“If you go back in time in the history of tequila, there were always women, the light just didn’t shine on them”
Bertha González Nieves has been described as the “First Lady of Tequila.” In 2009, after working for Jose Cuervo for ten years, she set out to start her own tequila label where she could call the shots. Her company, Casa Dragones Tequila, is a small-batch producer that prides itself on its high-quality “sipping tequila.” Today, González Nieves is a certified tequila expert and is the first woman to be named Maestra Tequilera, the highest title for someone in the industry. “My philosophy has always been to define my potential because of my professionalism and not because of my gender,” the Casa Dragones founder said. Team KCM spoke with González Nieves about launching a business and what she’s most proud of in this chapter of her career.
Katie Couric Media: You worked for Jose Cuervo for ten years before starting your own venture, Casa Dragones. What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
Bertha Gonzalez Nieves: I actually became an entrepreneur much earlier than this. Growing up in Mexico, I started doing little businesses here and there and loved having an idea, executing it, and seeing it through. Then, after being in the tequila industry — at the forefront of one of the most well-known and respected tequila houses — I realized that I really wanted to start my own business.
What was the transition from Jose Cuervo to launching Casa Dragones like?
Just when you think you have all of these years of experience in the industry and you think you really know what you’re doing, and then you have to do your own, it humbles you. You have to start with a blank slate and understand that there’s a lot that you don’t know. I think being a student, or being studious about your business, is a constant. There are always new things to learn.
I remember I was so nervous when we shipped our first batch of Casa Dragones that I wanted to go with that container to make sure we didn’t lose those shipments. Things like that you take for granted in a larger corporation, where you have so many people supporting you. So you really start to learn how things are done.
You are the first woman to be certified as a Maestra Tequilera, the highest title for someone in the industry. What was it like to be the first woman to hold that title?
It’s interesting because I didn’t know I was the first when I got my title. One day I was in an interview and they asked, “How many women?’” And I said, “I don’t know!” So, I called and asked the Academia Mexicana de Catadores de Tequila (the organization recognized by The Tequila Regulatory Council). And they said, “What do you mean? You’re the first one.” And I was really wowed by it. I felt so honored.
I think if you go back in time in the history of tequila, you’ll see that there were always women, the light just didn’t shine on them. They just really didn’t get the recognition of being instrumental in the evolution of tequila. So I carry this distinction as a chance to advance the baton for other women that want to come into the tequila industry. I think that now more than ever, the playing field is different. It’s evolved. There’s still a lot of room for evolution, but I think there are more opportunities now more than ever for women in the spirits industry.
It doesn’t seem like being one of the only women at the top of the industry has impacted your confidence or your leadership. You seem like such a go-getter…
You know, I think that early on when I entered into the category, I was so obsessed about being part of the tequila industry that I never really thought about it being a male-dominated industry. Then, once I started, I looked around and I thought to myself, Hmm, interesting. There’s not a lot of women here.
My philosophy has always been to define my potential, my company’s potential, and my team’s potential because of our professionalism and not because of our gender. I am very proud to be a woman. I’m not trying to put that as a second point, but I really don’t want my potential to be defined by my gender.
What are you most proud of, in this chapter of your career?
I’m proud that we’ve continued to take risks in what we do. And we want to prove that tequila is not only an incredible companion to Mexican cuisine, but also a great companion to other cuisines, including: French cuisine, Japanese cuisine, Italian cuisine. And tequila can be part of a five course menu where champagne is, where white wine is. So for us, it’s making sure that we are continuously taking risks to innovate.
You’re not only the founder of Casa Dragones, but the CEO. What have you learned over the past year, leading a company through the pandemic?
So many people that have given meaning to our business are being challenged right now, because of the pandemic. As a small business, I think that one of the things I would emphasize is the power of community. I think now more than ever, these very strong relationships have given meaning to everything we do. And business is always defined by your revenues and the company’s success. But I think the meaning of community and how it nourishes challenging times has really inspired me. And I think that’s something that I will take with me in my style of leadership moving forward.