Texan by Nature is excited to recognize Desert Door Texas Sotol as a 2023 TxN 20 honoree for their leadership in conservation and sustainability. Desert Door Texas Sotol’s commitment to conservation, their projects, programs, best practices, and lessons learned are an example and inspiration for us all.
Honoree Industry and Size: Food, Beverage, Grocery– Small
Company Overview Launched in November 2017, Desert Door Texas Sotol is the only commercial producer of sotol in the United States. Desert Door produces a line of sotol made from the Dasylirion texanum, or Desert Spoon plant, native to West Texas. Desert Door was founded by Texans Judson Kauffman, Ryan Campbell, and Brent Looby. The founders, all former service members of the United States military, met while attending The University of Texas McCombs School of Business.
What is Desert Door’s conservation and sustainability mission and why is it important to your culture?
Desert Door Texas Sotol operates according to three core values: originality, authenticity, and connection that are the embodiment of our culture. When Desert Door was founded, it was essential to tell the story of how the sotol plant represents West Texas and the land itself. Equally important is the physical connection with the land that is provided through the wild-harvested sotol across West Texas used to produce Desert Door. With this reverence for the plant and the land it comes from, Desert Door prioritizes opportunities to increase the conservation of the plant and the land in which it thrives. Desert Door’s values statement is provided below. Wild places define who we are as Texans. Regeneration is at the core of these places and at the heart of Desert Door’s culture.
The Desert Door Ranch is also a powerful expression of the Desert Door brand. It is the embodiment of the wild West Texas spirit and home to acres of sotol. The Desert Door Ranch is located in Dryden, Texas and approximately 7,500 acres of wide-open ranchland. Originally acquired to provide a reserve of sotol plants for the company, the ranch has also become an opportunity for Desert Door Texas Sotol to actively employ land stewardship and conservation practices. At this time, there is a great amount of work ahead in order to make this a healthy and biodiverse landscape again after years of overgrazing and neglect.
How is conservation and sustainability a part of Desert Door’s business strategy?
Desert Door Texas Sotol embeds conservation and sustainability in almost every aspect of our business. Beginning with production, our commitment to conservation and sustainability is a priority throughout the entire production process – from harvest through the manufacturing of Desert Door Texas Sotol. This commitment is evident in the significant investment Desert Door has made in both equipment/infrastructure and human capital. Desert Door has developed and patented a system of highly efficient and sustainable manufacturing techniques and production systems/processes. Conservation focused harvesting and production efforts have yielded positive conservation and sustainability impacts, such as water retention and maintaining or creating a healthy balance of plant species on the land.
At Desert Door Texas Sotol, our employees are considered storytellers who share the history and importance of the wilds of Texas through a lens of conservation. We support the development of passion for the wilds of Texas and deep connection with nature. At Desert Door, all employees are engaged in conservation and sustainability efforts taking place within the distillery and on partnering ranches as a commitment to the company’s core values. Desert Door not only offers various opportunities for the team to engage in unique experiences in the wild, but we also support conservation initiatives proposed by our team members. This employee engagement strategy takes us back to our core values of authenticity and connection and helps us engage the community in conservation and sustainability.
What are Desert Door’s short and long-term goals as they relate to conservation and sustainability?
At Desert Door distillery we believe one of our most imperiled natural resources is land. We’re talking about the magnificent wide-open spaces you always hear about in Texas lore. The kind you find when you’re exploring the West Texas desert — which coincidentally, is where we stumbled upon the sotol plant and got inspired to create our signature product.
As such, Desert Door Texas Sotol has short- and long-term conservation and sustainability goals. Long-term, we think it’s important these untamed, awesome expanses of land are preserved. That’s why we started Wild Spirit Wild Places, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization to support conservation and land stewardship across Texas by funding the research, education, and practice of land conservation for generations to come. Short-term, Desert Door Texas Sotol plans to continue the development and improvement of our environmentally friendly harvesting and production practices, educate our staff and the community about land conservation and sustainability practices, and support land stewardship projects across the state of Texas.
Who at Desert Door is leading your conservation and sustainability efforts and what are some examples of employee engagement in conservation and sustainability at your company?
From the beginning, the three founders of Desert Door Texas Sotol (Brent Looby, Ryan Campbell, and Judson Kauffman) agreed that the wild harvested sotol plant represented the lands of West Texas and was essential to the success of the company. At present, Brent Looby leads this effort across the company and ensures all areas of the company and respective individuals prioritize and maintain a commitment to conservation and sustainability by educating all employees about conservation to develop a deep understanding of land conservation efforts and lasting impacts. Consistent efforts, large and small, contribute to the overall conservation and sustainably impact. This approach is essential to make sure the land was preserved to ensure this plant continues to thrive in the wild.
