Brand Breakdown: Villiger San'Doro

Villiger's newest premium release is San'Doro. We got the lowdown on the new brand in this interview with René Castañeda, President of Villiger North America.

 
 

Where does this cigar's name come from and what does it mean?
It comes from the Latin indorum sana sancta, which translates to “the holy healing plant of the Indians.” This is the name that Columbus gave to tobacco and what he put in his records in Latin. They called it san’doro for short.

Tell me a bit about the product. What was the impetus for adding this to the portfolio? Does it fill some void or meet a specific need for Villiger?
The main thing is that we want to make sure Villiger is perceived as a premium cigar maker. People worldwide know Villiger as being the premium manufacturer of machine-made cigars. So we’re trying to come with great cigars from great factories in order to get that perception — for people to also see us that way in the premium segment with great blends and great cigars.

The Villiger San’Doro, we think, is a super premium cigar, but we tried to keep it at a nice price point between $8 and $10.

It comes with three different wrappers. We have the San’Doro Claro, San’Doro Colorado, and San’Doro Maduro. The Maduro is the strongest one. It’s medium- to full-bodied and it’s made in Brazil. We do have a premium cigar factory in Brazil, in Bahia, and it’s called Charutos. So of the three cigars, this is the only one that we make in our own factory and it has a mata fina wrapper with mata norte binder and filler. Because of the mata fina, it’s a very sweet, smooth cigar. You get the aroma of dried fruit with a touch of spice. It’s 100 percent Brazilian tobacco. For Mr. Villiger, after Cuban tobacco, Brazilian is the one he likes and enjoys the most.

The other two are the Colorado and the Claro. They’re both made by Oliva Cigars in Nicaragua. The Colorado has an Ecuador Habano colorado wrapper with Nicaraguan binder and filler. It’s more of a medium-bodied cigar — very smooth, but with rich, intense flavors of espresso and dark chocolate. We’re not talking about strength, but heavy flavor.

The Claro is on the mild to medium side. Also made by Oliva, it has an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper and Nicaraguan filler and binder. This one is more of a mellow, easy-going cigar with woody notes and a bit of spice. It’s a cigar you can have in the morning with your coffee.

You mentioned that part of the goal here is to affect the perception so people see Villiger as a producer of premium handmade cigars. It's not the first time Villiger has been in that space. Tell me about how the thinking is different with this product than it has been with the comany's other premium releases.
This time, we’re trying to support the credibility of our products by the partners we’re working with. That’s the reason we chose, with this brand, to go with a great cigar maker like Oliva. In a way, we are giving more credibility to our premium cigars by working with the right partners. We want their expertise and knowledge to help us put the best products out there at the best price possible.

What do the production numbers look like? How many of these are being made and how widely available will they be?
The product is already available in Europe. The production we have is about 60,000 cigars on each one of the three variations for this year. For the rest of the year, we’re going to have about 25,000 of those 60,000 cigars for each blend available in the U.S., with the rest being distributed in Europe.

It’s not like we’re going to be everywhere. We’re going to work with the best stores that have been supporting our products. We want people to try our cigars and take small steps to change the perception of Villiger premium cigars.

How do Europeans perceive the Villiger brand?
It’s very strong there. As you know, Villiger is the fifth-largest cigar company in the world. We also have distribution in some countries that get Habanos products. So the doors are open to Villiger cigars in any premium cigar shop in Europe. We don’t have to work on that credibility; the credibility is already there. We’re well established in the two segments of the market: as a machine-made cigar and as a premium cigar maker.

Most of the production of premium cigars that we have today is sold in Europe and our partners now are people like Oliva, Joya de Nicaragua, and now we’re working on new projects with La Aurora.

From the U.S. market, what has been the reaction of people you've had try these cigars so far?
Actually, people are very surprised — in a positive way — about the product. The fact that two of the blends are made by great people like Oliva makes our life easier when we need to get people to give the cigars a real chance. They’re not just telling me out of courtesy, “René, you’re a nice guy. This is a good cigar.” It’s because we have a great cigar maker behind the brand and people are impressed that we’re working with this caliber of factory to make great cigars.

It's hard to miss when you're working with Oliva.
Absolutely. That has been a key element in order for us to knock on doors and ask people to smoke and appreciate our products.

Will distribution be concentrated in any particular parts of the United States?
We’re focusing mainly in three areas, and then we’ll work step by step to expand to other areas. We’re talking about Florida, the Northeast — meaning New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania — and California. Those are our main three target markets for the brand right now. From there. We’ll go and open the product to more regions later on in the year. But in the next three months, people will see the product mainly in those three areas.

You're relatively new at Villiger. What's your focus there now that you have had time to get acclimated?
The main challenge has been how to present a cohesive message about Villiger and the products to the U.S. market. Unfortunately, there was no identity for the products in this market. People might have heard about Villiger. If they had, they might have thought it was just a european company making some machine made cigars. They don’t know the company was established in 1888, that it’s one of the oldest players in the market, that we have distribution of Habanos, that we’re one of the few companies that buys tobacco from Cuba for some of the selections in Europe for machine-made cigars. There is a long history as a cigar maker at Villiger, and that’s the main challenge — making sure people know this is a serious cigar maker committed to the U.S. market.

The vitals

San'Doro Claro

 
 

Manufacture: Tabacalera Oliva (Nicaragua)
Wrapper country: Ecuador Connecticut
Binder country: Nicaragua
Filler country: Nicaragua
Price: $8.00 - $9.00
Available in three vitolas:

  • Robusto  (5" x 50)
  • Toro (6" x 50)
  • Churchill (7" x 50)
 
 

San'Doro Colorado

 
 

Manufacture: Tabacalera Oliva (Nicaragua)
Wrapper country: Ecuador
Binder country: Nicaragua
Filler country: Nicaragua
MSRP: $8.00 - $9.00
Available in three vitolas:

  • Robusto (5" x 50)
  • Toro (6" x 50)
  • Churhcill (7" x 50)
 
 

San'Doro Maduro

 
 

Manufacture: Charutos Tobajara Ltda. (Brazil)
Wrapper country: Brazil
Binder country: Brazil
Filler country: Brazil
MSRP: $8.50
Available in one vitola: Toro (6" x 50)

 
 

Gibraltar

 

Country:  Dominican Republic
Wrapper: Dominican Republic
Binder:  Dominican Republic
Filler:  Dominican Republic
Price:  $5.25 - $6.90

Available in 4 Sizes:

Corona (5 3/4 X43) [pictured]
Robusto (5 X 50)
Perfecto  (Perfecto)  
Magnum 60 (6 X 60)

Q&A

Robert Caldwell
President Caldwell Cigars

Gibraltar is part of your Seleccion Junior Varsity; these are your lower cost lines, correct?

The idea with JV is that it’s an everyday smoke. Regardless of what we might think of our Caldwell collections, some guys can’t afford it or they don’t want to spend the money. You know, you have all types of smokers. So we didn’t want to alienate anybody and we didn’t want to lose the business so we decided to have a line that was a more cost conscious line. These are cigars that the factory makes and they distribute actually in the Dominican Republic. So they have these three cigars that are made and distributed there and then we basically changed the blend a little bit to make them more amicable to the American market. They come in 10 count boxes so it’s easier to move by the box.

From a quality standpoint, is the level of quality comparable to say a bundled cigar?

No, much higher quality. What we do to save cost is they don’t have the stringent quality control measures applied to them that we have for Caldwell. You’ll notice when you open a box of them, you might have like a disparity in color. Caldwell usually is really in line but the JVs don’t go through a sorting process anything like the Caldwell stuff. So you’ll have one with a more reddish brown next to one with a lighter brown but guys who are smoking a $5 cigar don’t care and it just adds cost. So we take out some of those measures.

Caldwell Collection uses all Grade A tobacco. These use Grade B, which is probably the majority of what is used in a general market cigar. The other thing too with these cigars is that the cost of the tobacco is a bit less and the scarcity is not there. So these tobaccos, they’re just grown in huge quantities on these, where the Caldwell stuff is not. And also the age and things like that that are components with the Caldwell aren’t applied to JV. You don’t have wrappers that are four years old, or two years old, you know, the process is much easier to g et these cigars made.

What about aging? How long does a Caldwell cigar sit in the aging room before being shipped as compared to a JV cigar?

They vary. The Eastern Standard rests about 45 days before it can ship. Long Live the King needs almost 90 days. All the JV stuff usually ships around 40 days. The reason is that all the tobaccos we use in the JV lines play a little bit better.

The branding on these cigars is decidedly Spanish, not Cuban but Spanish. What’s the story with that?

A lot of brands come out and they do like a classic Cuban concept so we came out and we did a classic Spanish concept. The two ports of entry for tobacco in Spain were Gibraltar and Murcia and the first cigar factory was in Sevilla. So we named the brands Gibraltar, Murcias, and Sevillana.

It is interesting that your concept goes to Spain as opposed to Cuba.

