Casa Fernandez

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.