PEORIA — After surviving an industrial accident in 1992, David Reyes had to make a life-changing career move.

The Peoria native went from being an account manager at a Peoria printing company to becoming a farmer in Jalisco, Mexico. In the past 27 years, Reyes has turned some inherited land south of the border into a product that is making him a key player in the tequila industry.

Reyes, 62, owns several farms in Mexico, and all of them are producing blue agave — the key ingredient in tequila. For his private label brand, Tequila David Reyes, it’s the only ingredient in the bottle besides water. 

"TDR is made only with three ingredients: 100 percent pure, mature agave, agave yeast, and water," Reyes said. "There are no other fillers or alcohols added."

Paul Wann, a tequila "connoisseur," is playing a big role in spreading the word about TDR and getting it out to more markets in the U.S. He is the official importer of TDR for the U.S.

The TDR brand of tequila is only available in a handful of restaurants in the Peoria area, including Hacienda El Mirador and Harvest Supper Club at Junction City, and wasn’t available in the United States until Vince Delgadillo, a lifelong friend of Reyes, became the product’s first importer in 2010.

Now, Wann has taken over importing TDR after discovering the tequila at the Hacienda El Mirador restaurant almost by accident in 2017.

“I’m always chasing that perfect tequila,” Wann said. “I’ve tried them from the cheap stuff all the way up to the $250 a pour.

“A group of us stopped at Hacienda, and, as usual, went to the back of the menu to look at the tequilas. They had Tequila David Reyes, so I ordered it. The waiter told me that he knew David and that I would really like it.”

That turned out to be an understatement.

“The first sip was so pure, so clean,” Wann said. “I must have had a crack in the glass, because it was gone! I told them that if (Reyes) was ever in town to call me. There were two reasons why I wanted to meet David. One, I wanted to meet the creator, and, two, I just wanted to make sure I could get my own bottle.”

Reyes, who lives in Mexico, occasionally makes trips back to Peoria during deer-hunting season. But he hadn't been in town for a couple of years because of an injury.

He still has close ties with some longtime friends in the area, including Juan Madrigal, his personal adviser in Peoria.

“My mother, Maria, used to be his catechism teacher when Juan was young,” Reyes said.

When he is in town, Reyes frequents Hacienda El Mirador.

Late in 2017, Wann got the call that Reyes and Madrigal were at the restaurant. So, Wann raced to the restaurant to meet him.

Reyes wasn’t even supposed to be at the restaurant that day.

“The hunting was slow, and it was 80 degrees in November,” Reyes recalled. “So I told Juan that we should have lunch.

“Then the waiter gave us the information on Paul. It was just one of those days that when you least expect it, that’s when some of this stuff happens. It just goes to show you that it was meant to be.”

It turned out to be a beneficial meeting for all.

“I had to meet my rock star, whose tequila I had been drinking,” Wann said. “It’s like meeting Mick Jagger! I flew in the door at probably 4 in the afternoon, and I don’t think we left until 11. We sat there and talked. I got so much education that night.”

Reyes said he was looking for somebody like Wann to make TDR available to more markets.

“The next six weeks, we were together once a week for about three hours,” Reyes said. “I needed somebody like Paul, who knew about selling and believed in the quality of my product.”

Reyes already controlled everything in his private-label tequila, from the farm to the bottle.

“I grow this agave,” Reyes said. “You have to have that relationship with your farms to be consistent with a product like this. I always say that you cannot be a tequila expert unless you’re an agave expert.”

Reyes has been spending most of his time either in Mexico or in Austin, Texas, where his sister and mother live. Now he is spending a little more time in Peoria, working with Wann.

“I can take care of the business end of it, but I have a maintenance crew that takes care of my fields,” he said. “They’re on a monthly schedule. I’m just starting to do this because I’m needed more up here with Paul.”

In the beginning

Reyes’ father, Victor Garcia, entered the United States illegally from Mexico when he was just 12 years old to help find a better life for him and his family.

He worked his way through the states, and eventually ended up in Peoria. Garcia got a job at LeTourneau-Westinghouse, which eventually was purchased by Komatsu.

“The CEO of LeTourneau-Westinghouse (R.G. LeTourneau) helped my dad get naturalized,” Reyes said. “He flew my father on his private plane down to Mexico to help my mom and my oldest sister, Amelia, get their papers.”

Garcia and his wife had four more daughters and one son — Reyes — after moving to Peoria.

Reyes was raised in a strict Catholic household and graduated from Spaulding Academy. He went to college at St. Ambrose University, but left before earning a degree.

“I left to go to work at Fleming-Potter in an apprenticeship program,” Reyes said.

The accident

When Reyes worked at Fleming-Potter, he was the key account manager for the Bacardi account. It was one of the largest accounts at Fleming-Potter, which at one time was the largest printer of product labels in the world.