Yeah, I had the Caldwell Collection idea lined up and then I was in Spain in November. I go to Spain every year. So I was down in Sevilla and I found out about this history. And I thought that classic Spanish is kind of a fun play on it. When I’m in a store guys ask all the time, ‘What is Gibraltar?’ I’m like ‘Oh it’s a British territory at the southern tip of Spain.’ And then you get to explain that history we just talked about. So it’s something that makes people ask another question.

Speaking of stores, which of your lines are available in s tores and which ar e available online?

Caldwell Collection is only available in brick and mortar stores and that’s due to the production levels. I just don’t think we’ll ever be able to make enough of that to sell beyond B&M. The JV lines however are sold in B&M and online/catalogs.

 

Long Live The King

 

Country:  Dominican Republic
Wrapper:  Dominican Republic
Binder:  Dominican Republic
Filler:  Dominican Republic, Nicaraguan & Peru
Price:  $9.00 - $12.00

Available in 4 Sizes:

The Heater (5 3/4 X46) [pictured]
My Style is Jalapeno (7 1/4 X 40)
Petit Double Wide Short Churchill (6 X 52)
Marquis (6X60)  

Q&A

Robert Caldwell
President Caldwell Cigars

 

So if the idea of The King is Dead is to set you up to smoke Long Live the King, then I assume LLTK is going to be stronger, right? How strong are we talking?

I’d say it’s on the full side, the lower end of the full side. That’s our full-bodied cigar and for some guys, you know, it wasn’t strong enough. But we didn’t want something that would kick you in the face or lay you out. What we wanted was a cigar that was full of flavor and really complex.

So where do you get inspiration for the blends?

When I went to Leo [Reyes, a tobacco grower in the Dominican Republic], what I asked him for was old tobacco, rare tobacco, tobaccos other people ain’t using. So the first step was smoking pachuches like right off the bale and then finding things that I thought were very unique and then putting them together. So we put the blending car ds on the box that describes exactly what’s in it, but that was the first step. Then blending from there, so literally my whole idea was to use shit that other people don’t use. So by using very aged tobacco, when you smoke the cigar you know the tobacco is old as fuck. It’s reminiscent of brands that you know age the shit out of their tobacco, which to me gives you a very unique flavor profile.

Now there are other tobaccos that we haven’t yet incorporated that are beautiful tobaccos. Like Carbonel, it’s a Dominican grown Habano. You could be at a party full of cigar smoke and you light a cigar with just a little bit of Carbonel in it and the whole room would go (sniff sniff) ‘what’s that?’ It cuts through everything.

You mentioned that the first step in the blending process was to smoke pachuches but most cigar smokers have no idea what you’re talking about.

Yeah a pachuche is a cigar that’s basically made from single origin tobacco. It’s a fucking leaf with another leaf wrapped around it, almost like a cheroot, but it will allow you to taste a single origin tobacco on its own to understand what that tob acco is like.

And literally my first blending trip with Leo, or my first trip down to the DR, was going to Leo’s factory and smoking 20 pachuches, taking the 15 tobaccos that I liked, bringing them to the factory and playing with them. And I mean dude, I’m a fucking 31-year-old white kid from Coral Gables. I’m not a cigar blender. But I have a good palate and along the way I guess I learned what I was doing to a certain extent, like what tobaccos work well with other tobaccos, and then you know, part of it is just luck of the draw. But like all the Caldwell shit I blended all those cigars.

But let’s be clear here when you say you blended those cigars. Obviously the actual blender at the factory has to have a lot of input in there because sometimes you want something, but it wouldn’t work. You may have fallen in love with a beautiful wrapper tobacco but when you try to get it to work in a blend, you need real expertise to pull it of f.

Yeah, and that’s exactly the process. I’ll say ‘I want this tobacco, this tobacco, this tobacco’ and you put them together and they taste great. But they’re missing this or they need that or something like that, and that’s where the Venturas (owners of the factory that manufactures Caldwell Cigars) come in and they’re like we should put this tobacco in because it’ll support this tobacco or take this tobacco out because it’s taking away from this tobacco. So I guess the gross blending process is something that was exclusively mine and the refinement of the cigar to make a finished product was much more William Ventura. You know, some of the tobaccos that I wanted to use, he would recommend modifying this percentage, or using seco here instead of something else. I’ve learned a lot working with the Venturas in this process.

 

The King is Dead

 

Country:  Dominican Republic
Wrapper:  Dominican Republic
Binder:  Dominican Republic
Filler:  Dominican Republic
Price:  $7.00 - $12.00

Available in 4 Sizes:

Broken Sword (5 X 40)
Premier (5 X 50)
The Last Payday (6X52)  [pictured]
Supreme (7 X 52)

Q&A

Robert Caldwell
President Caldwell Cigars

A lot of things have been said about where the names for The King is Dead and Long Live the King come from but we’d like to hear from you what the names actually mean. Or at least what you’re going to tell us the names mean…

Well, the original idea I had was that sometimes you smoke a cigar and it’s better because of the cigar you smoked right before it, if that makes any sense. You smoke this cigar then when you smoke the second cigar, your palate is in a way that it smokes better and it tastes better. So the original concept that I had was to make two cigars that were very complementary. One is meant to be smoked first, and the next one you smoke right after. So The King Is Dead followed by Long Live the King was the concept; we wanted to have something that was so damn good that you would want to jump to the next one right afterwards.
But, there are some hidden messages in there too…

Like the king ’s throne cut in half ?

Yeah, it’s funny, some people have been able to put it together but we’ll leave it at that .

So what about the actual cigar?

It’s a badass cigar. It’s a sweet cigar. It tastes like milk chocolate. It’s a really good cigar and we’re having our most success with sizes you wouldn’t think. Like our top seller is in the torpedo which is not common. I like it a lot. None of the cigars have like a clean finish, you know? They all have a long finish. They all linger on your palate.

You’re using this “Negrito” tobacco in this blend but not many people know anything about it. Can you give a lit tle background on it?

The history that I was given on Negrito is that it was very popular in the DR back in the ‘50s. However, there are some issues with the leaf; when I first smoked it, it didn’t burn well. I remember smoking pure Negrito back when I was at Wynwood and it was a great cigar but you literally had to have a lighter to it the whole time you were smoking. Like literally torch it to smoke it, but the flavor was very good. And then when you blended it, it didn’t blend. It tasted sour and it just didn’t work. But for some reason I couldn’t get the Negrito tobacco out of my head. 

So when we started making cigars for the Caldwell Collection, the first thing I HAD to do was work with Negrito and at this point the crop had rested long enough and the tobacco was more malleable and we could put it with other tobaccos and it blended better. So The King Is Dead turned out to be Dominican puro utilizing Negrito as the wrapper and also it’s got Negrito as par t of the filler component .

The story of Negrito is the same as like an authentic corojo. It has gotten hybridized to hell and it’s not a true leaf anymore, but Leo Reyes still grows the true Negrito. And it’s an interesting leaf because it’s got to me a flavor component that you just can’t find. It’s got like a milk chocolate and you have like dark chocolate, and a little bit of sour, some sweet, some richness, coffee notes. Collectively it will give you like a dark chocolate kind of flavor, but Negrito, it smokes very different. It’s just a very, very special tobacco. It even looks different; it’s kind of a grayish. You’ve seen the cigars up close, I’m sure, but it’s kind of a weird color. It’s like a grayish brown. It’s not really a brown brown.

It seems like you went to great lengths to find tobacco that tasted different than any other in the marketplace.

Yeah, guys smoke The King is Dead all the time and they’re like ‘I’ve never tasted this before’ and that was the goal. In the whole collection, that was kind of the goal. We don’t want you to smoke our stuff and say ‘Oh this taste like a Pepin’ or ‘This tastes like a Davidoff.’ We want it to be mor e unique.

 

Eastern Standard

 

Country:  Dominican Republic
Wrapper:  Ecuador
Binder:  Dominican Republic
Filler:  Dominican Republic & Nicaraguan
Price:  $9.00 - $11.00

Available in 3 Sizes:

Euro Express (5 1/2 X44)
Cream Crush (7 X 48)
Corretto (5X50)  [pictured]

Q&A

Robert Caldwell
President Caldwell Cigars

What’s the idea behind the ridiculous story on the packaging?

So the story on our packaging is just to demystify the industry and a lot of the bullshit that’s out there. I have respect for the brands that have the history, however, a lot of companies that are coming out or have just come out are paying homage to a history that they don’t have. So it’s kind of just to cut right through the bullshit.

Who is the dude on the branding?

So the artist who created him is called Evoca1. He does all of our packaging on the Caldwell stuff. I give him names and he creates concepts. So I gave him Eastern Standard and then he gave me like you know, a 65-year-old Russian Oligarch gangster-looking guy.

How did you and Evoca1 begin working together?

