Santa Barbara News Press

Posted by on Jul 21, 2013 in Media + News

THE GODFATHER : Exclusive tequila brand Patrón was homegrown in Montecito


Ilana Edelstein is the author of “The Patrón Way” (McGraw-Hill Education, $25), a newly published book that reveals how she and her life partner, the late Martin Crowley, co-founder of Patrón tequila, “built a leading brand with highly unorthodox methods, pushing their creativity and marketing ingenuity to the limit and changing countless lives along the way,” according to the book jacket.

And most of it was done while they were living in Montecito at Windsong, a stunning seven-acre estate overlooking the Pacific on East Valley Road near Toro Canyon, where the couple lived from 1995 to 2001.

“It was our home, and the greenhouse that had been filled with orchids and cymbidiums became the head office for Patrón in California,” Ms. Edelstein told the News-Press from her home in Brentwood, where she has lived since 2004 after a nasty breakup with Mr. Crowley.

“We were so in love for 12 years, but the joy started dwindling when Martin became drunk with success, not tequila. He broke up with me while we were having dinner at San Ysidro Ranch, where we went at least once a week. Martin, who had chartered a boat for a cruise in the Mediterranean, told me I wasn’t going with him, and the next thing I knew, the sheriff kicked me out of our home,” said Ms. Edelstein, 61.

“I was devastated. I didn’t get out of bed for three days.”

The native of Johannesburg, South Africa, said the couple met in 1989 at a wine-tasting party in Los Angeles, when she was in her mid-30s and working as a financial adviser and heading the commercial division of her brother-in-law’s office supply business.

“Martin and I connected immediately on every level — physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. It was a once-in-a-lifetime connection. We were never apart after that,” recalled Ms. Edelstein.

At the time, Mr. Crowley was in the architectural business and made frequent trips from Los Angeles to Mexico to buy stone pavers and furniture for architects in the United States.

On one of the trips, he came across a factory that made tequila and decided to stop and have a taste.

“It stopped him in his tracks. He brought a bottle home and insisted I try it, too, but I resisted. I had gotten sick on tequila several years before and vowed never to go near it again. However, Martin insisted and poured a little in a brandy snifter. After one sip, I said, ‘Wow!’ I had never tasted anything like it before,” said Ms. Edelstein.

The reason for the unique taste, she explained, was that the liquor was made from 100 percent agave, something no one had ever done before.

Equally impressed was Mr. Crowley’s good friend, John Paul DeJoria, the billionaire who is better known for Paul Mitchell hair care company.

“When John Paul tasted the tequila, he said, ‘I’m in. I’ll be the bank. Go buy 1,000 cases, and if they don’t sell, we’ll have this great tequila for ourselves,’ ” said Ms. Edelstein.

Thus began the trio’s “fascinating journey from an ancient tequila distillery in the highlands of Mexico to the glittering and rarefied world of Hollywood — the Governor’s Ball, the Playboy Mansion and the movie sets of Tom Cruise, David Bowie and other stars,” according to the book jacket.

“John Paul worked the celebrities, and Martin and I worked the trenches,” Ms. Edelstein told the News-Press as National Tequila Day, which is Wednesday, approached. “It became a caché to drink Patrón, which was sold for $50 a bottle, something that had never been done before. At the most, the price (for tequila) was never more than $18 a bottle,” she said.

Why the name Patrón?

“Martin came up with the name … Patrón means the good boss or godfather, the guy you go to when you want to marry off your daughter. We liked the aristocratic, dignified way it sounded. The word was easy to pronounce, easy to remember, and portrayed the idea of being the master,” the author writes in the book.

She also explains in the book how much thought went into the bottle’s distinctive design.

“Martin and I were enamored with perfume bottles and packaging … We were taking the lead from the fragrance industry, which creates a sense of occasion through exquisite presentation … The brand needed a handcrafted look that would suggest the package’s contents were precious and rare …

“I found a green ribbon and tied it around the bottle’s neck while Martin sketched possible labels. He had a little golden honeybee among his hodgepodge of trinkets … and came up with the idea of using it as an emblem. Bees are magical creatures … Purely as an afterthought, the bee also suggested that the contents of the bottle were irresistible, like nectar.”

During the interview, Ms. Edelstein admitted that they didn’t know what they were doing.

“We were flying by the seat of our pants and having fun. It was not easy, but it was fun. Martin supplied the creativity, and I had the business background. We figured out the best way to do it,” she said.

In 1995, the couple moved to Montecito after Mr. Crowley witnessed a drive-by shooting and decided “it was time to get out of L.A. We also had friends from Australia who lived in Montecito,” said Ms. Edelstein.

Although they “lived, breathed and smelled Patrón,” the twosome “indulged in everything Santa Barbara had to offer — entertaining friends, attending polo games, dining at restaurants like the Wine Bistro and the Plow and Angel or Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch.”

Ms. Edelstein also became an expert at Latin dancing.

Asked why their relationship came to such a bitter end, Ms. Edelstein said wistfully, “I wish I knew.”

Once she recovered from the emotional trauma, she sued Mr. Crowley for breach of contract and hired well-known legal expert A. Barry Cappello as her attorney. The Santa Barbaran is recognized as one of the nation’s leading trial lawyers and authorities on complex commercial litigation, but after a three-month jury trial in 2002 in the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, Ms. Edelstein lost the case.

A year later, Mr. Crowley died of a heart attack at the age of 60.

“One good thing about the trial was that I got over the breakup real fast,” said Ms. Edelstein, who moved to Brentwood in 2004, where she lives in a two-bedroom home with her dog, Tashi, a Tibetan mastiff.

“My life is very different, but I am no less happy this way. I had a very exaggerated way of life before. I have had both extremes,” she said. “I was in a very dark place during the litigation, but now I have gone back to my career as a financial planner. I love what I do. It affords me time for other creative endeavors like writing the book.”

Next on her agenda is working on a movie about the book.

“I am talking with a producer. We are in the very, very beginning stages. People keep coming up to me and saying, ‘This should be a movie.’ ” said Ms. Edelstein, who has definite ideas about casting. “Charlize Theron for me because she is tall and blonde and comes from South Africa, and Javier Bardem for Martin Crowley because he is sexy but not good looking — he can be rough but also gentle.”

Ms. Edelstein also continues her Latin dancing, competing throughout California with her partner, Richard Croteau.

And she’s ready for another romance.

“I’m searching. I’m ready to fall in love again. I’m ready,” she said with a chuckle.



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