At Desert Door, all employees are engaged in conservation and sustainability efforts taking place within the distillery and on partnering ranches as a commitment to the company’s core values.
In early 2022, five Desert Door employees assisted in a prescribed burn event on a working ranch in Ozona, TX that was facilitated by Wild Spirit Wild Places® and the Ozona Chamber of Commerce. The purpose of the burn was to remove old vegetation to make room for new growth. Within two to five years following a prescribed fire, burned areas often sustain more grasses and forbs offering abundant food and habitat for local wildlife and improves the quality and quantity of groundwater. The use of prescribed fire also improves landscape resilience, promoting a diverse and vibrant ecosystem that supports and sustains underlying water table.
“I am honored that you chose my family’s ranch for the burn demonstration. Prescribed burning has always interested me, but I just wasn’t sure how to actually make it happen. This demonstration gave me, and many others, the tools need to go forward when conditions are more conducive to prescribed burning.”
– Landowner Jack Baggett in Ozona, Texas
Desert Door employees also supported the City of Austin in earning its Bee City certification from the Xerces Society. In that effort, Desert Door employees helped install pollinator gardens at the Austin Science and Nature Center. The primary message for the pollinator garden work was, “Plant native plants.” Native plants provide the pollen and nectar that are the primary food source for bees. Ray Moranz of Xerces Society for invertebrate Conservation explained,
“This project that we are working on, we are working to enhance pollinator habitats in the City of Austin. Being the capital of Texas, a lot of people come to Austin, and they fall in love with it. They take the good things they learn in Austin elsewhere. Having Austin as a Bee City is ideal. Individuals can have so much impact on bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Recently, people have been planting native plants in other large cities, and they are seeing an endangered bumble bee showing up in those gardens. So, people planting pollinator gardens are making a difference. They are providing habitat for endangered species.”
Desert Door also continues to support a community seed exchange by hosting a seed exchange event at the distillery and offered seed packets free to the public to exchange. The purpose of the seed exchange was to inspire Austin community members to create their own gardens.
What conservation and sustainability programs and projects does Desert Door lead and participate in?
In 2022, Desert Door Texas Sotol invested in conservation efforts through Wild Spirit Wild Places®. Over the course of the year, approximately $75,000 was donated to support programming costs related to a prescribed burn, pollinator garden installations, and WILD TALK education events. Desert Door Texas Sotol also provided almost $20,000 in in-kind contributions in the form of facilities donations for event and meeting spaces and cocktails for events.
Desert Door maintains its original investments of environmentally friendly equipment and systems. Major capital investments that continue to contribute directly to conservation and sustainability. In 2022, Desert Door invested approximately $1 million dollars to upgrade its fermentation equipment to increase yields from the wild harvested plants.
In 2022, Desert Door Texas Sotol also invested $475,000 to responsibly harvest the sotol plant. Desert Door adheres to wild harvesting protocol on multiple ranches to create and/or preserve the biodiversity of the landscape from which the sotol is harvested. These practices include criteria related to plant size, meaning the plants cannot be too large or too small. Not more than 25% of the sotol plants in a given area are harvested, and flowering sotol plants may not be harvested. Plants are harvested by hand and leaves are sheared and left on the land to compost. Roots are left intact to allow the plant to regenerate and to guard against soil erosion. These conservation practices are labor intensive and an expensive part of the business process but considered worth the investment to ensure land health for generations to come.
Desert Door Texas Sotol invested a total of $85,000 in 2022 on maintenance and upkeep of the Desert Door Ranch. These expenses included costs related to conservation efforts as a part of our commitment to Texas Parks and Wildlife Managed Lands Deer Program (MLDP).
Water saved, conserved, reduced, and/or other (gallons per year)
Each sotol plant requires about 12” of water per year. When Desert Door harvests the sotol plant, it is estimated that 12” of water per plant is saved. Based on this calculation we saved an estimated 145,169 gallons of water. Desert Door has a holding tank that saved an estimated 20,000 gallons of water annually.
Land or habitat created, managed, restored, and/or other (total acres per year)
7,500 acres of the the Desert Door Ranch are managed with restoration as the goal.
Wildlife positively impact, and/or other (total # of species impact)
Seventy-six species of birds have been identified at the Desert Door Ranch to date and multiple other species of wildlife call the ranch home. Desert Door also maintains a beehive on the ranch, established in 2020.
People involved in conservation (total people/year)
25 team Desert Door team members participated in conservation efforts in 2022 and installed pollinator gardens at the Austin Science and Nature Center.