Back when I was at Wynwood he walked into the factory and asked if he could paint a [cigar rolling] table. He painted the rabbit table. Then I gave him a wall outside and he did a mural. Now he’s flown all over the world to paint murals in huge cities, major campaigns and he was announced as I think the no. 2 street artist in the world this year.

Now about the cigar itself, what’s your favorite thing about the blend on the Eastern Standard?

To me the most relevant thing has got be the wrapper. This cigar is not a puro, it’s a multi country blend, but the whole concept with Eastern Standard was to pro-vide something that was Connecticutish, but not too Connecticut. So it’s gonna give you like a Connecticut flavor, but it’s got a lot of balls and a lot of body to it, and a lot of depth.

What kind of smoker were you targeting when you created this blend?

The goal of Eastern Standard was something like; I’m not a mild guy, I’m a medium guy, but I like creamy, I like smooth, so you smoke Eastern and it’s gonna be rich, nutty.

Say you’re at an event and a consumer who’s never had Eastern Standard asks you about it. How do you explain it?

The conversation revolves around the fact that it’s mild to medium, so it’s gonna be smooth and creamy. But it’s really, really rich because something that I find is amiss on a lot of Connecticuts is that they’re really rich in terms of cream or smoothness, but they don’t have depth. And Eastern Standard is a deep cigar, like when you smoke it, it’s like a [smacks his lips], it does that to your palate. It’s a great beginner’s cigar, but it is a very complex cigar and it’s got a really deep, rich profile to it.

You occasionally add new sizes to the line. What’s your idea when choosing what sizes you’re going to offer in a particular brand?

My goal with that brand, counter to popular belief, I want to have like nine facings because if it’s gonna be a true connoisseur cigar, if I went to a line of cigars and I liked it but it didn’t have a corona or a lancero, I would not smoke it regardless of how much I liked it...or I might just be an occasional smoker. I smoke four lanceros a day because that’s my size, so I have to consider there are consumers out there who work like I do. I think if you’re building a long-term brand concept that’s luxurious, you need to have enough facings to meet the demand.

 

 

Avo Heritage

 

Country:  Dominican Republic
Wrapper:  Ecuador
Binder:  Dominican Republic
Filler:  Dominican Republic
Price:  $7.50 - $9.50

Available in 4 Sizes:

Toro (6 X50)  [pictured]
Short Robusto (4 1/2 X 52)
Short Torpedo (4X56)
Special Toro (6X60)

Q&A

Scott Kolesaire
AVO Brand Manager

We talked about the changes that were made to the brand as part of this refresh. We talked about a new tagline, new swag for events, and about how you trimmed the fat from the brand, but we’ve seen that the boxes have changed significantly. What’s behind that change?

The brand has been around for almost 30 years and it was time to update it. We switched from 25-count boxes to 20-count boxes. We moved away from the old cabinet style box to the 10-on-top-of-10 hinged box. By doing this, we allow the cigar to be the hero and it doesn’t get lost inside of a cabinet box after you remove the first row. The wider box also allows us more space to give the consumer some tasting notes about the cigar and what level of intensity he or she can expect from this cigar.

Additionally, we price protected the brand. Price pro-tecting means that every retailer, whether brick and mortar or online and catalog, will work within the same price structure. You won’t see huge discrepancies or variances in price from one retailer to the next. But we also decreased the price in almost every format, making it so that consumers who were buying it discounted won’t see a big increase in price and consumers that were not will get a great decrease.

We have a pretty good idea of how consumers feel about price decreases, but what has been the reaction from the retailers?

Everyone has loved the change. It’s still too early to tell, but so far it has been extremely well-received. There is an incredible amount of people out there who are loyal AVO smokers and these folks are obviously ecstatic about the changes. We’re getting excellent feedback and the stores have been scheduling an enormous amount of events. We’re just getting underway and we’ve got about 120 events booked all over the country. That takes us through the trade show. The reception to the changes we’ve made and the event experiences that we’ve incorporated have been a dream come true for most AVO fans, consumers and retailers alike.

You know Avo has always been a very generous man. He’s always been about sharing and I think that these changes to the brand accentuate that. Like the photo booth we now bring to every event. It allows event participants to take a photo. Then it applies a black and white filter, puts the orange border around it to resemble our current ad campaign and then the person can share the pic on social media or through email. They can share the moment and that’s what it’s all about.

So this brings us to the AVO Heritage. Why did this brand that is known for producing mostly mild and creamy cigars launch this flavorful and strong cigar?

Well, just like the rest of the industry, Avo’s palate changed. He wanted to smoke something with a little more kick to it. He also wanted to pay tribute to the men and women who work in the tobacco industry in the Dominican Republic, where his cigars are manu-factured. So he assembled the young generation of blenders at the factory and had them work with the master blenders. Together they blended the AVO Heri-tage and it is by far the fullest bodied and most intense cigar in the AVO portfolio.

The cigar is covered with this rich and flavorful wrapper. You almost want to chew on it. Can you tell us about this wrapper and the other components of the blend?

Yeah, that wrapper is something else. It is a special sungrown wrapper from Ecuador that is dark, very rich and oily and slightly toothy. It’s specially grown for this blend and it gives the Heritage its unmistakable character. The binder and filler are Dominican, but we use higher priming tobaccos to get that intensity and strength. But, like everything Henke Kelner blends, it is extremely refined. It isn’t an overpowering cigar that knocks you down.

 

Avo Domaine

 

Country:  Dominican Republic
Wrapper:  Ecuador
Binder:  Dominican Republic
Filler:  Dominican Republic
Price:  $10.00 - $11.50

Available in 4 Sizes:

20 (4 5/8 X50)
10 (5X50)
50 (5 15/16 X 54) [pictured]
70
 (6X54)

Q&A

Scott Kolesaire
AVO Brand Manager

Avo is a man of incredible musical talent. He’s charming and cultured. He’s a great many things, but a farmer he is not. How then did he come to grow the special tobacco that is in the AVO Domaine?

After Avo had been traveling through the Dominican for a while, he found this small area that he wanted to use to plant tobacco. It was just Avo the artist looking at a piece of land thinking, “This would be nice.” But it wasn’t in a typical tobacco growing region or area, so all the farmers told him not to use that plot and tried to persuade him to buy in another area. He said, “No I think we’ll try this.” So he did, and he had the farmers plant tobacco there. So no, he’s not a farmer, he’s a musician. They planted it and after the first year the tobacco was just OK. The second year, it got better. By the third year the tobacco coming out of this area was spectacular. Because of the soil in the area and the way that the sun hit the tobacco early in the morning, the tobacco that came out of there was just rich and complex and had a lot of flavor. It gave off this kind of cocoa, almost nutty type of flavor. So Henke [Kelner] told Avo, “We must do something special with this tobacco.” And that’s how the Domaine 10 was born.

Why did he name it Domaine 10? And for that matter, why are all the vitolas in the Domaine line named numerically?

The Domaine launched on the AVO brand’s 10th an-niversary. So it was named the AVO Domaine 10 and it came in only one size. Then, a year later, we came out with the Domaine 20 and 30 and then followed the 40 and 50, then the 60. Since then we’ve discontinued the 30, 40, and the 60 and we just introduced the 70, which is a 6 x 54 Toro. Unfortunately, although it drives me nuts, I can’t just restart the numbering and put them back in sequence! (chuckling)

My favorite of the AVO Domaine sizes is definitely the Domaine 50, but it’s not a common perfecto shape. What’s the story behind that shape?

Avo loves the perfecto shape. This specialty size is manufactured to the specifications found in an antique Dutch cigar mold from 1823 - a find at an antique show in Paris.  Normally, when you’re going to roll a specialty size like that, you take one of your best rollers from another size and train them on how to roll this format. But Avo  — again with his artistic mind — said, “Why would we take someone away from something they’re fantastic at? Let’s take somebody from zero and make this dif-ficult shape become second nature to him. Something that feels right to him without being swayed by anything else.” So the next roller up that they felt was talented enough and could be trained for this size went right on to roll the Domaine 50. It took a little while (it is one of the most difficult sizes to roll), but he nailed it. When you look at the cap on this type of perfecto, it’s a little shorter and flatter and also the perfecto tip on the end isn’t as long. It’s a little more concentrated and gets a little thicker. It’s kind of between a perfecto and a di-adema. So that was his way of doing it and ever since then, every new roller we bring in to roll the 50 gets trained on this format. 

So the newest size is the Domaine 70, a 6 x 54 toro. It’s interesting that the brand has only now gotten to the point where you’ve launched a toro. How do you think it’ll do?

The best seller in the Domaine line is the 50 and, although it’s still too early to tell, it is looking like the 70 and the 50 will be neck and neck as our best sellers (followed by the robusto). The 70 having that format and the filler tobacco that is used in this line, you get a lot of flavor and a lot of complexity from it. And since the Domaine never had a 54 (ring gauge) it just stands out.

From an intensity standpoint, where does the Do-maine sit inside of the AVO portfolio?

