South Bay Local Adam Craun Brings Winemaking Prowess to His New Tequila Venture

Lightning in a bottle.

  • Category
    Eat & Drink, People
  • Written by
    Tanya Monaghan
  • Photographed by
    Esteban Tucci

Wine and tequila. Two distinctly different products—one with a spirit of nuanced restraint and the other of unbridled edge. Enter El Negocio Tequila, and these opposites find common ground. The result is a beautiful tension of two worlds playing off each other’s strengths to create an unparalleled, premium, additive-free spirit unlike anything else.

The brand’s founder, Adam Craun, arrived at this moment through a blend of family history, life experience and a passion for quality alcohol. Growing up in Bethesda, Maryland, in a large Catholic family, he considers himself the black sheep who left for the West Coast. Adam now resides in Manhattan Beach with his wife and four children.

“My grandfather was an oncologist and worked for the National Institutes of Health,” says Adam. “He was the first person to use chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer. He’s the godfather of chemotherapy. And, well … I sell alcohol.”

Adam attended Boston University, where he swam competitively. During his freshman year, a close friend, Hayes Drumwright, began a shocking battle with cancer. This experience hit Adam with a stark reminder of life’s fragility.

“We were 18 years old, and you think you’re somewhat invincible as Division I athletes in college,” he says. “I had a preview at a very young age that we’re all just really, really lucky to be here.”

Not only did his friend make it through, but he also ultimately became Adam’s business partner in a wine business venture aptly named Memento Mori (Latin for “remember you’ll die.”) Adam adds, “Our translation is: remember to live.”

The third partner in Memento Mori is Adriel Lares, whom Adam claims to be the smartest guy you’ll ever meet. “He’s kind of a serial CFO in Silicon Valley. And now he’s the CFO of Chelsea Football Club in London. He’s a badass and the epitome of the American dream.”

Adam’s venture into wine stemmed from early explorations in Napa Valley. In the late 2000s he began spending more time in wine country when Adriel bought a timeshare there. “We met some of the farmers, as we had already drunk our way through the valley. So we kind of knew the grapes we wanted to buy,” he recalls. “We knew the best wines up there, and so we went directly to the farmers. We negotiated grapes, and in 2010 our first vintage of 150 bottled cases was released.”

Adam quit his day job and threw himself wholly into building Memento Mori. Though challenging to get off the ground, they pushed through many early setbacks. A trained artist, Adam was able to quickly come up with the label’s iconic gold logo.

With winemaker Sam Kaplan hard at work in the vineyards and cellar, Adam set out to get Memento Mori on the radar of every collector and the lists of the world’s top restaurants and wine retailers. Today Memento Mori is a highly sought-after, 100-point label with a stunning 17-acre estate home in Calistoga. And Sam is considered one of Napa Valley’s brightest stars.

With the experience accrued as a successful vintner, Adam soon set his sights on his other favorite beverage: tequila. Uniquely suited to understand the complexities of terroir, Adam realized there were no tequilas on the market that celebrated the type of vintage variation celebrated by wine collectors.

He found a like-minded tequila aficionado in Memento Mori’s very first client, entrepreneur Nicholas Lutz. On an early-2020 ski trip to Lake Tahoe’s Northstar Resort, the two friends conceived of El Negocio and became partners in Adam’s latest venture.

El Negocio Tequila stems from a desire to create a unique, high-quality product while aiming to redefine the category. “I’ve had this idea about making a tequila but aging it like a wine,” explains Adam. “What the American consumer doesn’t know is that 93% of the tequilas in the United States have chemicals and additives in them. In the wine world, we would never add anything to the product to make it taste better. It is what it is. It’s supposed to be different, vintage to vintage. And so is tequila. The science of it is very similar. You wait for the fruit to mature, which we call the pineapple or the piña down. It takes from six to 10 years to mature, whereas the grape is seasonal—once a year. But it’s the same thing.”

With this mission in mind, the two tequila aficionados hired third-generation master distiller Chava Rosales. With Chava’s help, they’ve managed to craft a tequila aged in French oak barrels—reminiscent of fine winemaking—while rejecting additives common in many tequilas.

El Negocio, which translates to “the business,” launched in November 2023. Though a new brand in a competitive market, it is gaining notoriety quickly. Robb Report magazine already classified El Negocio as the #1 sipping tequila in the country. Locals can find bottles at Manhattan Fine Wines and XSpeakeasy in Manhattan Beach.

The brand’s rapid success speaks volumes about the quality of the product and the expertise of the team behind it. As he looks to expand into other spirits, Adam remains grounded in the belief that each product must uphold the same standard of excellence. In that delicate dance between tradition and innovation where craftsmanship meets creativity, two incredible products took form. There’s no question that what comes next will emerge from that same ingenuity.

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