Meet Your Merchant: Doña Vega Mezcal
Snowmass resident wants to make tequila’s smokier cousin more approachable
Ask someone who tried mezcal once years ago what they think of tequila’s smokier cousin and you might get an anecdote about the worm (er, moth larvae) that floats in some bottles, or the almost “gasoliney” taste that comes with some varietals, according to Sonya Vega Auvray.
“I’ve had so many people doing tastings where they’ll walk up and they’re not interested being they tried it and had a really bad experience — not of drinking too much but … it’s harsh,” said the Snowmass-based founder and owner of Doña Vega Mezcal.
Vega Auvray wants to change that perception with her mezcal, which started as a “passion project” just over three years ago.
Locals may recognize the name — or the flavors — from tastings at the Snowmass Wine Festival in September or pairings highlighted during Anderson Ranch’s “Dinner and A Movie” in October; bottles also are available at Sundance Liquor and Gifts.
Vega Auvray started distributing Doña Vega with her own favorite spots in mind but now has her eyes on expansion, with bottles in seven states and counting.
“First, first it was places I went to on a regular basis, local places I chose that (were) just my go-to. … Now, gearing up for January, I’m trying to make connections to larger groups,” she said.
“The idea was to offer something that was approachable in the fact that it was not as much of a burn and also be a little less smoky in a positive way, because yes, it’s smoky, but tequila does not have to be 100% smoky if you don’t want to make it that way,” she said.
She launched Doña Vega when Snowmass Village was just a place her family came to visit on trips from New York; Vega Auvray has spent most of her career in marketing and public relations and channeled that background while developing Doña Vega.
But the mezcal business has become its own full-blown enterprise — one that will now have business operations entirely based in Snowmass Village (with an exception for production, which takes place in Mexico where the agave is grown), where Vega Auvray and her family have lived full-time since the spring of 2020.
The family closed on a place in February 2020 with part-time intentions and had planned to fly back to New York in mid-March when travel ground to a halt. The pandemic may have played a role in sticking around that first month, Vega Auvray said, but she doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon.
“We had our tickets for March 12, and we never left. We moved into our place here, we’re closing up New York as we speak and officially are going to transfer everything out here,” she said. “Because we knew it — we love it.”
So why mezcal rather than tequila? Like just about everything else these days, it has to do with supply and demand, Vega Auvray said.
It seems like tequila companies are cropping up left and right — Auvray noticed as much when she was serving samples at this year’s Food and Wine festival — but to call an agave-based liquor tequila, it has to come from blue agave grown in certain regions of Mexico, and there’s only so much of that blue agave available to satisfy the demands of a growing number of labels.
Mezcal isn’t subject to the same restrictions; it’s a bit like the dynamic between Champagne and sparkling wine.
Doña Vega produces two varieties of mezcal: espadîn, aimed at a more approachable price point and flavor for those just dipping their toes in the water (er, liquor), and tobalá, which is catered toward seasoned mezcal drinkers. Both are produced at a farm in Santiago Matatlán, a small town outside of Oaxaca, that’s home to a family of fifth-generation mezcal makers. Vega Auvray appreciates that history — and appreciates the direction mezcal is going now.
“I simply fell in love with the culture and the people, our producers,” she said. “It’s funny because I’ve been going to (Mexico) for, I guess, three to four years now, and each time, … it’s growing.”
“It’s really quite cool,” she added.