You’ve got Classic on one end, which is the mildest, creamiest blend and the Heritage on the other end as the most full-bodied. Domaine is a perfect medium to full intensity but very balanced on the palate.

 

Avo XO

 

Country:  Dominican Republic
Wrapper:  Ecuador
Binder:  Dominican Republic
Filler:  Dominican Republic
Price:  $9.00 - $11.00

Available in 5 Sizes:

Preludio (6X40)
Notturno (5X42)
Maestoso (7X48)
Intermezzo (5X50) [pictured]
Legato
(6X54)

Q&A

Scott Kolesaire
AVO Brand Manager

The AVO brand recently underwent a refresh. We noticed the packaging has been updated and the labels have undergone a few tweaks. But what about the blends?

No. We wouldn’t dare touch the blends. These core blends allow this brand to continue to grow in an over-crowded industry. They are as consistent as blends could possibly be. We did trim some lines and sizes, but the four remaining blends are intact. Of course, our popular limited releases will continue, but with some exciting innovations.

The refresh wasn’t only in the packaging. We’ve also noticed that you’ve started to use the “Savor Every Note” tagline. 

For years, the brand’s tagline was “Cigars in Perfect Harmony.” With the recent refresh of the brand, it was just natural to transition to “Savor Every Note.” Every word relates to AVO Cigars. Savor means to embrace and enjoy completely. Every ... It’s more than the cigar; it’s the whole experience. Note ... Music notes, tasting notes, story notes. It is perfect. There are, of course, components you need to savor every note. When you have a very special moment, something that you re-member and cherish, you can usually recall whom you were with, what music was playing, where you were, and naturally what you were smoking. And savoring that moment is what AVO is all about. It’s about being in the moment and taking your time to let it all sink in.

When you launched the refresh, we got an AVO record player at Cigar Snob HQ, and we’ve seen it in several cigar stores since. Will consumers be able to get their hands on one of those?|

As a brand, we are trying to bring people together and make these personal connections. One of the ways we are doing this is by creating these custom record players that you can play vinyl on. It also has a jack for an iPod or smartphone. The idea is to give these away at AVO events as a raffle prize. But the beautiful thing is the unit sits at stores a few weeks before the event and the owner of the store usually hooks it up. What we’re seeing is that customers are starting to bring in their old vinyls and playing them on it. That’s exactly what we had hoped would happen. They’re discussing what old albums they have and remember-ing moments from those days and they’re connecting with the brand and what it stands for. And then on the night of the event, someone gets to take it home.

We did that with the unit that we received. We were jamming to old Springsteen and Clapton al-bums for days. Everyone who visits the office has something to say about our AVO record player.

That’s what I’m talking about! We feel that, in today’s technological world, where you have thousands upon thousands of tracks on your phone, you rush and skip through most of these great albums. But when you play a record, it’s just like selecting your cigar. For example, you get home from work, walk up to your humidor and you have all different types of cigars. The relaxation starts when you get to the humidor and you look through and think about what you’re going to smoke. You select it, get your cutter, clip it, spark a match, rotate the cigar in the flame – this is allowing you to relax before you even get to embark on the journey of the cigar. Playing a record on vinyl is just like that. It’s about building the anticipation. You go through a process of selecting, then the turntable starts spinning, you pick up the needle and carefully place it on the first track. And just let it play.

And so how does the XO fit into the portfolio?

Well, when AVO XO was released, it was meant to be the highest mark of quality. Avo used the XO designation from the Cognac world meaning “extra old,” which of course relates to great quality. Nowadays it sits just above the Classic in flavor intensity and strength, but it’s superbly balanced and beyond smooth.

 

Avo Classic

 

Country: Dominican Republic
Wrapper: Ecuador
Binder:  Dominican Republic
Filler:  Dominican Republic
Price:  $ 8.00 - $ 10.00

Available in 8 sizes:

Robusto (5X50)
No.2 (6X50) [pictured]
No.3 (7.5 X 50)
No.5 (6 7/8 X46)  
No.6 (6X60)
660 (6X60)
No.9 (4.75 X 48)
Piramides (7X54)

Q&A

Scott Kolesaire
AVO Brand Manager

Whenever you hear that someone is a composer, you can’t help but ask, “Did he write something that I might have heard?” In the case of Avo and his musical career, everyone knows the song he wrote. Tell us a little about it.

As the story goes, Avo composed a melody for his song called Broken Guitar. This melody was eventually taken and developed into the music used for Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night and the rest is history. 

What role did cigars play in Avo’s career before he started his own brand?

Cigars have always been a part of Avo, even at his shows. He would often walk around the crowd mid-session and offer the guests a cigar. He felt that a good cigar went beautifully with his jazz and put the audience in the right state of mind to enjoy the show. It sort of slowed down time. So he would basically buy them and just give them out. And then he’d always enjoy a cigar after his shows.

So how did he go from occasionally giving away cigars and smoking them after his shows to contracting a factory in the Dominican Republic to make a brand for him?

Well, at that point it was the mid 80s and Avo was living in Puerto Rico and performing at his piano bar nightly. He was giving out cigars to his audience and his daughter Karin suggested that he sell them instead of giving them away. Avo liked this idea very much. 
So he flew to the Dominican Republic and met with Henke Kelner. Now, keep in mind that Henke’s opera-tion was very small at this point, so it was not very impressive, but the two hit it off and Henke gave Avo some samples of what he could make for him. When Avo lit that first cigar, he thought it was incredible and knew he must do something with it. So he took more samples back to Puerto Rico and passed them out. His friends, his audience, everybody loved them. This was still a big step because although it is much more common today, back then it wasn’t common for a person outside of the cigar business to start a brand, but he knew he had something good so he went for it. And that’s a brief history of how Avo gets into the cigar business.

So is the first blend that Avo launched basically what we are smoking when we fire up an AVO Classic today?

Yes, except it wasn’t called AVO Classic back then. It was just called AVO, but yes it is the same blend as what we smoke today. It’s a mild and creamy smoke, but it’s well balanced on the palate. 

Was there a particular event that was the cata-lyst for the name change from the AVO to the AVO Classic? 

Well once we released the AVO XO everyone referred to the original as the AVO Classic and eventually we made it official. But really it refers to the fact that it’s the first line. It’s a very classic style of cigar, but it also refers to music so it works well.

Most people immediately think of Henke Kelner as the master blender for Davidoff, and rightly so. But it is fascinating to me that it was Avo who “discovered” Henke and then turned Davidoff on to him. How did that come about?

Yes! Avo was the first to officially work with Henke. They had a special bond and started growing together. It wasn’t until a few years later that Zino Davidoff moved his cigar production from Cuba to the Dominican Republic, under Henke Kelner.

 

JFR XT

 

Country: Nicaragua
Wrapper: Nicaragua
(also available in Mexican San Andres)

Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua
Price: $6.92  - $8.98

Available in 3 sizes:
654  - 6" X 54 (Toro)
660 - 6" X60 (Gordo) [pictured]
770 - 
7" X 70 (Gordo)

Q&A

Paul Palmer
President

The JFR XT is the newest extension of the original JFR, but I think our readers could use a little history lesson on the origins of JFR. Would you mind giving us a quick rundown of how it came to be?

Sure. JFR stands for Just For Retail. It was created about six maybe seven years ago in California when that state had a high OTP (Other Tobacco Products) tax. When we got together with our distributors and customers and asked them how we can help grow their business, in unison they said give us something just for retail and JFR was born. Now it is a contracted brand so the customers who have it sign a document that stipulates the price, no transshipping, no Internet, no catalog, and so on and so forth so it is a true brick and mortar product. That remains today as it did when it was originally created; we police it and do everything in our power to keep it of f the Internet .

But somehow it still makes its way to certain websites. How does that happen?

These websites are not approved merchants so they get JFR from somewhere, I don’t know where, but they get it. And they not only do it with JFR but they do it with many of the other big brands. Right now that’s an irritant and I’m aware that it’s going on but I don’t know how to stop it.

Where does JFR rank in terms of sales volume versus your other products and where is the brand headed?

If we’re looking at volume, it’s number one. We have JFR in about 2000 stores. It’s one of those products that is offered in San Andrés Maduro, it’s offered in Corojo, and a couple of years ago we came up with the 770 (7 x 70). Most recently we’re coming out with the Lunatic, which will also come under the JFR brand and it will be an 8 x 80 belicoso. You know when we created the 770, we did so to sort of show off our manufacturing capabilities and with the Lunatic we’re making it an 8 x 80 for $8.80 retail. So for the guys who like big ring gauge cigars we want to give them something that will give the JFR brand some noise or energy. Internally we wanted to do something fun and different. We also wanted to do an 8 x 80 but do it right and doing it right is a belicoso because that way it w on’t seem like you’re smoking a tree trunk.

You sort of hijacked this Breakdown to talk about this 880 project but I still want to discuss the XT. What is the JFR XT all about?

