Julia Sherman: When did you start Yola mezcal? how did you find your partners, and what does that collaboration look like?
Yola Jiminez: We started the brand three years ago but our friendship began long before that. I met my two partners Gina and Lykke a decade ago in Mexico City at different times when I was starting to work on my farm and mezcal. They were friends and lived together in LA. They encouraged me from the beginning and they both became mezcal ambassadors. I would go visit them often and we made dinners that Gina cooked and where Lykke would sing, and I would bring mezcal.
JS: Why mezcal?
YJ: My grandfather was born in an old mezcal—making town in the mountains of Oaxaca and had a deep love for the drink all his life. He bought a farm in the late sixties in San Juan del Rio and began producing mezcal himself with a mezcalero whose family had been making it for generations. I grew up going to the farm.
JS: At what point did you get involved?
YJ: When my grandfather died, I wanted to keep the tradition alive. I inherited part of the farm and began working on it eleven years ago. It took a long time to make the palenque and the mezcal production sustainable. But now we are able to make Yola by-hand, self sufficiently. We plant all our own agave, and using only natural practices.
JS: So as three women owners, did the focus on women just come about naturally?
YJ: Yes, we wanted to preserve traditional mezcal, and be able to support the women in Oaxaca who I was already working with. We wanted to see a spirit brand that addressed sophisticated women, and that cared about the process, history and craft of products. We wanted to show that you can have a meaningful experience from something that isn’t usually considered wholesome, like alcohol.
JS: Yours is a women-run mezcal brand, but are all your employees women as well? Is that very unusual?
YJ: The great majority of our employees are women. I made this a priority after I visited different mezcal making towns in Oaxaca and saw that entire families work in the production, but only the men were paid for their work. I wanted to change this. We pay the women who work for us directly. They determine their own hours and which aspect of the process they want to work on. I also met very talented female producers and mezcaleros. We wanted to showcase them, and hopefully create more jobs for women in a region where there aren’t many prospects. Now we have an all-female bottling facility, management and sales force. It is still very unusual to have a female-run company in Mexico, especially in spirits. But I see more and more women in managing positions in mezcal and it is very exciting.
JS: Have you faced any challenges in working this way?
YJ: There haven’t been any challenges from it really, it has been a wonderful and inspiring experience to work with women.
JS: Tell me a little bit about the guest house you are working on. Has this always been a dream of yours?
YJ: No it’s a new dream that was born from finding this beautiful house and wanting to share it with other people. It’s exactly how I felt about mezcal.