California distillers turn to agave—but they’re not allowed to call it mezcal or tequila
Leo Ortega started growing spiky blue agave plants on the arid hillsides around his Southern California home because his wife liked the way they looked. A decade later, his property is now dotted with thousands of what he and others hope is a promising new crop for the state following years of punishing drought and a push to scale back on groundwater pumping. … The 49-year-old mechanical engineer is one of a growing number of Californians planting agave to be harvested and used to make spirits, much like the way tequila and mezcal are made in Mexico. The trend is fueled by the need to find hardy crops that don’t need much water and a booming appetite for premium alcoholic beverages since the COVID-19 pandemic.