Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Tequila Tepozán, founded by Las Crucens, launches, honors the culture

LAS CRUCES – Don Carlos Padilla is an agave breeder in San Julian, in the Los Altos region of Jalisco, Mexico. He has been producing artisanal tequila for a local market for more than 25 years. How he met two guys with Las Cruces roots – with the hope of bringing his one-of-a-kind tequila to a wider audience – is quite a story.

Matthew Hechter and Christopher Brandon have been friends since playing football together at Oñate High School in the late 1990s. Their paths crossed again after college in Los Angeles while both pursued careers in the film industry. After starting several successful restaurants, the Friends recently launched Tequila Tepozán, a unique, artisanal tequila now available in four states, including New Mexico, that will hopefully honor rich Mexican culture.

Matthew Hechter (left) and Christopher Brandon (right) share a bottle of Tequila Tepozán in San Julian, Mexico.

Matt and Chris: quick friends in Oñate

Matt and Chris met while high school in Oñate, where they played together on the school’s soccer team. Chris graduated in 1999; Matt graduated a year later in 2000.

Matt was born in Silver City, then moved to Albuquerque before moving to Las Cruces in 10th grade when his mother took a job at White Sands Missile Range. Chris moved to Las Cruces from Louisiana at the age of 9 when his parents accepted a position at New Mexico State University.

The two connected in part through surfing – an unlikely connection for two students in southern New Mexico – Chris said. During their school days, they attended summer surf camps in California together with NMSU basketball player Kelsey Crooks, who died in 2012.

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After graduating from high school, Chris went to Boston University on a track scholarship, where he graduated with a degree in film. Matt went to NMSU with a degree in Marketing and Entrepreneurship.

Landing in LA

By chance, the two friends ended up in Los Angeles around the same time in 2005. They ended up living together and planning for the future. Both had a passion for film. Matt did an internship at New Line Cinema. Chris did an internship at ABC. There they met with some New Mexico-based film entrepreneurs and made a short film about David Parker Ray, Truth or Consequences’ infamous “Toy Box Killer”.

The couple soon became disaffected with the film industry. After working as a bartender and running restaurants in Los Angeles to make ends meet, they had other ideas.

“I think one of the great things is that we grew up at home and we really trusted each other,” said Matt. “And that’s super important in business. I think a lot of our success in getting started and networking can be traced back to our upbringing in New Mexico. “

Both wanted to live in New York City when they were young and moved there in 2009 with a crazy idea.

Hudson Clearwater

Matt and Chris were able to secure financing for a restaurant in the West Village with a few partners. Somehow.

“We moved to New York and didn’t know much about the city or the people,” said Matt. “We partnered with these two brothers, Mark and John Barboni, and opened up Hudson Clearwater, and it’s still going well – it’s probably going better now than ever.”

But it wasn’t easy. The couple had to scrape together every penny they could muster. It was the end of the recession – which, according to Chris, was probably the only reason they were able to rent the space.

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“We moved there with the sole purpose of opening a tequila bar, funny enough,” Chris told Sun News on Thursday. “That quickly led to a new American restaurant – a farm-to-table restaurant, when this whole scene really started and flourished.”

After a lease on an old carriage house from the 1840s, Chris said the partners had a great plan to renovate the facade and redesign the entire interior. But they ran out of money. So all they could do was complete the interior and add an attractive back garden – which gives it a kind of “speakeasy” feel. He quickly gained notoriety in New York City.

“We opened this restaurant in 2010 just before the end of the recession,” said Matt. “That’s really the only reason a landlord allows four young people to rent a building, especially in Manhattan. Half the city was empty then; all of these shop windows were closed and boarded up. I think the landlord said, ‘Fuck it. If I can get even a few months ‘rent plus their deposit from these guys, I’ll be happy.’ “

Martha Stewart was one of the restaurant’s first customers. In fact, Matt said, she enjoyed her first meal so much that she ordered a second – exactly the same – to take away. Another early customer was Joe Jonas of the Jonas Brothers – who would become a close friend, business partner, and godfather of Matt’s second daughter.

Matthew Hechter, an Oñate High and NMSU alum and the co-owner of Tepozán Tequila, is pictured at Spirit Winds in Las Cruces on Wednesday July 28, 2021.

