This month Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, a Relais & Châteaux property in Rancho Santa Fe, has launched an ambitious tequila program called the All Agave Project. To prepare for the launch, manager Chris Simmons trained at the Mexican Academy of Tequila Tasters in Guadalajara under maestro tequilero Francisco Hajnal.
Simmons' role is to curate the 150-label collection of tequila and agave-based spirits (which include mezcal, bacanora and sotol) at the resort's Pony Bar. Right now shots start at $9 and go up to $276 for a rare Tequila Clase Azul Añejo.
Alongside each shot of silver or blanco tequila, Simmons serves two different types of house sangrita, or "little blood," a traditional accompaniment. One he developed especially for tequila from the highlands of Guadalajara is a blend of housemade grenadine, several kinds of citrus juices, and a touch of chile powder to give it depth. Simmons created a subtler cucumber-based version to let the tequilas from the valley shine.
The real heart of the All Agave Project is the All Agave Club, in which memberships costs $295 annually. That includes some festive swag (a baseball cap, T-shirt and special flask) and, more importantly, an invitation to a monthly "Sip Sesh" seminar and tasting with tequila brand owners and master distillers. January's guest, for example, was Paula Torres of Nobleza Azul Tequila, one of the first females to head a brand in the male-dominated world of tequila.
Membership also includes a personalized official All Agave Tasting Tour book, which is kept behind the bar at the Pony Room. Every time a member comes in, the idea is to enter tasting notes in his or her book. It has space for 100 entries, 27 of which are required tastings.
"If I didn't require members to try those spirits, they wouldn't gain the experience across the whole spectrum of agave-based spirits," says Simmons. "There's so much to know. Just as with wine and grapes, terroir and the type of agave has a big influence on the end product."
The tasting tour book is available to nonmembers for $50. The project is also a competition. The first person to complete the 100-tasting book will win a trip to Guadalajara and a distillery tour and education. The second member to finish gets a weekend at the posh resort with meals and spa treatments included. Third place wins the meal and spa treatment, but no hotel.
To join, call (858) 759-6204.