After a thorough study of the tequila market, Gary Shansby, the founder and chairman of Partida Tequila, had the knowledge he needed to succeed, but didn’t yet have any tequila to market.
Then, he met an agave farmer (a jimador) named Enrique Partida. Partida had “thousands of acres” as a tequila farmer, and “he was selling agave to whoever would buy it” (Cuervo, Herradura, etc.).
During my telephone interview with Shansby he noted,
“[Enrique] had a burnt face from the sun, an old cowboy hat, and a twinkle in his eye. I thought: he’s central casting! I can’t call this tequila “Gringo Gary’s,” so I might as well see about calling it Partida.”
Shansby checked, and “Partida” had never been used or trademarked anywhere in the world. “Without telling Enrique, I trademarked him, and basically took ownership of his name…He was not a happy camper at first, but since then he’s delighted, and we’ve become friends. He’s not an investor, but he is the farmer and does manage the farms.”
But, how does Partida Tequila get its award-winning flavor? Shansby explains that “by using an older, more mature and sweeter agave; and by cooking it in a stainless steel autoclave versus a stone oven” he would be able to produce “a more pure, agave-tasting product.” Unlike many tequila, premium or not, Partida is completely estate-grown and bottled. This means that the agave all comes from the Partida farm and it is cooked, distilled, and bottled on the estate. (Shansby rebuilt Enrique Partida’s “hobby distillery” into a fully functional tequila distillery that is capable of producing all of the Partida tequilas.)
Once Shansby had his tequila, he took it to the Mexico CRT (Consejo Regulado de Tequila, or Tequila Regulatory Council) where he “won all the taste tests.” A similar taste testing was done with Julio Bermejo, the US Ambassador of Tequila, at the San Francisco Wine and Spirit festival, where it also blew everyone away.
The product was ready for consumption. In his meticulous way, Shansby went through 600 variations of a bottle before it was finalized. The bottle is truly a work of art – slightly larger than Patrón and easily handled by bartenders. The bottle is mostly clear, exploiting the beautiful color of Partida, except for the branding, which includes the Partida spirit bird.
I had never heard the legend of the spirit bird before and Shansby revealed that it “is a tale I developed, and now Enrique [Partida] tells me it has been in the family for a hundred years! The story…has believability to it because we made it believable.” Most tequilas don’t have a logo (except Herradura’s upside-down horseshoe) and Shansby, an experienced brand-builder feels strongly that to build a brand “you need a Nike swoosh, and so my Nike swoosh is the Partida spirit bird.”
The tequila is purposely priced just a little higher than Patrón. People often ask Shansby how he can do that, especially as a newcomer to the tequila market, but he dismisses skepticism with a challenge: “Just taste the product and tell me if you agree. Nobody has ever said it wasn’t better, or at least just as good [as Patrón]. I don’t claim it’s the best, my job is to keep it among the very best.”
Quality and consistency is how Shansby plans to maintain Partida’s success. “Everything is done to perfection. We age reposado precisely, to the day, six months in the barrel. We rotate our barrels for 36 months, 3 at reposado and 1 at añejo, which is [aged for] 18 months, and then we destroy it.” The barrels are all purchased from Jack Daniel’s. “They’ve been used once for Jack Daniel’s. We then hot distill wash them twice, dry them, and use them ourselves.” Shansby claims that if you go into other distilleries (which he has done), very few people will be as consistent. “If they get a good buy on Bordeaux barrels that have been used five or six times, they’ll buy them. I won’t do that.”
Consistency is so important that Shansby has everything done on site. “We’re managed in Mexico – totally by Mexican employees. I go down there about every month for 5 or 6 weeks and stay there for 4 or 5 days and talk to the workers.” From the farming and distilling, right into the bottle; everything is done on the Partida estate. “It gives us full control, which I find enormously important.”
Shansby and Partida’s other investors have invested over $30 million into the product, which they also distribute. It’s easy to tell that he really has a passion for his product, but would he ever sell the brand and retire? No way, he says, “I’m doing this as a hobby and it’s not for sale. And I’m going to retire when they carry me out feet first.”
More about how the word spreads about Partida Tequila in the third, and final, part of my interview with Gary Shansby.