While working that account, Reyes was involved in an industrial accident that took him about seven years of recovery.

“It split my pelvis and shattered four discs in my back,” Reyes said.

That led to a lengthy and painful rehabilitation.

“As soon as I had the surgery, I was in a body cast,” he said. “Then my mother said, ‘Why don’t you go to Mexico and take care of this business for us?’ My grandfather had some land, and it was going to be willed to my mother. But she said to go ahead and put it in my name.

“Now we had to figure out what we were going to start growing down there. I didn’t want to grow corn, wheat or beans. That market was very saturated.”

Good decision

So Reyes decided to grow agave, even though it had not been grown on his farmland before. The first thing he learned about agave is that it takes seven or eight years for plants to mature.

“But I did not really know the value of the agave in this massive industry,” Reyes said. “It was just a dream. Had I known what it takes to do this, I would have still done it, because there was no turning back.

“It takes a lot of time and a lot of money. Even though one field is ready every year, you still have to maintain the others. I thought I was going to be a commodity grower.”

All that changed in 2000, when Reyes was in Peoria for hunting season. He got a call from an uncle, telling him that a representative from Tequila Cuervo wanted to talk with him.

“They had a frost down there, and it had not frosted in 100 years,” Reyes said. “It wiped out 90 percent of the agave, except for mine, because of where I was located, right at the foothills. I was covered from the north and from the west. Not only that, my plants were already giants, so they could withstand the weather. It would have taken a flood to kill them.”

The Cuervo representative said he was sent to purchase the agave from Reyes. The rep flew him back to Mexico to make the deal. All he wanted to know was how much it would cost.

“The next day I told him the price, and he said, ‘No problem’ ” Reyes said. “And as soon as the money hit my account, their trucks pulled up and took out probably 300 tons.

“Once I made the sale to Cuervo, I knew I had found my calling. So I started to learn the market.”

Tequila David Reyes

And he decided to make his own brand of tequila.

“There was nothing I liked, because all of the tequilas we were drinking gave us headaches,” Reyes said. “Anything that produces sugar — a banana, pear or apple — if you know how, you can convert it to alcohol.”

He also discovered that not all tequilas are created equally.

“Every tequila is different,” Reyes said. “It reflects your agave, the state of your agave when you cut it, and the person that takes care of your agave, which in this case is me.”

Wann said there are other factors that give TDR the edge over other brands.

“The cardinal rule that we all learned in college is to never mix your liquors,” he said. “Some of the commercial brands — and I’m not naming names — use a little bit of blue agave, just enough to say it’s tequila.

“Then they add sugar alcohol from cane, grain alcohol — so you already have three alcohols in one drink. That’s like oil and water. Alcohols don’t mix together. They do mix in a bottle, and it stays all uniform, but what does it do to the human body?"

So, Reyes decided to produce TDR without any other components in his blue agave. He also uses only natural pesticides and fertilizer, so it’s as close to being organic without the certification. But he is working on that.

Reyes also designed his own bottle and label for TDR, with simplicity in mind.

“At restaurants, you’ll see thousands of different tequila bottles — in every shape and form,” he said. “So I wanted to go with purity. I wanted a tall, slender bottle to make this statement, because of the quality of the agave.”

There is a label on the neck of the clear bottle that says, “Nuestro secreto” (our secret), and the name of his farm, “Los Agaves Más Azules” (The Bluest Agaves) is on the main label.

TDR, however, was not very available in the states until around 2010, when Delgadillo, a Bartonville native who now lives in Houston, started importing a few bottles.

The word spread quickly, and TDR has gotten rave reviews on several platforms, such as tequilaaficionado.com. Alex Perez, the founder of Tequila Aficionado, gave the tequila high marks. 

But quality tequila comes at a cost.

“Blue agave is liquid gold, and extremely expensive,” Wann said. “If you want to enjoy a perfect tequila, then you’re willing to pay. If you're going to party out on the town, drink something cheap. But if you want to enjoy the night and have a great taste, with this purity you’re not going to have a hangover.”

Wann is working on a business plan to start making TDR available in more areas around the country.

“It will finger out across the whole U.S. as we work to stay with smaller distributors,” Wann said. “But the amount of agave available at this level, what David creates, is limited.

“So, we’ll be hitting Vegas, other parts of California, and Texas. We’re expecting to be in the high-end casinos and high-end hotels in Vegas.”

Reyes can produce 144,000 bottles of TDR — a blanco tequila — per batch, and eventually will expand his tequila offerings to include a reposado (aged three months to a year), an añejo (aged 1-3 years), and an extra añejo (aged 3-plus years).

Whatever blue agave is left over from his fields, Reyes sells to other tequila makers. But he hopes that will end as soon.

“My goal is not to sell any of my agave,” Reyes said, “and make it all Tequila David Reyes.”