The Blue Weber AgaveThe famous Blue Blue Weber Agave, the only plant from which 100% agave tequila is allowed to be made, is truly majestic and fascinating plant.
The blue Weber agave was first classified by a German botanist named F. Weber in 1905 and still bears his name. The blue Webber agave is commonly - and mistakenly - called a cactus by many, but it is really a succulent that belongs to the lily (amaryllis) family.
The blue weber agave grows best above 1,500 meters, and given that most of Jalisco state where most tequila is made is a high plateau that averages 2,280 meters above sea level, it is the heart of the agave growing region.
Begin at the beginning:
The blue weber agave can produce seeds, or reproduce asexually, through shoots (hijuelos) from the mother plant.
A mature agave plant will produce a quiote which is a fast-growing stalk which looks like a tall asparagus spear prior to flowering. If the quiote is left to mature, this stalk will produce flowers that are naturally pollinated by bats. However, and this is where the “bad news” starts, the quiotes grow rapidly - about one meter per week. If left to grow, the flowering quiotes will take sugars and nutrients from the piña and the plant will put all of its energy into the flower production. Tequilero’s want agave plants to put all their energy into growing their heart, or piña which will later be harvested for tequila. Therefore, the quiote’s are removed, meaning that only about 5% of the blue agave today actually comes from seeds.
The rest of the agave is cultivated by harvesting and replanting the hijuelos. Hijuelos are baby agave shoots or “pups” that grow up around the main plant when the plant has matured to about 3 years. This of course has a severe impact on the genetic diversity of agave plants and only time will tell how severe this impact will be on the future tequila industry.
The harvested hijuelos are anywhere from the size of an onion to the size of a grapefruit, and are themselves about a year old. In a plant's lifetime it will produce 10-20 shoots.
The hijuelos are trimmed of excess or dead leaves, and left to dry - 'harden' - for about 10 days before they are replanted (although some tequilero’s say they are left up to 30 days). Once hardened, the hijuelos are planted in new fields. Generally fields are planted with hijuelos of the same age. This makes it easier to determine cultivation times because the entire field will ripen around the same time.
Once a plant has reached about 6 years of age, the hijuelos are considered too weak to be regrown. They will still be removed for the lifespan of the plant as even weak hijuelos will take moisture and nutrients from the mother agave.
During the growing cycle, the plants will be weeded and have some of their leaves trimmed. Most growers use farm hands to meticulously control the weeds by hand. Agave grow best in the sun, so the weeds are removed not just because a clean field looks better, but to remove sources of shade! Weeding also removes competitor plants for nutrients and water in the soil.
The fields are actually not irrigated and the plants depend entirely on the rainy season for moisture. Experiments with irrigation showed the larger plants that resulted did not produce any more agave sugars.
The blue agave will need between 8-14 years to reach the point at which it is harvested. The size of the agave head (piña) is not as important as its sugar content. Jimadores test the agaves to be sure the sugar content of the plant is high enough to harvest (at least 24% but higher is preferred). There is a short window of only a few months between the optimum sugar level and the over-ripening of the agave. The rainy season may lower the sugar percentage because the agaves soak up extra water to carry them through the long period until the next rainy season. This means that much of the field work ceases in the summer rain season and starts at the end of the dry season when the sugar content is at its highest.
Once the Jimador has concluded that the blue agave has the best possible sugar content, he will use the Coa to shave the leaves off the piña and harvest the heart of tequila.
**The Agave Region in the State of Jalisco State is one of the most important cultural landscapes in Mexico. It became a World Heritage Site in 2006.**
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