Archive for the ‘Interview’ Category

Cinco de Mayo with Tequila Sommelier, Courtenay Greenleaf

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner! The holiday commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Although it’s a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, in the United States Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. Tequila is one of the many items associated with Mexico and Cinco de Mayo. To get our readers in the mood to celebrate, I spoke with Richard Sandoval’s Tequila Sommelier, Courtenay Greenleaf about her job, her recent trip to Dubai and what she likes about traveling.

 1. What is a Tequila Sommelier and what does your job entail?

The job is very similar to a wine sommelier. I’m a tequila expert. Knowing the production of tequila, the states as to where it can be harvested and cultivated (all from Mexico and from one of the following states Tamaulipas, Nayarit, Michoacan and Guanajuato.) It also must come from the Agave plant, which is not a cactus; it is in fact from the lily family. Tequila MUST come from the Blue Weber Agave only. It is much like champagne. There is a Denomination of Origin. Then, learning how the different regions have different soil and learning how that can impart flavor to the agave. After you know the steps of the production you can start to understand how production makes a difference in the flavor. Factors that need to be taken into consideration are:

  • How long do they let the agave grow? 
    Trumpet player in Mariachi band
  • How do they cook the pinas (stone hornos or stainless steel autoclave?)
  • What is the juice extraction method (a stone tahona or a mechanical shredder?)
  • What’s the fermentation process?
  • Is it open vat fermentation or do they apply proprietary yeast?
  • Do they use copper still or stainless steel during the distillation process? I
  • t MUST be distilled twice by law, but is distilled three or four times?
  • Do they do an additional filtration process?
  • Next, while aging the tequila – what type of barrels do they use? A new oak (American, Canadian, French, etc.?)
  • Or is it in a used spirit barrel? Bourbon, wine or cognac? Do they toast of char the barrel?

These are questions I ask when I am learning about a tequila. They are all determining factors of how the tequila will differ and I expect to retain all of this knowledge when I taste something new.

2. How did you become trained to be a tequila sommelier?

Well, I was self-taught, but my introduction came while working as a bartender/mixologist. I would ask the reps and owners questions and would of course taste it along the way. There are also several certifications you can obtain; one is through the CRT (Tequila Regulatory Council).

3. You were recently in Dubai where tequila is a novelty; please tell us about that experience.

Yes, I was. It was very interesting. Dubai is a very lavish place. Everything in Dubai has a flare or exciting ‘wow’ factor. We built a tequila tasting room. Dubai had at most five brands or labels of tequila but now we are working on importing other labels and we have about 16 different labels. The guests were astounded by the different nuances that can exist in this spirit. People are realizing that it can be sipped just like a fine scotch or cognac, not just as a shot. And when you are drinking 100% Blue Agave it makes a world of difference in the taste of the refined spirit!

4. Dubai sounds awesome! Where else do you travel with your job and how often?

Dubai Mall next to Burj Khalifa , biggest shopping mall in the world with more than 1200 shops, Dubai, UAE. Image shot 2012. Exact date unknown.I travel to San Diego for the Spirits of Mexico festival and also Washington D.C. and Denver. I travel several times a year.

5. What’s your favorite part about visiting a new country?

I love learning about the culture and their cuisine and spirits. I love feeling how the air is different and smells different… how towns and cities are built and have their own heart beat. I also love traveling by myself as it is an entirely different experience.

6. What’s your most memorable travel experience?

Travel India. I spent 3 months in India. I spend some time in Tamel Nadu working at a school house and orphanage and then backpacked around southern India. It was amazing to literally live out of my backpack. Your world becomes so simple and rich!

Thanks so much to Courtenay Greenleaf for taking time to talk with us about her experience with travel, Cinco de Mayo and tequila!



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