Sauza and Fortaleza Tequila: The Famous Families of Tequila History


Photo by Sip Outsider

There’s no doubt that tequila has been in the spotlight, but the spirit is much more than a recent craze in the alcohol industry. In reality, the tequila industry is one of the most history-rich industries out there, and that history has transformed in the hands of families over hundreds of years.

And the family aspect is a huge element of that history. Most of the original families who were part of the original production of tequila are still making tequila today. One catch here is that many of the families behind each brand haven’t kept the same names over the years since many of the brands were sold over time. 

It’s no secret that I love to share the history and stories behind the different tequilas and their production processes, etc., so I wanted to take this month as an opportunity to chronicle the stories and histories of those families and what they’re making now. It is also no secret that I kinda like Fortaleza. (Fine, I love it – check out my whole Fortaleza Tequila overview, here). So why don’t we rewind to the beginning and see where it began… with the Sauza family.

The story dates all the way back to 1873 with the one and only Don Cenobio Sauza. He purchased some land from the Cuervo Family (sound familiar?), which is what he ended up using to start his distillery.

Don Cenobio is credited with being the first person to claim that the blue weber agave was the best agave for tequila. He is also the one who started to steam cook that blue weber agave in brick ovens. If you didn’t have enough proof of just the pioneer Don Cenobio was for the tequila industry, I’ll also share with you that he was the first one to export tequila back when it was called Mezcal de tequila. 

As the years went on, the appropriately named Sauza Tequila slowly but surely became one of the biggest and most important tequila brands. Sauza Tequila was distilled in Mexico at their two sites, La Perseverancia and La Constancia. Both of these distilleries now belong to Beam Suntory, which is the parent company of Sauza Tequila, but we’ll get to that later. 

Two generations after the brand’s big break, Don Javier Sauza was the one who claimed that Tequila should ONLY be a Mexican product. He went to Japan for a business trip and was given a Japanese tequila, and let’s just say that he was LIVID! He had a mission after that. When he came back to Mexico, he made sure to start a Domination of Origin (DOP), which basically specifies that a product is specific to a certain area or region. It guarantees the quality of the product, and it comes as no surprise that Don Javier used it to declare that tequila should strictly be a Mexican product. The DOP was filed in 1973, and by 1996 the world recognized that only Jalisco and municipalities in five states can make tequila. 

Don Javier also ended up selling the brand Sauza in 1976. He also bought a beautiful piece of land in the town of Tequila and built another distillery there called…. Fortaleza. Get it?

When Sauza was sold, both La Preseverancia and La Constancia were sold, but Fortaleza was where it really mattered. Not only was it the family distillery, but it was also actually a museum for some time. At least until 1999, when Don Guillermo Sauza decided to come back to Tequila and start making tequila the same way his great-great-grandfather 150 years prior to then. He first named it Los Abuelos in honor of the grandparents, but due to a copy issue in the US, they named it Fortaleza. As you all know, that is now the name of the family distillery where this amazing tequila is still made today.