This Women’s History Month, we’re putting a well-deserved spotlight on female founders in the fashion, beauty, and lifestyle space. Next up, Sonya Vega Auvray, who originally founded top PR firm, The Wetherly Group. Her latest brainchild? The chic booze brand Doña Vega, which has become the go-to mezcal at hotspots like Dante at The Snow Lodge, Caribou Club, Casa Tua, LPM Miami, The Standard, and Montauk Beach House, among others. With her fledgling company, the founder was inspired by her own family heritage and sought to enlist a mom and three daughters who are fifth generation mezcaleras. Here, she tells us more about the values that shape her vision for Doña Vega. Cheers!
What’s your backstory?
I was born and raised in Tucson, AZ to a Mexican family. My grandfather migrated from Los Mochis at the age of 16, making his way in the U.S., and married a Mexican-American woman. I’m very close to my family and elected to stay in Tucson for college, studying Marketing at the University of Arizona. After I graduated, my career path started in Los Angeles, initially working in talent PR for high-profile film directors, and then transitioned to fashion PR. Later on in 2005, I founded my own PR agency, Wetherly, named after the street in L.A. where we opened our first office.
How did you end up in the fashion industry; what was this time like for you?
I worked for an agency focused on VIP dressing, and I loved the events division. After some time, I moved to New York and took on an in-house PR role with Ippolita. It became a full circle moment when I started Wetherly and Ippolita became my first client. Soon J Brand signed on, and we were in business!
Did you always think you’d pursue another avenue? Particularly launching your own brand!
Honestly, I never thought about it before, but when I took a year hiatus from Wetherly to spend time with my family, I started to research mezcal. I dove into what I anticipated to be a fun, passion project and an opportunity to connect with my Mexican heritage. I didn’t think about truly pivoting careers until the recipes, branding, and bottles all came together.
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What’s your very first memory involving mezcal?
I was introduced to mezcal at a friend’s wedding in Mexico in 2011. I found it way more interesting than tequila, and loved that there was no hangover in the morning! It’s simply a fun and tasty drink. I started noticing restaurants increasing their mezcal portfolios, and even began to see mezcal make it onto cocktail menus; many now have mezcal listed in the top two offerings. I saw a vision of growth.
From initial idea to launch, how long did the journey to creating Doña Vega take?
It took three years from conception to launch while I was juggling two full-time jobs and my family. Finding the right producer in Oaxaca and refining our recipe was the most involved part of the process. I wanted to get our quality and taste right to create a mezcal that was more approachable, less smoky, and less of a ‘bite’ at first sip. For those who love tequila and are just learning about mezcal, it was important to me to provide a refined and modern option.
The drinks market is notoriously crowded—did your PR background help to get the word out?
It was helpful to have press features out of the gate to offer credibility from key publications such as Forbes. My PR experience also gave me the leverage I needed to break into the spirits industry with creative ideas for partnerships. From years of supporting trendy bars and restaurants with fashion events, I can now walk in and say, “If you support us, I can find ways to support you as well.” Everything is about relationships and not just making a sale.
Tell us about what goes into each bottle: the who, what, how, where!
One of my favorite parts of this journey is learning from the mezcaleras and the tradition that goes into each stage of production—it’s an art form. Our organic agave plants are found on the mountains outside of Oaxaca and are matured between eight/nine years before being harvested (most Espadin plants only mature three-four years before harvest). The hand-selected agave piñas are then roasted for four days in stone-lined earthen oven pits over a low, steady fire. After combining the ground agave with the palenque’s well water, it ferments in wooden vats for three days. Doña Vega is stored in oak barrels, which adds richness to the flavor of our mezcal, before being hand-poured and labeled into each bottle.
What do we need to know about the packaging?
I’m super proud of the label and packaging; it’s playful yet sophisticated. Little Bear Inc designed it. The red and orange represent the flames that smoke the agave, and the pink represents the traditional pink building in Mexico. The way the Doña Vega Mezcal name is stacked on the logo, you can find the word “agave” spelled backwards!
Was it a non-negotiable that you’d work with Oaxacan women?
When searching for my production partner, the most important things I was looking for were quality and the ability to see the bigger picture of building a brand. I visited and tested recipes with 22 farms and landed on our partner for their outstanding quality. I knew three sisters ran the business, but it wasn’t until later that I found out their mother owns their farms of five generations. Simply a bonus for an all-woman team!
You’re stocked at many of the chicest spots in the country! How has this helped build awareness?
This was our strategy from day one, and it was super helpful in building brand awareness initially. I figured if we could gain recognition from these notable and key accounts, the rest would fall into place more easily.
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How do you personally prefer to enjoy your mezcal? Any insider tips for us?
I usually drink it neat, however there is one cocktail recipe I love from Casa Tua called the Aztec Roots—they add muddled ginger root which is a really nice compliment to our Espadin. Cooking with mezcal is fun, too; I’ve made a ceviche marinade and a chocolate mousse.
What’s one fact about mezcal that surprises most people?
That tequila is a type of mezcal, and not the other way around!
What are your hopes for the future of the brand?
My hope is that Doña Vega will become the go-to mezcal brand and the first one people have in mind for its approachable smoky taste, especially as the spirit continues to grow in popularity.