Departures: Bob Pittman Wants His Tequila
On a sunny Friday morning, Bob Pittman, the entrepreneurial force behind the creation of MTV and the success of AOL, is in the pilot’s seat, flying his jet down to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. He’s on his way to check in on his newest venture and latest passion, Casa Dragones tequila.
Pittman is a longtime tequila aficionado, and in San Miguel he had once been given a bottle of a certain blend, singular and smooth, with a unique trait—it had no “wince factor.” “The taste never left me,” Pittman says. In vain he tried to track down the source, but eventually he learned it was an old home brew unavailable for purchase.
In 2003, after leaving his job as chief operating officer of AOL Time Warner, Pittman founded Pilot Group, a private investment firm with an interest in innovative startups including the website DailyCandy, which eventually sold for $125 million. Pittman was always on the lookout for new projects, and one night about three years ago, at a party in Brooklyn, he met Bertha González Nieves, then the head of José Cuervo North America and the first woman to be named a maestra tequilera, or certified tequila expert. Recalling his failed search for the elusive elixir, he realized that she was the perfect person to help him re-create it. So he asked the happily employed González Nieves, “Do you want to start a business?”
Sitting in one of the plane’s passenger seats, González Nieves is poring over marketing sheets. Watching her, one is immediately aware of the same laser-focused passion that is characteristic of her mentor. After she signed on to work with Pittman, the pair scoured Mexico’s tequila-producing regions, examining all the top agave estates. In the end they chose a lowlands property, mainly because of the soil. “It’s volcanic, so it’s rich with minerals,”
she says. “The agaves are very sweet and very savory.”
Casa Dragones is a joven tequila, essentially a blanco with a hint of añejo mixed in. Although joven is one of the official tequila classifications, it’s a style rarely used, making Casa Dragones the only premium joven on the market. “I personally worked on developing the liquid for over a year,” González Nieves says. But it’s an old master distiller, coaxed out of retirement, who adds the añejo and finishes the blend. It’s then charcoal-filtered to remove the color.
The first batch of Casa Dragones—12,000 bottles, all signed and numbered—was released in July 2009. “Bob and I agreed that if we could not succeed at making it this smooth, we would abandon the project,” says González Nieves. “Luckily we achieved our goal—and more.”