Visitors welcome throughout the year
Hacienda San Jose del Refugio,
Camino a la Barranca del Tecuane No. 10,
The small town of Amatitán, lying in the valley below the long-extinct volcanic Tequila Mountain, is considered by many to be the birthplace of tequila, based on an archaeological discovery in 2008 on El Caballito Cerrero ranch. This revealed an open-air tequila ‘factory’ with ovens and the oldest known tahona (millstone) dating back to the first third of the 16th century. Amatitán is also the home of Casa Herradura, the origins of which date back to 1800, when José Feliciano de la Trinidad Romo Escobedo purchased La Concordia ranch in Amatitán after being ordained as the local Roman Catholic Priest. The ranch included the mescal factory, which he kept in production – no doubt for ‘spiritual’ reasons.
In 1826, Padre Feliciano built a grand new residence and renamed the ranch Hacienda del Padre (The Priest House). In 1858, the majority of the Hacienda passed into the hands of Joséfa Zalazar, Padre Feliciano’s goddaughter who hired Félix López to manage the Hacienda and its distillery. In 1866, Joséfa was forced to deed much of the Hacienda to Félix López in lieu of unpaid wages. Just four years later, Félix López assumed majority ownership of Hacienda del Padre and renamed it Hacienda San José de Refugio. In the same year, he officially registered the hacienda as being a place of tequila production and it is this 1870 date that Herradura print on their labels as being the brand’s origin.
In 1928, the brand name ‘Tequila Herradura’ was registered in Mexico City and for more than two decades the tequila enjoyed steady growth as it earned respect from the Mexicans. The brand’s export started to develop in 1955, when Hollywood celebrities Bing Crosby and Phil Harris started an import business to launch Tequila Herradura to the U.S. market.
In the late 1950s, Gabriela de la Peña took over the company, and during her 40-year era that followed, she oversaw continued modernisation and expansion. A new distillery was built alongside the original in 1963, with the old distillery closed and preserved as a museum. Today, the modern Casa Herradura facility covers some 50 acres with 1,200 people employed there. The old distillery is now a popular visitor attraction.
Over the years, there have been numerous changes in ownership and control of the business as it passed to different branches of the family, with it being jointly run by Guillermo Romo de la Peña and his brother Pablo prior to the brand. Casa Herradura was purchased by Brown-Forman for US$776m in January 2007, reportedly around $100m lower that originally agreed. The Americans obviously drove a hard bargain. Coincidentally, Brown-Forman was founded in 1870, the same year Ambrosio Rosales and Aurelio Lopez founded Herradura. The Romo family retain ownership of the Hacienda and the original distillery museum.
There are several legends regarding the origin of Herradura’s ‘horseshoe’ name. One has it that while out inspecting his agave fields, Félix López saw a glint of gold from the distant ground. Considering Amatitán’s reputation for buried treasure as well as its gold and silver mines, he understandably walked over to find what the sun was glistening on. It turned out merely to be a horseshoe but it seemed a fortuitous ‘lucky’ find, hence the brand name. It is worth mentioning that the date of this find and the particular family member vary according to which account you read, and I have seen
Aurelio López Rosales and Feliciano Romo credited in place of Félix López. Still, never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, as perhaps the origins of the name are more obvious, for example, linking the name to the road past the Hacienda from Amatitán which is shaped like a ‘U’. Some hold the name as simply a reference to there having been being so many horses kept at Hacienda San José del Refugio.
It is not only the origin of the horseshoe name that is called into questioning. The horseshoe in Herradura’s logo has its curve at the top when tradition dictates that the opening of a horseshoe needs to face upwards to bestow good luck. The reason given is, “The horseshoe faces upward when you pour out of the bottle, good luck is pouring and drinking of course.”