Development of the Tequila Tepozán brand

Building on the success of the Manhattan location, Matt and Chris expanded to California. They currently have a few restaurants there, including PBLC TRDE, a pizzeria in Santa Monica, and Rocket Ship Coffee on Melrose, Los Angeles.

Joe Jonas is a partner in both projects.

Both restaurants are still operating and thriving. Chris said they had other restaurants on the west coast but some had sold out in recent years.

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In late 2018, Matt and his wife, Cris Urena, bought Spirit Winds in Las Cruces, 2260 South Locust Street, from longtime owner Richard Parra. Matt had been joining Spirit Winds since he was 16 and had drawn to the Las Cruces landmark during his college years.

The family moved to Las Cruces at the time and has lived here ever since.

Start from Tepozán

Matt and Chris decided to launch their own tequila brand in 2018. Because of this, they had to part with Hudson Clearwater. (They were not legally allowed to operate a liquor license while owning a liquor company.)

Normally, Matt said, you’d go to a big distillery, a tequila maker, and get a “white label” deal. Then someone reaches out to a mass-market tequilador and asks for a tequila for a bespoke recipe to be produced for a wider market – a fairly common industry practice.

Tepozán Tequila can be seen on Wednesday July 28, 2021 at Spirit Winds in Las Cruces.

With Chris and Matt’s connections in the industry, through their bartending and restaurant experience, they could look around – “a guy who knows a guy,” you might say. That connection resulted in a happy miracle when they met Don Carlos Padilla, who made tequila tepozán for the locals in San Julián.

“We tasted a lot of spirits, given our backgrounds,” said Chris. “But this tequila is so unique. It’s so expressive of the area they’re in. “

While Don Carlos still has the local distribution rights for his tequila, Matt and Chris are working on distributing it worldwide.

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Tepozán currently offers three varieties: a Blanco, a Reposado and an Añejo.

“The blanco is obviously the pure tequila that comes out after being distilled twice. The reposado has aged for four months. And the añejo has aged for 14 months – and we mature in Kentucky white oak barrels, mostly from Maker’s Mark Distillery. And we’re going to have an additional añejo later this year that will be a little over three years old – and that’s almost more like a cognac, it’s really amazing. “

Matthew Hechter, an Oñate High and NMSU alum and co-owner of Tepozán Tequila, will be showing his new line of tequila at Spirit Winds in Las Cruces on Wednesday, July 28, 2021.

In honor of Mexican culture with tequila

The Tepozán Distillery is located over a volcanic spring more than a quarter of a mile below the surface of the earth. The water is used not only for growing the agave of the field, but also for the distillation process.

Chris grew up in southern New Mexico and said he and Matt developed an appreciation for Mexican culture. Looking across the border, however, is different than traveling deep into the interior of Mexico – and not just the tourist attractions.

“Matt and I really fell in love with Mexican culture as a whole,” Chris told Sun News.

They hope that their new tequila will bring some of this culture to American connoisseurs.

According to the Nahuatl legend, if you are lucky enough to hold the butterfly in your hand, remember to whisper your deepest wish to it, explains the company’s website. Once released, the butterfly will carry your wish to Xochiquetzal, the goddess of joy and flowers, and your wish will be granted.

“The tepozán is a tree in Jalisco that attracts monarch butterflies,” said Chris. “They have called it that since the Aztec days. And even our branding tries to cling to Mexico’s pre-Hispanic era. Kind of Aztec vibe with a post-modern Mexican feel. Our wax is handcrafted in Guadalajara. We use a great paper mill in Guadalajara to make our labels. We try to keep everything made in Mexico and highlight the culture. “

Damien Willis is a reporter and columnist for Las Cruces Sun News. His bi-weekly column focuses on interesting businesses in Las Cruces and the entire region. Do you have a fascinating story to share? Contact him at [email protected] or @DamienWillis on Twitter.

Where to get it:

The crosses: Kelly liqueur, Elephant Ranch, La Posta, Hacienda de Mesilla

Albuquerque: Whole foods, Total Wine, Jubilation, Mykonos, Los Poblanos, Nick and Jimmy’s

Santa Fe: Geronimo, Total Wine

On-line: https://www.tequilatepozan.com/

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