The XT stands for extra for the added strength. We were asked to create a new generation JFR in a regular box count. Keep in mind that the regular sizes of JFR are typically in a 50 count cabinet, the 770 is in a 30 count, but now the XT is in a 24 count box. And unlike the regular JFR which is unbanded, the XT is banded and also has a foot band on it. It’s available in two cover leafs, Corojo and San Andres. So like a lot of the things we do, we listen to our customers and they said they wanted a box-pressed cigar with a bigger ring gauge. So at the 2014 IPCPR we created the JFR XT in a 6 x 54, 6 x 60, and 7 x 70. All box-pressed with a pigtail and an un finished foot in a bo x of 24.

So how has it been received in the market?

It’s a natural migration for our existing JFR accounts. It’s a more refined smoke, it’s a little bit stronger on the palate and oh by the way you have a box-pressed 770 with a pigtail and an un finished foot.

After all of these brand extensions and fun sizes, you still have to sell cigars so at the end of the day what do you envision for the JFR brand in 2015?

Our goal is always to make the best cigar that we can using the highest grade tobacco and as long as we continue that JFR will grow even beyond what we are currently doing.

 

Casa Fernandez Miami Arsenio Serie Oro

 

Country: USA/Miami
Wrapper: Nicaragua
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua
Price: $9.68  - $9.94

Available in 3 sizes:
Robusto  - 5 1/2" X 54 (Robusto),
Toro - 
6 1/2" X 52 (Toro)
Coloso - 6" X60 (Toro) [pictured]

Q&A

Paul Palmer
President

Arsenio Ramos, whom this particular brand is named after, is an integral part of Aganorsa’s tobacco dream team. How did this veteran of the Cuban tobacco industry end up working for a Nicaraguan tobacco growing operation?

In the process of creating Aganorsa, what Eduardo Fernández (founder and owner of Aganorsa) did was go to Cuba and find the most knowledgeable and best tobacco people available. Arsenio had been working for CubaTabaco (Cuba’s state-run tobacco company) for about 45 years and he met Eduardo and they hit it off and he’s now been with us for about 15 years. What he brings to the table is an in-depth knowledge of all the complexity of tobacco. For example, in the previous breakdown we talked about regions, primings, seed varieties, lots, all of that minutiae; he’s very good at that. He’s also the head of our “blending round table.”

So how does your blending process work when a cigar company wants you to make a brand for them?

Because we have a cigar factory in Miami as well asin Estelí, we can blend in either location. If a private brand customer comes to us — now we don’t do that many, we pick and choose because my philosophy is that we have to have synergy from the aspect of making us better. That can be blending, that can be packaging, that can be whatever… Now as for the process, 10 years ago you would sit at a table that was ten feet long with all kinds of tobacco. So you could blend for three hours until you’d almost reach nicotine poisoning and then you’d walk away and do it again that afternoon or the next day. Today because we have the  intelligence on our tobacco, our farms, all the things that we’ve discussed ... A customer usually comes to us to get out of a problem. He may have a vision of something new and hasn’t been able to achieve it or he may have a problem cigar that he wants us to fix. So we smoke that cigar, we listen to the customer, and we basically use his palate to get where he wants to go. So our blending has changed but it has changed for the better because of all of the intelligence that we’ve accumulated about our tobacco. It’s the data that we collect that really drives all of our tobacco.

Now when you talk about data and intelligence, you get the idea that there is a data warehouse sitting in a server behind one of the tobacco barns in a field in Estelí but that is obviously not the case. We are instead talking about the data and intelligence that is stored in the minds and notebooks of a handful of your most trusted tobacco men, are we not?

Yes but there are reams of data as far as a particular lot, a particular priming, a particular seed variety, a particular farm, a particular region — all that is documented. But it is a work in progress from the standpoint that every year we re-validate the farms, the lots, the harvest, and everything else. We need to make sure that we’re on point with what we think that tobacco is so that when we stand in front of the customer or when we’re maintaining a private brand that we’re making, it’s always the same. So that the cigar the smoker enjoyed a year ago, a month ago, or that he’s smoking right now has got to be the same. So we may change lots or we may change primings (referring to the process of tweaking a blend for consistency’s sake) but it is our responsibility as blenders to ensure that it is always the same for the smoker.

So in addition to yields and quantities and things of that nature, you also store information about flavor, strength, aroma, etc.?

Yes we do. When you blend you have to know the attributes of that leaf you are using. So when a customer says he wants a little bit of spice or whatever, you need to understand how your tobacco behaves from harvest to harvest. So when you present a solution to get to the final blend, you have to be able to use that component that gets to where the customer wants to go.

 

Casa Fernandez Miami Aniversario 2014

 

Country: USA/Miami
Wrapper: Nicaragua
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua
Price: $12.50

Available in 1 size
Ares - 6 1/4" X52 (Toro) [pictured]

Q&A

Paul Palmer
President

In 2013 you released an Aniversario and then in 2014 you released another Aniversario. Both of them had a white label and silver lettering, so some consumers have had a hard time differentiating the two. Some probably didn’t know they were picking up a different cigar. Can you clarify the reasoning behind this and the difference between the two?

Yes, we’ve had two Aniversarios as we call it. The reason is simply demand, requests by customers for us to create an ultra-premium cigar. They said, “Give me the best of what you can make.” So the first one was the Casa Fern.ndez Aniversario 35 (a 6 x 54 released in 2013) and the second was the Casa Fernandez Aniversario Serie 2014 (a 6 . x 52 released in 2014). The blends are different. We amped up the strength and flavor on the Aniversario Serie 2014 and it has had phenomenal reviews (check out the Top 25 section on p. 53 to 62). You know, being blenders and growers and also having a cigar company, the Aniversarios really make sense. They are our flagship; sold in a box of 10 but affordable. They both have a retail price point of $12.50 and for that product we are exactly where we want to be.

My understanding is that you made a limited number of boxes. Will consumers still be able to find the Aniversario Serie 2014 that we are featuring in this breakdown as time goes by?

It’s funny you ask that because just this morning we were going over the numbers for both the CF Aniversario 35 and the CF Aniversario Serie 2014. We made 2,000 boxes of each but you know, the market leader in Aniversarios maintains those years and those blends into the future so we’re talking about doing that because stores are coming back to us and asking if they can have more boxes of the 35 and the 2014 and we don’t have them. So we’re talking about making the 35 and the 2014 part of our regular lineup so people will be able to g et them well into the future.

To my recollection, Casa Fernández’s greatest hits are always box-pressed. Are you guys just fans of the format or are you simply good at making it? Or perhaps both?

Again that comes from feedback from our customers. Ever since we acquired Tropical Tobacco in 2002 we’ve always had an advisory board. It’s made up of 10 of the customers who we hold in high esteem, who are incredible businessmen and oh by the way, are great customers of Casa Fern.ndez. They give us suggestions and we also bounce off ideas with them and the feedback is always box-pressed. Why? Because at the store, the consumer likes a box-pressed cigar and the perception is that a box-pressed cigar is harder to make. And we’ve refined the process of box-pressing cigars; it’s part of our production and we do it very well.

Is box-pressing in fact more difficult or is it just a perception?

Well, it’s a longer process, it’s a detailed process, but it’s something that we have down. It is more difficult in every aspect; in the draw, in the look, in the presentation, in the blend, everything about it is more difficult. But once you’ve refined the process, then it just becomes second nature.

It’s painfully obvious when a cigar company does not have the process down. The wrapper wrinkles on the top. Sometimes it looks like an accordion on the sides. Without giving away any trade secret, how do you guys manage to prevent that?

That’s really just expertise in cigar making. There are a lot of reasons why that would happen but generally speaking, that’s a result of cigar making. You just have to know how to do it. Now we don’t do a square cigar. We do what is called a Cuban box-press or a semi box-press. We prefer that over a square cigar. But it is difficult and the guys who are getting the wrinkled cigars just don’t have the process down.

 

 

 

 

Casa Fernandez Aganorsa Leaf Maduro

 

Country: USA/Miami
Wrapper: Mexico (also available in Nicaraguan Corojo)
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua
Price: $8.00  - $9.00

Available in 4 sizes:
El Supremo  - 6" X 58 (Gordo),
Illustre - 
5" X 48 (Robusto)
lire - 6 1/2" X50 (Toro) [pictured]
Robusto Extra - 5" X 54 (Robusto)

Q&A

Paul Palmer
President

Cigar geeks have known the Aganorsa name to be synonymous with excellent tobacco, but most casual cigar smokers have no clue what Aganorsa stands for. Could you explain what it means and why it is on the label of this cigar?

We registered the brand Casa Fernandez Aganorsa Leaf because it made sense and because Aganorsa is the name of our parent company. It’s also the identifier for the leaf that we grow. Aganorsa itself is an acronym for an agriculture conglomerate (Agricola Ganadera Nortena S.A.). We registered that brand about five years ago. The first offering for it was three sizes in a box-pressed Corojo (referring to the wrapper leaf), and two years ago we created the CF Aganorsa Leaf Maduro which is covered with a Mexican San Andres wrapper and is currently available in four sizes.

