Husband and wife duo Chris Barbin and Lori Csaszar’s love affair with premium sipping tequila began after spending the better half of the last decade traveling throughout Mexico for both business and pleasure. “We fell in love with the people, the culture, and the spirit of Mexico,” says Csaszar.
“Both Lori and I have a combined 50-plus years in the tech industry,” says Barbin. “However, a few years ago while we dined at one of our favorite local tequila bar and restaurants, Wilmette’s Depot Nuevo Restaurant, we discussed ‘what’s next’ for us after we sold my tech business. It was a funny light bulb moment as we sipped our tequila and jointly made the decision to venture into the world of the premium spirit.”
The couple can now safely say all of the tequilas they sipped along their journey were in the name of research. In January 2018, the serial entrepreneurs along with their team set out to redefine the tequila experience with the launch of SipTequila.com, a direct-to-consumer platform focused on bringing hand-curated, super-premium, and boutique tequilas to market in the U.S., as well as Compoveda Tequila, their private label, a luxury extra añejo tequila made to be both sipped and shared. Their primary vision is to educate the U.S. market on a very misunderstood spirit and to introduce a premium sipping tequila that will open the minds of skeptical spirit and wine consumers.
Their U.S. operation is headquartered in Stuart, Florida, where Compoveda Tequila is distributed across the U.S. They partnered with a boutique distillery in El Arenal, Jalisco, Mexico, owned by the Partida family. The family has been producing tequila for two decades and were agave farmers for three decades prior. It was a strategic choice, as ‘family’ is one of the core values for both SipTequila.com and Compoveda. The Partidas help the local SipTequila.com team, as well as the team in the U.S. find limited-batch, family-centric craft tequilas to bring to market while also producing Compoveda.
“We source small boutique brands that would have a hard time coming to market otherwise, and we generally offer about 25 rotating tequilas at any given time,” says Barbin. “Part of the process is taste testing, and I like to say I’m the Chairman and CTO. That is, Chief Tasting Officer.”
With Compoveda, the goal was to create a tequila that’s as flavorful and sophisticated to drink as a high-end wine, whiskey, or bourbon. Both Barbin and Csaszar believe tequila to be a misunderstood flavor profile and that there are countless parallels to the wine industry.
“The wine industry went through a significant education phase 20-30 years ago,” explains Barbin. “Now most people know the difference between a pinot and a merlot but can’t tell the difference between a reposado and an extra añejo tequila. We feel like we’re skating ahead of the puck of a significant industry trend and want to be a primary education platform.”
Compoveda rests for upwards of five years in red wine barrels from California before sitting in new heavy charred oak barrels for up to another year. The result? A super-smooth, layered tequila with hints of vanilla, maple, brown spice, and oak. The perfect balance and flavor profile for those who love brown spirits and premium wines.
“Another reason I personally fell in love with the spirit, and one of the reasons tequila is currently the fastest-growing spirit on the market, representing 10 percent of the overall spirits market, is because of the many health benefits,” says Csaszar. “It’s the only spirit that is 100 percent gluten-free, aids in digestion, is both a probiotic and prebiotic, and actually speeds up your metabolism—in moderation, of course. It also has been studied for its positive effect on diseases like type 2 diabetes, dementia, and osteoporosis.”
Not only is tequila good for you, but they also believe it should be good for the community. One of the most pressing needs across both rural and developed Mexico is access to clean water. Their business donates proceeds from every 750ml Compoveda Tequila bottle sale to the purchase and installation of residential and school-sized rainwater harvesting systems through Isla Urbana, a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to bringing rainwater harvesting systems to needy communities in Mexico, which then provides a sustainable, clean source of water. They want to ensure their donation is going back to the communities and families that produce and support the spirit.
“Chris and I have similar passions but different interests,” says Csaszar. “As the head of corporate giving for our brand, I focus on the giving back aspect and core values of the business. And as one of the co-founders of the business, I promote our brand and sell to corporate clients organizing private events and tastings or arranging corporate gifting opportunities. We’re learning for the first time how to work with each other and had to quickly define our roles. We have to be very clear with each other whether we’re wearing our ‘work hat’ or our ‘husband or wife hat.’ There was a learning curve and not something we did from the outset. But at least now, he knows I’m always right!” She laughs.
Barbin concurs (with a grin). “We have complementary skill sets,” he says. “Lori, I often joke, is the best lead generator in the world. She’ll meet someone new on an airplane and sell them a case of tequila by the end of the flight. I get on an airplane and immediately put in my headphones. I’m much more of an introvert, and she’s an extrovert, I’m an operator, she’s sales and marketing—in many ways it’s all very complementary.”
One responsibility they share, though, is that of raising their three kids in Winnetka. Two are in college, one at Butler University and one at the University of Illinois in Champaign, with the youngest being a junior at New Trier High School in Winnetka. They also recently built and opened a 140 seat lakeside restaurant, ThunderBoss Bar & Grill, in Green Lake, Wisconsin in the summer of 2018. “We started that at the same time we launched the tequila business, which was a relatively large undertaking,” says Barbin. “In hindsight, not something we’d do again.”
The family loves water sports, including wake surfing, international travel, and meeting new people, preferably over a glass of tequila. “When we offer friends and family who are unfamiliar with premium sipping tequilas to try our Compoveda Tequila, they sometimes cringe,” says Csaszar. “They immediately think of the tequila shots they were forced to do in college. But what we are offering, is not the stuff you shoot back with salt and lime or stir in sugar or mixers to cover up the taste. Our tequila is one to be sipped, savored, and shared. It has surprised and delighted our friends, family, and now, our loyal consumers.”