In this exclusive interview, I speak with Antonio Gonzales, founder of Ron Gobernador, a premium rum brand based in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Read on to discover his journey from a construction company owner to a successful rum producer and his plans for the future.
Rum&Chocolate: Hello Antonio, thank you for your time. You’re the owner and producer of Ron Gobernador. Can you tell us how everything started?
Antonio Gonzales: it all started in 1997. Until that date, we had a factory in the construction sector. In that year, many banks failed and this led us to bankruptcy. I had to find a new job, and it was in 1999 that I found a job as a salesperson for Fabrica Licorera de Antioquia (FLA). This allowed me to learn and become familiar with the world of rum and aguardiente. In 2006, I was offered a job at Tres Esquinas (a rum producer in Cartagena) and I decided to embark on this new adventure: this allowed me to fully understand how a company in the industry works. I was in charge of all aspects: from the purchase of raw materials, aging, bottling, and distribution of products.
R&C: What products did you start with?
AG: I knew there was enormous potential, but I didn’t have anything to start with. I didn’t have the tafia (first sugarcane distillate), I didn’t have the barrels to age the rum. In short, we had to start from scratch. However, I knew who could help me and started importing “base” rum: it’s a column-distilled rum aged for 3 years in ex-bourbon barrels. In 2015, we launched our first product. It wasn’t easy, but we are happy with what we have achieved.
R&C: Are your rums only intended for the Colombian market?
AG: No. We are present in the USA and Europe. And soon in China too (smiles proudly).
R&C: Does not being able to distill your own product pose a problem for you (state monopoly)?
AG: Actually, no. I disagree when people say that Colombia does not produce good rum or that the product isn’t 100% Colombian. Regardless of the origin of the alcohol, if the rum is aged properly (in my case, in Jack Daniel’s barrels), in Colombian territory, and with Colombian labor, it’s absurd to claim that it’s not a genuine product. What should we say about aguardiente? The alcohol used comes from other countries (Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador), but the entire transformation process takes place in Colombia. It would be absurd to say that aguardiente is not Colombian.
R&C: What are the plans for the future?
AG: We’re developing other products and the idea is to increase exports to other US states. Our biggest difficulty in Colombia is registration with INVIMA (Colombian FDA): in the US, it’s relatively easy and fast to receive FDA approval. Here in Colombia, it takes months! And this definitely poses inconveniences. But we’re happy and proud of what we’ve achieved: our products are available at Exito, Carulla, and even at the Cartagena airport duty-free.
R&C: There are no GI (geographical indications) in Colombia. Would you agree if a directive were created in Colombia to safeguard the rum product? It would be an advantage especially for the consumer but also for the producer.
AG: I agree and I think we’re heading in this direction. But it will take time.