So before you launched the brand, the Aganorsa name was only visible to those who travelled to Estelí, Nicaragua and upon entering the town looked to the left and saw the company’s sign. How much has that awareness increased in recent years?

Well, the Aganorsa name has gained in popularity; there’s no question. It’s gained for several reasons; the name is being discussed in feature articles in magazines, by bloggers, and everything else. But customers are becoming more aware of Aganorsa because it just has a very unique flavor. 

What tobacco varieties does Aganorsa grow and which is the one that imparts that signature sweetness?

Primarily we farm Corojo ’99 Cuban seed, Corojo 2006, and Criollo but the Corojo ’99 Cuban seed is the one that is fresh and sweet on the palate.

Speaking of farming, what does the Aganorsa tobacco farming operation look like? What regions do you grow in and what does each region bring to the table?

We only farm in Nicaragua; in Jalapa Valley, Condega Valley, and Esteli. We have about seven farms in Jalapa, which is where we grow most of our cover leaf. Jalapa is most like Pinar del Rio (Cuba); it’s known for flavor and aroma. In Condega Valley we have about two farms and we grow most of our Criollo there and it’s a little bit different as far as blending attributes. It’s spicier, it’s sweeter, it’s kind of refined. And then you have Esteli; we have about two farms there. Esteli is known for power, its black volcanic soil. It’s the combination of the three regions and the combination of all the farms and the lots within the farms that give you the complexity in the cigar.

While the original Casa Fernández Aganorsa Leaf had a Corojo wrapper, the one being featured in this breakdown has a Mexican Maduro wrapper.
How did you arrive at this wrapper for this blend?

In the old days we used to use Criollo for our Maduro cigars. It would go through about four iterations of fermentation until we got it dark and that’s what we’d use for Maduro. Unfortunately there isn’t enough Criollo to maintain our demand for Maduro because the U.S. market has a high demand for it. So that being said, we found that the San Andres Morron (a wrapper tobacco grown in Mexico) really pairs well with our tobacco. We’ve used Broadleaf but very sparingly and not in our own brands (referring to the brands that they manufacture for other cigar companies). But the San Andres works really well in our blends and we’ve received a lot of great feedback and a lot of great ratings on that particular cover leaf.

 

Arturo Fuente Destino Al Siglo Gran Aniverxario

 

Country: Dominican Republic
Wrapper: Dominican Republic
Binder: Dominican Republic
Filler: Dominican Republic, United State, & Nicaragua
Price: $23.22  - $26.58

Available in 4 sizes:
Siglo de Familia (Grand Corona) - 6 1.2" X 46
Siglo de Passion (Churchill) - 6 3/4" X49 [pictured]
Siglo de Amistad (Robusto) - 5 1/2" X 50
Siglo de Amor (Perfecto)- 5 1/4" X50

Q&A

Carlos Fuente, Jr.
President of Arturo Fuente Cigar Company

Would you share with us the story behind the making of the Don Arturo Destino al siglo?

I never in my life thought that I would live to see the 100th anniversary of our company. Not because of my age, but because you just don’t think of those things. You think about the day-to-day and surviving and that kind of stuff. But one night, a little more than 10 years before the 100th anniversary, it hit me. I had the idea that I wanted to do something special for it using a Chateau de la Fuente Sun Grown wrapper. I wanted to come out with a cigar called Destino al Siglo, which meant destiny to a century or destined to reach the century.

The idea was that, on the 90th anniversary, I would come out with a box with 90 candle-shaped tubes. I even designed the tubes so it was going to be like a birthday cake with 90 tubes of these cigars instead of candles. And every year leading up to the 100th we would come out with the next box so that one would have 91 tubes, then 92 tubes, and so on till y ou get to the century, hence destiny to the century. So I got the tobaccos and we started making cigars little by little for 2 years leading up to the 90th anniversary (2002). By the time the 90th rolled around we were so busy that we just could not do it. Those cigars ended up being the original Destino al Siglo 13, a cigar that we now give away at events for Cigar Family Charitable Foundation.

So at this point in the chronology you’ve missed the 90th but the 100th anniversary is the focus. so what were your plans at this point?

What I envisioned was that for the 100th anniversary I would celebrate my grandfather’s life and our history with a cigar with 4 different tobaccos. Dominican tobacco, a hint of tobacco from Nicaragua, a hint of tobacco from the United States, and Cuban tobacco. Back then I thought that by the year 2012 Cuban tobacco was going to be available to manufacturers and that would close the circle. It would be the culmination of the origins, the places, and the history where my family has made cigars. And I had tobacco saved that was 35 to 40 years old and it’s hard to say this because people say all kinds of stuff but plenty of people got to go there and see the tobacco. I was saving it for the 100th anniversary. We were going to have a big party in Tampa and invite the world and it was going to be a huge thing. Well, before the 100th anniversary, as you know we had the fires in 2011 that burned down two of our buildings and I lost ALL of that tobacco. Gone.

Well instead of coming out with another cigar, we just said let’s wait. Things happen in life and it just makes us stronger. I had the example of my dad and my grandfather who overcame hardships of their own. Don’t get me wrong; it was very, very painful to see it go up in smoke. But sometimes things happen for a reason and you get inspiration from it. For example, the Angel’s Share was a project that was inspired by the fire.

We started seeing the Destino al siglo Gran AniverXario arrive in stores in late 2013. What does the final product represent for you?

The cigar represents the Fuente story, the heritage, the love for the family and friends, the love for our supporters, our neighbors, it represents everybody. That’s what I tried to compose. That’s why even the sizes are Siglo de Amistad (Century of Friendship),

Siglo de Passion (Century of Passion), Siglo de Amor (Century of Love), and Siglo de Familia (Century of Family). It’s a special cigar with a special meaning. There are a lot of symbols and messages all over the label. Even the color is significant – why blue?Because my grandfather’s original label, the one that I remember when I was a little boy, had the shield with AF the same as we have today, but instead of being red it was blue. It was that [shade of] blue. I was the one who changed the shield to red, probably back in the late 70s. So I thought it would be appropriate to go back to my grandfather’s original color for this label.

 

Arturo Fuente Don Carlos

 
Arturo-Fuente-Don-Carlos.jpg

Country: Dominican Republic
Wrapper: Cameroon
Binder: Dominican Republic
Filler: Dominican Republic
Price: $8.85  - $12.60
Available in 7 sizes:

No. 4 (5 1/8 x 43)
Robusto (5 x 50)

Belicoso (5 3/8 x 52) [pictured]
No. 3 (5 ½ x 44)
Double Robusto (5 ¾ x 52)
No. 2 (6 x 55)
Presidente (6 ½ x 50)

Q&A

Carlos Fuente, Jr.
President of 
Arturo Fuente Cigar Company

Cameroon wrappers have played a key role in some of Fuente’s most significant releases. What is it that you love about that wrapper?

I inherited that love from my father because he was using Cameroon back in the ‘70s. He used it on some of the very finest cigars we made. My father would say, “This is the best blending wrapper in the world. It’s like a loose woman; she’s sweet and she’ll get along with anyone.” He loved it. It was the most expensive wrapper and back then there weren’t that many wrappers available. But Cameroon built our business. Before it we were making Cazadores Deluxe, Selección Privada No.1, and so on. Just like everyone else after the embargo began, we were making a lot of different cigars.

Then, I think it was in 1975, my father came out with the 8-5-8 with a Cameroon wrapper in honor of my grandfather and it was different than any blend we had ever done. That really started it for us; it was like “pan caliente” (loosely translates to “it sold like hot cakes”). We were a little sleepy company that nobody knew about outside of Cubans living in Miami, Tampa, and New Jersey. And it was the 8-5-8 that really took off. And that evolved into the Hemingway Series, and then the Don Carlos.

So your father made the 8-5-8 in honor of his father.
Did you blend the Don carlos in honor of your father as well?

Yes. The Don Carlos blend I made in honor of my father and I made it originally for Europe because it was a brand that we started in Nicaragua and then it was taken off the market. In 1986 I started working with Rick Meerapfel on securing special wrappers for the blend. And the blend evolved from the Hemingway blend, which evolved from the 8-5-8; that’s how I was taught. But it was heavier and fuller than those other cigars and today people might think that it’s medium compared to everything else but back then it was a pretty hearty blend. Some people just think it’s the best cigar that we make.

We’ve heard that comment from a number of consumers as well as industry insiders. How do you feel about that? Do you have a favorite blend?

I don’t think there’s such a thing as the best cigar we make. I think Don Carlos is among the best cigars we make, if that’s the taste you want. The one thing I can say is that they are extremely consistent. I believe they are as consistent as humanly possible. We try very hard. We do everything possible because that has my father’s name. But those blends are like my children; I can’t pick favorites.

