Vista woman breaks the glass ceiling into tequila industry

Vista woman breaks the glass ceiling into tequila industry
Paula Torres-Symington is the first female to have ever founded a tequila company. Nobleza Azul Tequila has distribution headquarters in Vista. Courtesy photo

VISTA — She’s a trailblazer who made her mark in the world of tequila — a spirit business dominated by males. Born in Guadalajara, Paula Torres-Symington has beaten the odds after the 2006 launch of her tequila company Nobleza Azul Tequila, which has its distribution headquarters in Vista.

Torres-Symington is the first ever female founder and president of a tequila company. She didn’t just wake up one day and decide to establish her own company. Hers is a story dating back five generations to her family’s Mexico-based agave farm in the Highlands of Jalisco, next to Arandas Michoacan.

According to Torres-Symington, the farm areas are hilly, so the agave tends to fight more to survive which lends to its sweet taste. It’s unequivocally sweeter than agave grown on flat farmlands.

Workers load agave cactus onto a truck on a Nobleza Azul Tequila farm. Courtesy photo

Torres-Symington’s background was in farming agave, not alcohol manufacturing and distribution. This business flipside required education — and a lot of it.

Nobleza is minority- and female-owned. The emphasis on women is huge because women own less than 1 percent of tequila businesses.

Torres-Symington said her family came to a crossroads when tequila companies were purchasing their agave for less than three pesos each. Agave isn’t a fast-growing plant — it takes eight years to grow. It’s the type of crop that needs patience.

The rate of return for the crop was far from ideal for the family, and that’s when Torres-Symington decided to start her own tequila company with three varieties: reposado, blanco and añejo.

“While our family story is great, there was so much competition with multinational companies now owning 90 percent of all the tequila industry and almost 98 percent of the agave now,” she said.

Torres-Symington is quick to point out that there is nothing modern about their distillery, which uses a natural water well.

After the agave is harvested in Michoacan, it is produced in Arandas Jalisco — the favorite destination of where Don Julio other premium brands are produced.

Because of her family’s rich history in the cultivation of blue agave, it was important to also carry on their tradition in naming the tequila company.

“The inspiration of our business name came from the Noble Experiment, which was the prohibition of alcohol in the United States,” she said, adding that the tequila bottles resemble a book. “This is why we named our tequila company Nobleza — it’s a history between the United States and Mexico. Prohibition ended on Dec. 5 (1933), and that’s when we (Mexico) were able to bring tequila to Americans, and they could buy it legally.”

While Torres-Symington was establishing Nobleza in its early years, little did she know that Jason Levin, Rancho Santa Fe resident and founder of Dos Gringos headquartered in Vista, was interested in blue agave. Instead of planting vineyards at his Ranch estate, Levin decided to plant agave with the hopes of curating his own tequila for family and friends.

Jason Levin

“A friend happened to be staying at my home, and he mentioned the Torres family — a fifth-generation of blue agave growers,” Levin said. “They had been growing their agave for Petron and Don Julio and decided to create their own business — Paula was just in the process of creating the brand.”

The business connection was made and Levin decided to invest in it back in 2010.

“When I got involved in the business there were probably 800 brands at the time,” he said. “Now, there are more than 3,000.”

Currently, Nobleza Tequila can be found at fine dining establishments throughout Southern California as well as on Costco shelves.

Levin said what makes Nobleza such a standout product is the Torres Family.

“And the passion around this product is amazing and so is the taste,” he said.

For Torres-Symington, passion and patience are what it’s all about — it’s honoring the spirit of the agave which took eight years to grow so that it can evolve into a spectacular tequila.

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