The first question I asked Danielle Griffin is “did you know the position you were interviewing for was Tequila Goddess?”
She laughs, “Yes, yes I did.” Despite the playful title, being a Tequila Goddess is serious business.
Griffin acquired the title in January of 2010, when the fine dining Mexican restaurant, La Hacienda, reopened at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess after an 18-month hiatus.
With a fresh new look and a menu designed by acclaimed Mexican chef Richard Sandoval, La Hacienda needed a tequila expert on staff to oversee the 136 bottles of agave spirits.
So Sandoval created the Tequila Goddess position.
Griffin wasn’t destined to be a Tequila Goddess. Oh sure, she’s stunningly beautiful, with ivory skin, blue eyes and a dimpled chin, and she drank her fair share of cheap tequila during college, but she was by no means a tequila expert.
Her background is in music. She studied classical flute at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (she even played on a BBC program), and while she still practices her flute, she no longer plays professionally.
After returning home from Australia (Griffin is a 4th generation Arizonan), she was tending bar around town to make ends meet when she heard about the La Hacienda position.
“Within a week of having this job, I fell in love,” she says.
Not with a person — with tequila.
She jetted off to Mexico to learn more about the industry beyond the standard gold shot accompanied by lime and salt.
Her job, despite the image of Tequila Goddess, doesn’t consist of floating through the resort in a silky white gown, pouring shots of tequila down the throats of goo-goo-eyed, thirsty patrons.
Quite the contrary, her primary mission is education (and if that helps sell tequila, all the better).
Griffin has a counterpart in New York, Sandoval’s Tequila Librarian, who oversees his Tequila Library (despite the titles, these people are very serious about tequila).
Griffin plays the role with professionalism (of course, it doesn’t hurt that she’s gorgeous, but this former musician-turned-goddess knows her stuff). She’s on site six days a week (La Hacienda is closed Mondays) to help guide guests through the dizzying array of tequila choices. The 136-bottle inventory is about to expand to 240 bottles.
“The hot new trend is to develop a tequila brand,” she says, pointing out there are more than 1,200 brands, yet all are produced in only 165 distilleries in Mexico.
This past January, Griffin returned to Mexico to attend a two-day diploma course on tequila administered by the Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT), the organization that officially certifies all tequila in accordance to Mexican law.
Back at the resort, Griffin now offers classes to guests, modeled after the CRT diploma class. Part of the resort’s Passion Project, a slate of experiences design to showcase the resort’s assets (like a table-side Bloody Mary experience at LV Bistro, a Snake River Waygu beef tasting at Bourbon Steak and a local San Tan Brewery tasting at TPC Grill), Griffin’s tequila class is designed to educate guests on tequila from field to bottle.
What’s Griffin’s favorite tequila?
“It depends,” she says, “on my mood, the time of day, what I’m eating.”
Griffin loves to guide guests to new tequila experiences and share her passion for cooked agave. She personally prefers tequila from the lowland regions of Mexico’s five designated tequila-producing areas.
“The lowlands tend to produce a little more pepper and citrus notes,” she says, “and tequila from the highlands — like Don Julio and Clase Azul — tend to produce more floral and herbal notes.”
But, she says, it’s not about what she likes — it’s about what her guests like.
“Everyone has a different palate,” she says. Her job is to listen to the guests and guide them to a tequila that suits their tastes. Along the way, she hopes to educate her guests about the national Mexican spirit and introduce them to the cultural experience of drinking tequila.
For some guests (with deep pockets) that might be a sip of of Dos Lunas Grand Reserve ($220 per shot), an extra añejo aged for 10 years in Spanish Sherry oak barrels.
For others, it might be the Snake Bite flight ($16), an agave spirits lesson disguised in a touristy gimmick.
Guests are presented a platter of three of Mexico’s five agave spirits garnished with a real — but thankfully dead — rattlesnake head and tail.
The three pours are tequila, smoky mezcal and sotol.
“It’s a fun way to experience the differences [in Mexico’s agave spirits],” Griffin says.
And, if she sneaks in a little agave spirit wisdom in the process, so be it.
She is a goddess, after all.
La Hacienda at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort
7575 East Princess Drive, Scottsdale
Passion Project: Demystifying Tequila
Tuesday through Sunday, 5:30 p.m. to close
$30 – reservations recommended