Waste diverted (tons/year):
241.9495 Tons (483,899 lbs.) of plants, plant by-product disposed of sustainably from Jan 2020-Dec 2020.
“It is an honor and privilege to have the work of Desert Door Texas Sotol recognized by Texan by Nature. Our company’s signature purpose is this: Tell folks the story of sotol, conserve the plant’s natural environment, and preserve cultural history. Once you start spending time out in the vast open spaces across Texas, you are awestruck. We’re passionate about preserving these untamed, awesome expanses of land. Today, the wide-open places that are the hallmark of Texas are under threat from increased land development and fragmentation. Desert Door Texas Sotol is dedicated to doing our part to create connections and build a community committed to protecting the expansive wild lands of Texas through conservation and education efforts.”
– Brent Looby, Partner | CEO, Desert Door Texas Sotol
How do you see the future of conservation and sustainability evolving, and what role will Desert Door play in that progress?
The future of conservation and sustainability is becoming increasingly important to Texas and across the world. Our wide expanses of land are under threat with thousands of acres being lost across the country due to growth and development. This loss has profound effects on the Texas landscape, altering natural habitats and increasing pressures on natural resources throughout the state. However, there is much that we can do to mitigate these circumstances and preserve the land for generations to come.
In July 2020, Desert Door Texas Sotol launched its nonprofit Wild Spirit Wild Places®. Desert Door created this 501(c)(3) organization to support conservation and land stewardship across Texas. Wild Spirit Wild Places® creates connections and builds a community committed to protecting the expansive wild lands of Texas through conservation and education efforts. Additionally, the Wild Spirit Wild Places land conservation projects will provide opportunities for the public to participate in the cause, as well as serve to inspire future limited-edition releases of Desert Door. A portion of the proceeds from these limited Desert Door variations will directly fund Wild Spirit Wild Places’ future land conservation projects. Our motivation is simple — we don’t want to sit idly by while Texas’ wild places disappear.
How does Desert Door quantify investment and return on conservation and sustainability?
Desert Door has not quantified a financial return on overall conservation or sustainability efforts. However, the company has quantified the return on the Conservation Series bottle program. In 2022, Desert Door released our third release of our Conservation Series, The Pollinator. The Pollinator was created with Dasylirion Texanum sotol plants processed and distilled, with a bee friendly recipe of botanicals native to Texas. The series was created to bring awareness to the dwindling bee population in Texas. The total production cost was $78,250 with a portion of the proceeds being donated to Wild Spirit Wild Places®. More information about conservation work supported by Desert Door in 2022 can be found here.
What is the one lesson that Desert Door has learned from your conservation and sustainability efforts that others can take back and think about applying within their own space?
Partnership and collaboration are key strategies for the success of conservation and sustainability efforts. We join forces with other like-minded individuals, organizations, and businesses to support our land conservation and education efforts. We believe the power of partnerships will allow us to elevate and extend exemplary work being done in the Texas land conservation space and create opportunities for community connection and engagement.
Desert Door seeks to create community engagement around land stewardship. Individual properties and public spaces are an interconnected part of the environment. These include our own yards, parks, roadsides, schoolyards, etc. Thoughtful environmental stewardship of these places has an important impact on our air, streams, wetlands, lakes, and wildlife. Everyone has a critical role.
Why is Texas an important home or base of operations for Desert Door?
Desert Door founders share this thing for wild authenticity and the deliberateness of craft. These three Texans and military veterans found each other at The University of Texas MBA program and knew they had to resurrect and tell the story of the Texas sotol plant, the Dasylirion Texanum, indigenous to Texas. This plant has thousands of years of history and a large presence in the culture of those who lived in the large expanses of land now known as West Texas. In remote areas of Texas, rock art depicts the importance of sotol to native peoples who used the plant for daily living and ceremonial purposes.
When Desert Door Texas Sotol was founded and began distilling sotol wild harvested in West Texas, it was essential to make sure the land was preserved to ensure this plant continues to thrive in the wild. Desert Door also wanted to tell others the story of the sotol plant, not only in the past, but in the present and for the future. This unfolding story for our future is dependent on the restoration and preservation of wild lands, the kind of wild lands where the Texas sotol plant grows.
Learn more about Desert Door’s conservation and sustainability efforts here.
These events included educational lectures, workshops and meet and greets for nearly 500 attendees.
Responsible harvesting involves adhering to wild harvesting protocols to create and preserve biodiversity of the landscape from which the sotol is harvested.
Reducing the number of plants and water required for production by 20%, saving 27,500 gallons of water in 2022 on 7,500 acres of open ranch land dedicated to land stewardship and conservation practices.
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio, Texas
Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas