Onofre Ortiz was born in 1981 in the community of Bramaderos in Miahuatlán, Oaxaca. His father – Alberto Ortiz – is a prodigious mezcal producer known locally as El Rey Del Sur; The King of the South, a title bestowed on him for the quality of his mezcals and his commitment to the trade. Both Alberto’s father and grandfather were mezcaleros, and he began to help out in the family business in the 1970, at the tender age of 11.
Onofre chose a different path. Underwhelmed by the lack of opportunity in the mezcal trade, he decided to make the dangerous journey north of the border to the United States. Though he spoke no English and had no documents he managed to find a job as a mechanic, and stayed in the States for the following 10 years. This was a difficult time for Onofre, and when his father told him about the increasing demand for mezcal in the mid-00s, he was able to return home to his family, his homeland, and his heritage.
Upon returning to Miahuatlán, Alberto taught Onofre how to make mezcal, along with all the techniques and subtleties which earned him his regal title. Within a few years he was producing mezcals of an equally high quality. He is the de facto Principe del Sur – The Prince of the South.
Onofre has four children - Briceida, Iker, Esmeralda, and Fatima – raised with the help of his wife, Dominga. His greatest wish is that they too will become mezcaleros, and will not have to leave their home for work.
Onofre has 20 hectares of land with around 40,000 organically grown agave of a variety of species. A minimum of 50% of these agave are grown from seed rather than by clones or cuttings, ensuring genetic diversity within his crop. Like Atenogenes, Onofre harvests all his agave Capon, meaning they are left to mature for up to a year after they have reached maturity – similar to the over-ripe grapes used in the production of some sweet wines. His favourite agave is Mexicano.
In his opinion, the mezcals of Miahuatlán are distinctive due to a combination of the land, the local water, and the skill of the mezcaleros. But regarding his own productions, he attributes their quality to his practice of adjusting his distillate to bottling strength using colas – the low ABV tail end of the distillation run – but never with water. He also avoids using animal power in the palenque to keep his mezcals clear of any farmyard aromas.
He is an exceptionally warm and welcoming host, with a great smile and a firm handshake. He is also notable in his self-control; he loves the flavours and aromas of mezcal, but in his own words, never indulges in more that “one …or three”.We met Onofre in November 2019 and immediately agreed to work together on expanding the brand. He is a welcome and valuable addition to the Pensador Miahuatlán Collective.