In the Sierra Madre of Sonora, connection with the wild agave plant is part of an ancestral legacy that can be traced back to the indigenous Ópata who have long inhabited our region. Born in the mountains, these agaves have long been forged in the rugged highlands, a terrain of scarce seasonal rain. As a species, the agave is sensitive and tenacious—a survivor that produces distillates defined by complexity, with flavors and aromas reflective of its arduous life. Smoky, herbaceous, earthy, and sweet, the distillates of Los Cantiles 1905 reflect the character and terrain of our mountainous region.
The elaboration of agave spirits is part of a legacy that has been preserved and passed across generations, with artisanal roots that reach back more than 300 years. Even when its production was prohibited and made punishable by death in a decree implemented by the Mexican government between 1914 and 1992, these tragos as they are commonly called in Sonora, were made by ranchers who courageously stayed true to their roots, keeping their “hands in the fire” through clandestine production.
Los Cantiles 1905
Don Refugio Portillo was born in Chihuahua in the late 19th century and moved to the town of Nacori Chico, Sonora at a young age. In 1905, together with his wife and children, he founded La Nopalera Ranch, named for its abundance of wild prickly pear. Situated on the banks of the Río Bonito, the rich landscape sustained his hardworking family and helped instill in them a culture of determination and respect for the land. They grew beans, chile, corn, and wheat. With the help of horse-drawn tahona millstones, they ground wheat into flour and corn into pinole. They raised cattle to produce meat, dairy, and traditional cheeses. But above all else, the establishment of La Nopalera was an inception point for the production of Los Cantiles 1905 bacanora, a legacy that has endured across four generations.
Thanks to the rich diversity of the Sonoran region where Portillo founded La Nopalera ranch, a range of wild of agaves can be found scattered among the foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental. In the lands surrounding the town of Nacori Chico, wild Agave shrevei, known as lechuguilla or sereque by the indigenous Tarahumara people of neighboring Chihuahua, grows high in the mountains at 5,300 feet and above alongside Dasylirion Wheeleri of the lily family, known commonly as sotol. Agave angustafolia haw is found in the lowermost elevations of the ranch along the riverbanks at 2600 feet. The majority of the wild agaves in La Nopalera ranch adorn the surroundings of the emblematic hill known as “Los Cantiles” flanking the Río Bonito, which unites our watershed with the nearby Río Yaqui.
Over the course of the ensuing decades, the inexhaustible labor of Don Refugio transformed his ranch into one of the most important in the region. After spending the majority of his life there, he was finally buried in the family cemetery on the property. La Nopalera ranch was passed on to his descendants, including his grandson Don José, the father of José Luis Portillo, who produces Los Cantiles 1905. In 2010, José Luis decided to continue the legacy of his ancestors, applying the same materials and methods that his family had employed for more than 100 years, preserving their traditions and ensuring a vibrant future for this singular Sonoran spirit.
José Luis, a graduate of the University of Sonora with a degree in Biochemistry, came to understand the profound influence of natural yeast in the fermentation of bacanora through his specialized study of mycology and bacteria, allowing him to refine the teachings and techniques used by his parents, uncles, grandparents, and great grandparents. During his years of experience, Portillo has sought to produce a distillate with traditional taste and superior quality, experimenting with different combinations of the region’s wild agaves to broaden his portfolio of varieties. Los Cantiles 1905 currently offers bacanora made from Agave Pacifica, lechuguilla made from Agave shrevei, palmilla made from Dasylirion wheeleri, ensambles that combine palmilla with lechuguilla and bacanora, and aged bacanoras that have been rested for two years in white American White Oak.
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