You mentioned Rick Meerapfel earlier. I think today’s newer generation of cigar smokers lacks awareness of the contributions that the Meerapfels—namely Rick—have made to the cigar business. You and Rick were extremely close, but since his passing, do you still purchase your cameroon from the Meerapfels?

Every leaf of Cameroon that we use is from the Meerapfels. It’s really the best that we can get. It’s the most difficult tobacco in the world to secure and it cost Richard his life.

It was his birthday and he was at my house. He came to see me and then he was going back to Miami to see his wife and have dinner with Jorge and Beba Padron. While he was at my house he got a call that his whole company, I’m talking millions and millions of dollars, was taken over by the government. Everything was locked down; all the shipments, everything. I remember we had shipments coming over and after he got off the phone he tells me, “Don’t worry brother, I’m going to pull through for you, it’s not going to be the end of the world.” He went to Miami that day and I got the call from Jorge, he said, “Carlito, I have bad news. I was going to pick up Rick and I got a call that he had a heart attack and he’s in the hospital. They say he’s not going to make it.” He was like my brother and my closest friend.

 

Arturo Fuente Rosado Sungrown Magnum R

 

Country: Dominican Republic
Wrapper: Ecuador
Binder: Dominican Republic
Filler: Dominican Republic
Price: $7.25  - $8:00

Available in 5 sizes:
Vitola 44 (Petit Corona) - 4.78 X 44 
Vitola 52 (Robusto) - 5 X 52
Vitola 54 (Toro)- 6.5X54
Vitola 56 (Doble) 
- 5.58 X56
Vitola 58 (Torpedo) - 5 1/4 X58 [pictured]

Q&A

Carlos Fuente, Jr.
President of Arturo Fuente Cigar Company

the release of the Arturo Fuente Rosado Sungrown Magnum R in late 2009 went completely against the grain. the cigar market was in the midst of a surge in power and you launched acreamier, more balanced and nuanced cigar. What kind of smoker were you targeting with this brand?

Honestly, I don’t think that way. I just try to make a great cigar. Magnum R was something that I thought there was a need for in the market at that time. I just thought that, with the great tobaccos that we had, and with the experience that I’d had up to that point, Magnum R was a cigar that was important to introduce. It was different than anything else I had done. It was an accumulation of all of the teachings.

When you said you “thought there was a need” for Magnum R in the market at that time, what did you mean by that?

The market was going toward very, very young tobacco. Very strong. Like you should get a buzz after the first three puffs. The market went that way, but my teaching was always that a cigar needs to be balanced. It’s a cigar that doesn’t bite you, and it’s just enjoyable. So when I saw the market going to strong, strong, strong, I thought, “that’s not good for the business.” It’s not good for the retailer and it’s not good for the manufacturer.

I also think about farming; the plant gives you only so many leaves. Whether it’s 12, 14, or 16, depending on how you harvest and what you do, there are only so many of the leaves that really give you that strength. And those leaves have to be aged for many years for them to reach their optimal taste and sweetness, otherwise it’s “crudo” (raw).

There’s a reason why the old school cigars are blended a certain way. It’s part of our philosophy and our teaching, which was taught to me by my father and my grandfather, which was taught to them by the previous generation. That’s why I wanted to do Magnum R .

You also said that the Magnum R was unlike anything else you had done. How so?

The idea of that cigar was to have something balanced and flavorful, but different. With a little spice and everything that I find in another brand we make but not as “in your face.” You get all the flavors you’re looking for but when you finish that cigar, you want to smoke another one. It leaves you with that, “I w ant more.” I compare it to women. You know how when you’re young and you’re in love and you… you know what I mean? If, afterwards, you say “I don’t want to see you for a week,” that’s not good. But if you say, “let’s have a glass of wine and go for some more”… I think, in a cigar, that’s ideal.

I think we get it .
Now, on the surface, the biggest difference with Magnum R is that the wrapper is incredibly thin.
What is the reason for that?

It is very thin and delicate. It’s very fragile. It’s an Ecuador Habano that is grown for us by the Oliva family (Oliva Tobacco Co.).

The Oliva family, John and Angel Oliva… their family has been our backbone for generations. They grow that tobacco for us, but in order to get the proper balance for the Magnum R, we have to re-select the tobacco and try to find the leaves that are not as hearty, a little thinner. Not the heavier leaves like we use f or the Sun Grown or brands like that.

Now, keep in mind these are all judgment calls by humans as they go through all of the tobacco by hand, but that’s what we try to achieve. And I find that, for that blend, that works a little better.

 

Casa Cuba

 

Country: Dominican Republic
Wrapper: Ecuador
Binder: Dominican Republic
Filler: Dominican Republic
Price: $9.84  - $11.25

Available in 4 sizes:
Doble Tres - 44 X 5 1/2
Doble Cinco - 5 X 50
Doble Seis  - 6 X50 [pictured]
Doble Cuatro - 4 1/2 X54

Q&A

Carlos Fuente, Jr.
President of Arturo Fuente Cigar Company

Fuente has owned the casa cuba brand for so many years. Why was the brand never really brought to market earlier?

Casa Cuba was a brand that my father bought way back during the early days of the embargo. The gentleman who owned the brand and a small factory, was very good friends with my grandfather. He was very old and his children were not interested in the business, so my father bought the brand. 

I have to tell you, it was one of my all-time favorite labels. It was an old-world label with beautiful illustrations. It represented the fusion of Cuba and America— Lady Liberty on one side and the goddess of the Siboney (native Cuban tribe) on the other. It represented a lot to me as a young man and that label was very important, so we saved it. It was particularly important in the ‘70s, when my grandfather always said, “When we go back to Cuba…” So that was a brand that I saved thinking that we would be back in Cuba someday making that brand. And time goes by; my grandfather passed away in 1973 and the situation in Cub a remains the same. 

So what changed? Why did you decide that now would be a good time t o release it? 

One day, a couple of years ago, I get to the factory and I see some boxes that were put together with cigars in them being prepared to be shipped. So I asked what these cigars were and why they were packaged. They told me they were shipping to our headquarters in Tampa so the sales team could see them because they were going to be distributed. I said “What the F is this?!” 

It turns out that my father had gotten one cigar maker for each of four sizes. And over the last year and a half he had this little private project that he had been working on and making cigars and setting them aside in the aging rooms. He did all this without me being aware and wanted to release the cigar for the 100th anniversary. I stopped it. I was not happy with the label or the packaging, and I thought it was not the right time. 

Now, so many people had tried the cigar and kept telling me how amazing it was, and how it was my father’s pet project, and how he’s 79 years old… I finally asked him, “Dad, why didn’t you tell me?” And he said, “Because all these years I’ve been letting you do this, but I want you to know that the old man is still the one that steers the horse and he still can blend.” And he made an amazing blend. 

What is different about your dad’s style of blending?

It’s the way that was taught to him by his father. It’s old-school blending, which favors complexity, balance, and flavor. It’s a cigar that, when you get to the end of it, you want to light another one. It fills you and satisfies you, but doesn’t hurt you. It’s enjoyable. He said he wanted to go back to blending and make that cigar because he saw everything going the other way and he wanted to do something different. We now joke around about his project, but he still doesn’t tell me the blend. When I ask him about it he just kind of smirks and laughs. And you know what? People really like it. And it is different than any other Fuente, but it’s still Fuente. 

It’s amazing that, after so many premium brands and sub-brands and lines, we could still continue to make so many different flavors that are all Fuente. It just proves again that my father, who is my hero, is the greatest. If I’ve accomplished anything in this life, it’s because my father has taught me. And he still outperforms me every day; there’s no question about it

 

Davidoff Nicaragua - Robusto

 

Country:  Dominican Republic
Wrapper:  Nicaragua
Binder:  Nicaragua
Filler:  Nicaragua
Price:  $9.90 - $16.50

Available in 3 Sizes:

Short Corona (3 3/4" X46) 
Robusto (5" X 50) [pictured]
Toro (5 1/2" X 54)

Q&A

Richard Krutick
Head of Marketing Davidoff of Geneva

After years of producing what is, to many, the very definition of a Dominican luxury cigar, what prompted Davidoff to release a Nicaraguan puro?

It stems from Davidoff’s new philosophy, which is to create a taste experience that satisfies every smoker and each of their unique palates. The [Davidoff] Nica-ragua is the first product to take that step and it was an obvious choice for tobacco considering Nicaragua’s current popularity.

So if the tobacco is being sourced entirely from Nicaragua, why not make the cigars there as well? Was that ever a consideration?

We did consider it for a moment, but to maintain that quality, consistency, and strict manufacturing process we’re known for, it was imperative that we produce it in the Dominican Republic. And everyone agreed that Henke Kelner (Davidoff’s master blender) should be the lead no matter what. He’s the legend.

What were some of the challenges, if any, in finding Nicaraguan tobacco that struck a balance between having the Nicaraguan intensity while being sophis-ticated enough to be a Davidoff?

