How One Mezcal Brand Is Supporting the Community of Oaxaca, Mexico
There are many players in the mezcal category, but El Silencio is unmatched. Founded by Fausto Zapata and Vicente Cisneros, the Silencio brand doesn’t just make quality products—from mezcal and cristalino tequila to a recently opened six-suite hotel located within the El Silencio distillery, aptly named Casa Silencio. The Silencio brand also has thoughtful sustainability practices and a deep relationship with the Xaaga community in Oaxaca, Mexico, where the distillery is located, as well as with the city and state of Oaxaca itself. “At our core, we consider ourselves a representation of the Oaxacan community, and we are very proud of the reputation the brand has earned with its people over the last eight years. As the mezcal category continues to grow, as does our commitment to uplifting and supporting these communities,” Zapata says. Worth spoke to Zapata about how El Silencio has been making an impact in their community and beyond, their sustainability initiatives and what worth beyond wealth means to him.
Q: How would you say El Silencio is currently making an impact as a company?
A: El Silencio has had an integral role in the growth of the mezcal category in the U.S. When we started, mezcal was considered to be a very niche spirit and was not widely known or understood. In launching El Silencio, we played a big part in further opening the door for mezcal in the U.S. market without shutting it behind us, paving the way for the spirit to flourish with a new generation of creative drinkers. Today, mezcal is the fastest growing spirits category, and we are thrilled to have been at the forefront of this movement.
The boom we helped create has translated to more demand and awareness for the category which, in turn, has created sustainable job opportunities in both the U.S. and Oaxaca, Mexico. The enhancement of mezcal production brings more work for farmers, increased interest in the state of Oaxaca and a bigger demand for quality artisanal mezcal via a more sophisticated consumer base.
El Silencio on its own has become a great contributor to the economy of the state of Oaxaca, as well as to various local communities through the development of local infrastructure, job creation and providing long-term reliability to our agave farming partners. We currently employ 42 full-time individuals in Oaxaca and have generated hundreds of indirect employment opportunities via agave sourcing, mezcal production, construction, logistics, etc. One of our most rewarding experiences is when we hear stories of reverse immigration resulting from jobs we have generated. These are families reunited as a direct result of our work!
Can you tell us more about El Silencio and Casa Silencio’s sustainability initiatives? Has this always been important to the brand?
Sustainability has always been hugely important to the brand. From the ways in which we only buy aged, registered agave to the actual mezcal production process, implementing environmentally conscious practices is integral to who we are as artisanal spirit craftsmen.
Casa Silencio marks a pinnacle moment for the Silencio brand, in which we are really taking these practices to the next level. In building this property, we knew we had a very ambitious project on our hands built around environmentally friendly ideals that are not easily translated into reality. When planning for Casa Silencio, there were five key points that were taken into consideration: the surroundings and the culture, the construction system, production, having nothing was left over and nothing going to waste and utilizing natural elements, such as natural lighting and solar panels. These five elements truly became our blueprint from where everything else started flowing. We’re very proud of how it all came together, but also plan on inviting other mezcal producers to learn from our practices in the hope that they too implement sustainable practices in their own field, similar to how we invite them to our bottling facility in Oaxaca City.
How has El Silencio had an impact on the community that the distillery is based in?
We really wanted to make Casa Silencio a part of Xaaga, not just a destination. This started with inviting the local community to understand the project before we broke ground. Another key was the integration of the place with its surroundings. Given the community’s deep ties to the land and ancestral traditions, had we created a modern building that felt out of place, the people in the surrounding city would have felt invaded. Casa Silencio was designed to intentionally and seamlessly blend into the mountainous backdrop. We also built a road to get from the town center to Casa Silencio, contributed to the local farming community with machinery and equipment and became more involved in Xaaga’s yearly events and town fairs.
What does worth beyond wealth mean to you, and how do you as an entrepreneur embrace this idea?
It reminds me of Robert Browning’s quote, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.” Both phrases underline the importance of living your life with purpose—the essential value of finding it, as well as the essential value of doing your part to help others find their own. Through our spirits brands and Casa Silencio, we implement this principle into everything we do.
Ultimately, what kind of impact do you hope to have with El Silencio and the opening of Casa Silencio?
Silencio is a journey which we really hope outlives us. We want people to become part of this story and be eager to share it with others. We want people to have fun with what we provide and to have their own stories to share as a result. We want everyone who works in Silencio to be proud of what we have built. We want the people of Oaxaca and the community of Xaaga to be proud of the products that represent them. We want to continue building places, stories and products that provide a sense of purpose to those who build them, a sense of security to those who benefit from them and an escape to those who experience them.