March 22, 1999
Tequila boom: Mexican brew is big business

                  MEXICO CITY (CNN) -- Agave azul is an unassuming desert shrub that
                  doesn't seem like much. But in Mexico, its juice is just about worth its
                  weight in gold.

                  The plant -- which looks like a giant pineapple, but is actually related to the
                  lily -- is the source of tequila and much Mexican pride.

                  Last year Mexico exported 17 million gallons of tequila to 50 countries
                  around the world. Seventy percent of it went to the United States. The
                  alcohol's popularity has created 90 new brands in the last six months

                  "Tequilla is now at a point were it sells at a high price," said Eduardo
                  Gonzalez, an account for Don Julio Tequila. "That's due in part because we,
                  the serious tequila producers, were concerned about making a
                  well-produced drink.

                  Long-time tequila brewers like Don Julio Gonzalez, producer of the tequila
                  which carries his name, decided to take tequila production a step further by
                  lengthening the time of fermentation and aging.

                  "When we came out with Don Julio Tequila, then the other tequilla
                  producers saw that it had great acceptance," Don Julio Gonzalez said. "They
                  began making their own "Dons" but, thank God, we are still number one."

                  In recent years, Spain, Japan and South Africa have been trying to produce
                  their own version of tequilla. Under Mexican law, tequila, named after a
                  town in the Jalisco state, can only be made from the blue agave plant grown
                  in specific regions of the country.

                  In the face of fierce international competition, Mexico went to the European
                  Union for help. Mexico wanted to limit the production of Tequila to its
                  borders. Less than two years ago the EU agreed that the only true tequilla is
                  made in Mexico.

                  International recognition of tequila, which has nearly 500 brands on the
                  market, is more than an economic question in Mexico.

                  "More than the money, we feel it's the identification of our country with our
                  national drink...that every day it is becoming more present in more and more
                  markets," said Ramon Gonzalez of the Organization for the Regulation of

                            The Associated Press contributed to this report.