more markets on the way) and here’s how it works for producers:

  • A producer enters their information and license online.
  • Product is stored at a producer’s location including their production facility, personal warehouse or third party warehouse, depending on the producer’s choice.
  • It’s delivered by a common carrier, also based on producer’s choice.
  • The charge/fee from LibDib is 15% – 20%, less than what other distributors and wholesalers currently charge.
  • There are no bill backs, no aging inventory, and no buying back product.
  • Producers are free to leave LibDib at will; they will not enforce Franchise Laws. This makes them effective as an “incubator.”
  • They handle the billing, collection, and reporting, which makes them a virtual back office.
  • A producer can invite any account to purchase their product by sending them a link to the LibDib site. (See this video.)
  • And, LibDib is developing a team of platform sales people whose role will be to recruit bars, restaurants and retail stores. These folks can ultimately become brokers and sales people for the brands.

The accounts benefit by being able to buy what they want and when they want it. There are no minimums. There is no middleman, since the accounts can communicate directly with producers through the LibDib platform. Sales materials and POS are current and easily downloadable. Best of all, in my view, an account can provide the experience of unique, local and limited available products, with no hassle.

As a consumer, I’m perfectly happy buying Buffalo Trace or Bulleit Bourbon, but often I want a Koval or Dad’s Hat whiskey and can’t get it. It would be nice to suggest to my retailer or favorite drinking hole, that it’s pretty simple for them to stock less mainstream brands.

Other Potential Winners

When I was at Seagram, new products, no matter the potential, were an annoyance. It meant deflection of assets—people, money, and other resources—that could be applied to mainstream brand growth and, making the annual sales plan. That problem still exists, although companies like Diageo and Pernod Ricard have established venture groups to facilitate traction from a new brand or idea. But, at the same time, wholesalers still have to deflect their resources to address a fledgling brand’s needs. Oh sure, there are dedicated craft and startup resources at the distributor level but not all are equally effective at building brands.

It seems to me that LibDib, with its incubator capability, just might be the answer for the big boys. I know that if I were still at Seagram, I’d definitely give it a shot.

Finally, wholesalers themselves can benefit from LibDib. It’s a way to test market a new product before taking it on. It can augment and amplify the efforts of craft divisions and personnel. And, it can lift the negative feelings and imagery surrounding how and why large wholesalers overlook small, startup brands.

Like I said, LibDib has the potential to be a real game changer.

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