A Q&A With Cincoro Tequila Co-Founder And CEO Emilia Fazzalari
Emilia Fazzalari co-founded Cincoro Tequila in 2016 and serves as CEO. Her co-founders are NBA team owners Jeanie Buss (LA Lakers), Wes Edens (Milwaukee Bucks), Wyc Grousbeck (Boston Celtics), and Michael Jordan (Charlotte Hornets). In 2022, Emilia was honored by Forbes as one of the “50 Over 50” most accomplished female executives and change-makers, alongside Abigail Johnson, Jeanie Buss, MacKenzie Scott, and Kris Jenner, to name a few. Emilia previously spent 21 years at Bloomberg L.P., often working directly with Michael Bloomberg conceiving and implementing challenging and ultimately successful projects.
She was Head of Commodities Product Development, Head of Product Strategy, Head of Global Trading and Portfolio Systems, and deeply involved in the startup of Bloomberg Media. She is a Trustee of Giving|Grousbeck Fazzalari, a charitable foundation focusing on helping abused or disadvantaged women and girls, healthcare, and education; and is a board member at Boston Children’s Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She is also an Executive Producer and cocreator of an upcoming NBC sitcom, planned for release in the fall of 2023. Here she gives us the story behind Cincoro’s meteoric rise to the top.
How did Cincoro come together? What is the background and origin story of the founding of Cincoro?
It was the summer of 2016, and we were all in New York City for NBA Board of Governors meetings. The five of us decided to get together for dinner that night. Here we were, the five of us representing four competing NBA teams—the Lakers, Celtics, Bucks and Hornets—yet as individuals we were destined to become the best of friends. That night we bonded over tequila, and this is where the concept of Cincoro was born. We talked late into the night about what we wanted in a tequila. Something that was ultra-smooth and simply delicious. So, our goal was set—to make the most delicious spirit we have ever tasted and create the gold standard. Hence our name Cinco for five and Oro for gold.
We’ve seen the five founders of Cincoro—Michael Jordan, Jeanie Buss, Wes Edens, Wyc Grousbeck and yourself—referred to as “teammates” and not just business partners; a reference to the “friendship, competitiveness, and commitment” they collectively bring to the table. How has this given Cincoro an edge in the luxury spirits industry?
My partners have influenced me greatly in different ways, all bringing something unique to the table. We are connected through our desire to be the best and do things right. Wes Edens has this incredible ability to get people to suspend disbelief and make you feel like anything is possible. Jeanie Buss, arguably the most powerful woman in sports today, has shown me that a woman can be in a successful leadership role in a totally male-dominated industry. Wyc Grousbeck has made it his life’s personal mission to fight for cures for blindness and deafness, and instills in all of us the importance of giving back to our communities. And then there is Michael. For those of you who watched The Last Dance you saw the power of Michael Jordan. He won six NBA championships, never losing in the Finals, and you can see the hard work and commitment that it took to get there. We are fueled by that drive and commitment at Cincoro, and it inspires me daily.
What principles and strategies from their other ventures have the founders brought to bear on the new ventures?
We come from the NBA, from private equity, from Bloomberg LP, and from philanthropy, and we have learned to assemble the best people and empower them to operate as one relentless, focused and determined team. Combining an amazing product with doing the right things every day and consistently over time, will help us to achieve our goals.
How did the founders play a role in developing top-shelf tequila that’s made to be sipped and savored?
All five founders play an important role in the success of the brand. My partners weigh in on innovation, design, and liquid. We all tasted literally 1,000 variations on our recipe before we settled on our final exquisite liquids. Michael and I to this day taste each batch before we bottle.
How important is the fact that the founders had prior relationships with each other in aiming to create the world’s best tequila brand?
Our friendship and our shared love for Cincoro is at the core of our relationship. It is what has bonded us together since our first dinner together in the summer of 2016. We love spending time together, drinking Cincoro, and developing the brand.
Would it be fair to say the brand is in some ways built on relationships? And have new and lasting relationships with everyone from suppliers to clients and nightclub owners where Cincoro is favored helped ensure the continued success of the brand?
