In the lush, green grasslands of Guatemala, a community of over 700 women are weaving their way to independence and empowerment by hand-crafting intricate ‘petate’ bands (woven palm leaves) that adorn the bottles of one of the world’s premier Rums.
Inspired by these unique women, ahead of International Women’s Day, acclaimed lifestyle photographer and Instagrammer, Nicolee Drake traveled to Guatemala to capture their incredible stories of progress.
Nicolee captured the women crafting the bands for the outside of each bottle of Zacapa 23 Rum and met the woman who crafts the liquid that goes inside the bottle: master blender of 30 years Lorena Vásquez, one of PEOPLE en Español’s 25 Most Influential Women 2015. Lorena is one of only a few female leaders in a traditionally male-dominated industry and leads the work to support the petate weavers.
Lorena Vásquez said: “As women, we must stand up and support one another – build each other up and press for progress. If we don’t, who will? Personally, I would love to see more women progressing to the top. I am proud to be in a position to make a difference not only among women but among the community I live in – to give back in recognition of everything it gives to us.”
With the help of Zacapa, these progressive women have discarded the societal norms that saw them stay at home while their husbands worked. They have adapted their craft** to create an employment opportunity which guarantees a fixed income to support their families. As a result, their social standing is elevated and younger generations are finding they have greater access to education than before.
More than just an income, weaving petates provides them with work they can do in their homes so they have the luxury of time to raise their families (a vital part of Mayan culture).
In fact for Zacapa, time matters more than anything and is a focus throughout the entire creation of the Rum, from blending to maturation to the time taken to savor the liquid.
Spending time with these communities, capturing their stories through her camera lens, Nicolee said: “These women have faced incredible hardships and many were widowed in the armed conflict in Guatemala (1960 – 1996). It was amazing to see the change brought about in their lives and the lives of their families. I loved meeting women like Ana, one of eight daughters of a widow, who has had to support herself financially. To do this, Ana weaves petate bands and with the income she earns, she has chosen to fund studies to become a teacher – she is currently in her final year of study.
“On International Women’s Day, and every day, women around the world are pressing for progress and I saw first-hand the part Zacapa is playing by providing a platform for these women to empower themselves.”
Petate weaving is a tradition passed from mother to daughter. Mayans believe the petate represents the unity between heaven and earth, the sun and the moon, the spiritual and the physical because the band has no beginning or end. It is a hand-crafted process, like the creation of Zacapa that cannot be rushed. Both are works of art, carefully and patiently crafted by female hands.
Lorena considers herself as having one of the greatest jobs in the world and is largely credited for making Zacapa the distinguished premium spirit it is today. During her time as Master Blender, she has instigated bold innovations: she chose the location for the Zacapa aging facility, 2300m above the sea, (fondly known as the “House above the Clouds.”) as altitude and a cool climate allows slow aging. Here, depending on the variety, Zacapa is aged from six to 30 years, giving the spirit time to mature and exchange its virtues with the wooden barrels. The result is the exceptionally deep aroma, full color and rich flavor.
Zacapa is one of the most exquisite tasting Rums in the world. It is an award-winning, premium Rum from the mystical land of Guatemala and is recognized by the World Luxury Association as one of the ‘World’s Top 100 Most Valuable Luxury Brands’.
Zacapa is produced in the verdant Guatemalan countryside, under a dramatic backdrop of soaring mountains and active volcanoes, At 2,300m above sea level this is one of the highest aging facilities in the world and what we call ‘The House Above The Clouds’.
The key ingredient is virgin sugar cane honey which combined with the unique, dynamic ‘Sistema Solera’ distillation process results in an exceptional, ultra-premium Rum with a distinct and remarkable taste.
Aged using an adapted Spanish sherry maturing process, ‘Sistema Solera’ enables Rums of varying ages and personalities to be carefully blended by the Master Blender Lorena Vásquez. Old and new Rums are carefully combined and matured in a series of casks previously used to store American whiskeys, delicate Sherries and fine Pedro Ximénez wines, etc which give an extraordinary depth of flavor. The high altitude, constant average temperature of 14°C (58°F) allow the liquids to retain distinctive deep, rich flavors and qualities that shape this unique premium Rum.
For Zacapa, time matters more than anything – Zacapa is time well spent. Time is a focus throughout every stage of the distilling process, from blending spirits of different ages and personalities and storing the liquid in selected barrels during the maturing process, right up to taking the time to sip, savor and enjoy the liquid – this is called the Art of Slow.