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Text and pictures: Ocotales for Mezcalistas

January 24, 2023 | Anna Bruce

Many pueblos and towns of Oaxaca hold special memories and specific stories for me that have helped form the narrative for how I document and experience life here. One of my very first stories starts driving the long winding road to the town of San Dionisio, Ocotepec, where I spent my first week in Oaxaca capturing the day-to-day of mezcal production. As you continue over the last hills beyond the iconic mezcal producing community of Santiago de Matatlan, the cacti-filled valley opens up dramatically as the road narrows, hugging the hillside. It is a beautiful stretch, but not for the faint of heart as infrequent and massive semis emerge round sharp bends, and make overtaking an art form. Overlooking San Dionisio Ocotepec is a great pine on top of a hill, known as “El Cerro del Cruz,” because the branches of the tree are formed like a cross. Every year, on the first day of the year, the majority of Catholic people from the community make a pilgrimage there. Says Samuel Santiago Mendez, “The objective of climbing the hill is to ask for your wishes, your desires, your dreams or goals to be fulfilled.” For many mezcal enthusiasts, it is often enough to travel to Santiago Matatlan and never venture any further. However, those who can travel the extra ten miles south west, have the opportunity to visit fantastic mezcaleros producing unique expressions that speak to the traditions and environment of their community. Samuel and his family make Los Ocotales, in San Dionisio, a new brand that highlights both traditional practices and a future conscious emphasis on sustainability. “We respect the cycle of life of the earth and its environment!”

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