Our existing relationships with people in entertainment and hospitality certainly helped us launch the brand in 2019, as the market was and still is extremely crowded. But what really has driven our growth is the fact that people who taste Cincoro genuinely love it and ask for more. That’s the central reason we have grown well to date and are excited about the future. We are incredibly grateful to everyone who has become a Cincoro lover since 2019.
How many different tequila expressions did you create before landing on your core range, which went on to sell nearly two million bottles nationally and win 24 spirits awards in the first three years? How did you hone in on the highest-quality recipes and production methods?
It took us three years to create, and we tasted over 1,000 tequilas before we landed on our taste profile. We weren’t going to settle on anything but the best. We did it very differently and on our own. For us it was about creating a new and unique liquid from scratch and Michael was instrumental in creating our taste profile. He taught us how to drink it and enjoy it. We knew what we wanted, but making it happen wasn’t easy. We wanted it to be made in an artisanal way while having a new and modern taste profile.
What was behind the decision to transcend even the ultra-premium tequila category and create an ultra-luxury tequila brand that has more in common with a fine cognac or single malt whisky? Was this Michael Jordan’s idea initially or was the decision a communal one?
It was our shared love of tequila and bonding in 2016, that led us to start Cincoro initially. We tasted other tequilas and decided we wanted more. We wanted to create something that didn’t exist yet— we wanted a modern tequila that had a long and beautiful finish.
At $1,699, Cincoro’s Extra Añejo is clearly the pinnacle bottle of the portfolio in terms of price and presentation, and one of the most expensive and exclusive tequilas on the market. Did you sense there was a lack of high-end options in this class of spirit, and has it lived up to expectations?
When we first got together, we started talking about what we wanted in a tequila, and we realized it was more of a modern taste profile and it was missing from the market. We weren’t going to create a tequila just to create it—we set out to create one with a rich, long and beautiful finish based on our agreed taste preferences. It was about creating a tequila that is ultra-smooth, with a long finish like a fine cognac. We wanted all our expressions to be the absolute best and of the highest quality. Our Extra Añejo is for consumers who like to indulge in fine spirits and want to sip on Michael’s favorite expression.
Cincoro’s first four tequilas won multiple double gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. What accolades do you expect to add with your newest limited edition, ultra-luxury expression, Cincoro Gold? Do the founders get together each time a new expression is created and enjoy it together before it is released to the market?
It’s in our DNA to be innovators; Cincoro Gold joins only a handful of 100% de agave alcohol gold tequilas. This rare tequila blends all four Cincoro expressions, with generous amounts of Cincoro Extra Añejo Tequila, which is barrel aged for more than 40 months. We began with a mission to create the world’s finest tequila, and Cincoro Gold delivers on that mission and we believe that. As mentioned, we taste every batch and expression before it’s bottled. We are committed to innovating to bring to market truly special and exceptional expressions that redefine luxury tequila.
Cincoro’s beautiful bottle designs are clearly meant to catch your eye and stand out on the top shelf. Can you talk about the concept for the bottle and how it’s meant to highlight the precious liquid within? What were you aiming to achieve in creating a bottle that lives up to same lofty standards as the tequila itself?
Michael tapped Mark Smith, the former Jordan Brand creative genius, to design and develop our bottle. When Mark got the phone call from Michael saying that he needed a tequila bottle, Mark said close your eyes and describe what you see in three words. Michael replied, “sleek, contemporary, and unique”. The beautiful clear bottle allows our liquid to shine through, and since the bottle is glass it also makes for the perfect gift as we’re able to engrave it. The bottle itself has numerous easter eggs. It’s a five-sided bottle as a nod to all five founders. The bottom and stopper slant 23 degrees as a reference to Michael’s jersey number, and if you take 23 bottles and line them up on the ground, they form a perfect circle which happens to be the same diameter as the tip-off circle on an NBA court.
What can you tell us about future plans for Cincoro’s expansion and development?
We’ll have a super-cool collaboration happening during the holidays this year. We will be launching a limited-edition bottle that we are very excited to unveil. Tune into our Instagram page (@cincoro) for more details as we get closer to the launch date. We will continue to innovate as it’s in our DNA and we love to create. Our focus is to continue to grow the brand domestically and then go global to follow the luxury consumer to resort towns, Europe, the UK, Asia and more.