You know, I wish I had a cool story about how we found this magic farm, but the reality is that a large amount of the tobacco used was already in Henke’s possession in the Dominican Republic. He’d purchased it years prior and had already been testing it in different blends for quite some time.

So were you able to get enough of it to make the Davidoff Nicaragua long term or will you eventually run out?

Thankfully, Henke and the team were able to secure enough tobacco from their resources to ensure its longevity into the foreseeable future. To give you an idea, the demand for the Davidoff Nicaragua has been such that we’ve doubled our sales projections for this year, which were already pretty aggressive, and have not had any supply issues.

The Davidoff Nicaragua was named 2013’s Cigar of the Year by this publication and was at or near the top of just about everyone  else’s lists. What is the key to the brand’s rapid success?

You know, simply put, I think what we created was a Nicaraguan puro with a Davidoff twist. A lot of Nica-raguan cigars are known for their strength and sort of in-your-face flavor, but we think Henke was able to “tame the wild beast,” as he says. The key was taking that powerful flavor profile and giving it the smoothness, sophistication, and subtlety that Davidoff is famous for.

How much pushback did your team receive from Geneva when it suggested black and silver for the color palette for the Davidoff Nicaragua?

There was definitely a healthy debate when we first proposed the idea. We’re obviously known for being a white label cigar, and it’s seen as our heritage. That said, we started to consider this cigar as sort of the de-marcation for a new, more adventurous Davidoff — one that was putting itself out there to explore uncharted territory. So then we only saw it fitting to distinguish it not just in name, but also visually.

The Davidoff Nicaragua was the most exciting release of 2013 for Davidoff. What can smokers expect from the brand in 2014?

People should expect Davidoff to continue its dedica-tion to innovation and its desire to surprise and delight smokers of all styles. The Nicaragua was the first, but will certainly not be the last when it comes to going to different places and being able to provide these unique taste and flavor experiences. We’re currently exploring different regions for the future.

 

Davidoff Puro D'Oro - Gorditos

 

Country:  Dominican Republic
Wrapper:  Dominican Republic
Binder:  Dominican Republic
Filler:  Dominican Republic
Price:  $10.50 - $19.50

Available in 8 Sizes:

Sublimes - Corona  (4.5" X 38)
Momentos (4" X 40)

Deliciosos - Corona (4.9" X 43)  
Notables - Corona  (5.6" X 46)
Magnificos - Robusto (5.1" X 52)
Gorditos - Gordo (3.7" X 58) [pictured]
Eminentes (6" X 52)
Gigantes (5.5" X 56)
 

Q&A

Richard Krutick
Head of Marketing Davidoff of Geneva

Aside from the obviously different gold label and pigtail, what sets the Davidoff Puro d’Oro apart from the rest of the portfolio? 

Well, the gold label is already distinctive. Before the launch of the Davidoff Nicaragua with its black and silver label, this was the first jump from the clas-sic white and gold. But beneath the label, there’s much more going on. This project was the result of Henke’s (Davidoff’s master blender Henke Kelner) decade-long passion for making a true Dominican puro. In addition, I would also say that the fact that each of the seven vitolas is blended differently and independently is unique. They are not simply a blend that has been formulated to be used in multiple sizes. Don’t get me wrong, they have the same raw materials, but instead of mechanically adjusting the blend down by percentages, each shape was individually blended.

The wrapper on this cigar is something special, isn’t it? It is grown in the remote Yamasá region of the Dominican Republic. But why go all the way out there? What is it that’s so special about this tobacco? Is it featured in any other blends?

Up to this point, this wrapper had never been used. Henke really had a passion for over 10 years for developing this particular tobacco. He searched for the exact growing region with the soil characteristics that would give him the taste he was looking for and he found it in the Yamasá region. The result is a beautiful looking wrapper that accentuates the blend perfectly. In fact, it is only used on this cigar.

How would you describe the Puro d’Oro to someone who has yet to smoke one? If you had to, what other Davidoff line would you compare it to?

It’s difficult to compare this cigar to any other in our line, but if I had to… It has similarities with the Millennium Blend, but its flavors are definitely more full bodied. It’s more earthy and has more spice. It was blended to have a Cubanesque profile and feel and I think that that is what draws people to that line.

What type of smoker would you say is drawn to the Puro d’Oro? Is that who was targeted throughout the blending process?

I’d say a full-bodied Dominican style smoker is whom this cigar attracts. We consider the Puro d’Oro a connoisseur’s cigar, one that a novice smoker would probably not just jump into. We believe it’s more for the smoker with the developed palate that prefers more full-bodied flavors.

Let’s go back to something you said earlier. You mentioned that each size was individually blended. Can you give an example of two sizes that differ greatly in flavor or strength?

Yes. It’s one of the truly unique things about this line. First off, let’s clarify; even though they are individu-ally blended, all of the sizes will always have more in common with each other than with another cigar because they all use the same raw materials and they all have that unique Yamasá wrapper. Having said that, if you compare the Gorditos to the Notables vitolas, you will find a perfect demonstration of the differences. The Gorditos accentuates the blend’s earthy and peppery aromas while the Notables shows off more of the sweetness and creaminess. 

Where does the Puro d’Oro sit in the Davidoff port-folio in terms of popularity?

Right now, it sits as our fourth-highest selling among all our lines. We feel, at this point, that it’s right where it needs to be. 

 

Davidoff Millennium Blend - Short Robusto

 

Country:  Dominican Republic
Wrapper:  Ecuador
Binder:  Dominican Republic
Filler:  Dominican Republic
Price:  $11.91 - $22.00

Available in 7 Sizes:

Petit Corona (4.5" X 41))  
Lonsdale - Corona (6.0" X 43)
Robusto (5.2" X 50)
Short Robusto (4 1/2 X 52) [pictured]
Piramides (6.1" X 52)
Toro (6.0" X6 0)
Churchill (6.7" X 48)

Q&A

Richard Krutick
Head of Marketing Davidoff of Geneva

For many smokers, the Davidoff Millennium Blend was the first time they experienced “real” strength in a Davidoff cigar. Up to that point, there was re-ally nothing in the Davidoff portfolio with enough kick to satisfy more full-bodied smokers. Take us back to what the thought process for that release was like.
We released the Davidoff Millennium Blend in 2001 and, at the time it was released, this cigar was Davidoff’s departure from its more traditional offerings. It was a deliberate shift into the new millennium for Davidoff, giving the entire brand an invigoration. During its devel-opment, the blenders selected new, spicier tobaccos, intending to give it a more intense flavor profile than anything offered by Davidoff up to that point.

What is special about the combination of tobaccos used in the Davidoff Millennium Blend?

The Millennium represents the pinnacle of Davidoff’s tobacco blending experience. The combination of binder and filler tobaccos with the specially developed and grown Ecuadorian wrapper gives it an intense, yet refined experience. The flavor combination of chocolate, roasted coffee, and caramel notes with white pepper and spices ensures a complex smoking experience.

When we talk about these product evolutions and product development ideas, does Davidoff take inspiration from any other industries or companies?

Honestly, we get inspiration from all over the place. As an example, I constantly think of Davidoff Madison Avenue. Whenever someone is walking on Madison Avenue in New York City — by Louis Vuitton, Burberry, or Tiffany’s — that is the level of luxury we want ev-eryone to feel in connection with our brand. We hope that they immediately get the sense that our store belongs among these other high-end luxury retailers.

What is Davidoff’s current strategy with respect to the retail and marketing side of the business?

Some of our cigar lines have been around for more than 15 years, and if you look at our current adver-tising and merchandising, you’ll notice that we feel it important to celebrate those original core lines. In a market that’s so innovation-hungry and so focused on what’s new, you’ll see that we wanted to take a step back to say that we’re proud of being a less in-your-face cigar, but more of a sophisticated and subtle smoke. It’s what we have always been. Today’s market seems solely focused on the strongest flavor intensity (to the point of being crazy sometimes), so our new campaign is one in which we pride ourselves on being that mild-to-medium cigar company. With 60 to 70 percent of smokers preferring mild-to-medium cigars, it seems to make sense. That said, as im-portant as consistency is in our cigars, we want the same level of consistency in our marketing and merchandising, and make every effort to ensure our products remain seen in a luxurious light. We want to apply luxury merchandising principles to our local Appointed Merchants.

Speaking of trends and what is hot, how does Da-vidoff feel about the surge in 6 x 60 format cigars?

You know, it’s really quite interesting. Davidoff the brand is not known for a 6 x 60 cigar. We’re known for more European sizes and being a higher end brand in general. As such, we try not follow too many trends. Even though the 6 x 60 is no longer a trend but a mainstay, we feel that our consumers and the man-ner in which we blend cigars doesn’t lend itself to a 6 x 60 size. We did do it with the “Year Of The Horse” we produced, and we were happy with that cigar and received great feedback; however I don’t anticipate Davidoff moving in that direction.