Master Blender of Mombacho Cigars: Claudio Sgroi
You came into the cigar business from a very different angle than most other cigar makers. Could you share the story of how your passion for cigars was born?
My journey into the tobacco world started on May 18th of 2001. I was living in the Dominican Republic and working as an interpreter, translator, and Italian teacher. I remember that I got a phone call from a beautiful lady, Olga Estrella, she’s always in my heart, and she said, “Listen you’re Italian and we have a group of Italians coming and we need a translator/ interpreter for a week. We need someone who can translate from French and Spanish to Italian.” I assured her that I could do that but I wanted to know what the visit was about. She told me that it was about tobacco and cigars. I didn’t know anything about cigars. I was worried because I didn’t have the vocabulary because I didn’t even smoke cigars!
The company that I was going to translate for was Davidoff. On the first day the Davidoff worldwide ambassador gave the welcome speech and about a half hour later Henke Kelner (Davidoff’s legendary master blender) took the microphone and started talking about tobacco and its history. Within thirty seconds I knew I wanted to be like him. I was shaking, not from nerves or anything like that, but because it was a sort of revelation. That’s how I fell in love with cigars.
So how did you go from discovering cigars in 2001 to master blender of Mombacho Cigars?
In 2009 I left Davidoff and went to live in Miami and I started working as a consultant in the cigar industry. That wasn’t my idea at first but a good friend of mine pointed out that since I had worked in cigar production, growing tobacco, selling cigars, managing humidors, and even brand managing, I should become a consultant. What he was saying made sense to me. I thought it was a very good idea. So I started consulting small brands for a couple of years and doing quite well.
Then I found a post on LinkedIn. Mombacho Cigars was looking for a brand manager for China. Aside from the United States, the Asian cigar markets also interested me. I had never heard of Mombacho Cigars but I was attracted by China so I replied to the post. I had a couple of phone calls with Marcus and Cam, the founders of Mombacho Cigars. They said because I did not speak Mandarin I was not a good fit for China. But the conversation quickly turned to my experience in the cigar business. They told me about their factory in Nicaragua. I was surprised because I had never heard of the brand and they’re telling me they have a factory in Nicaragua. Then they told me it was in Granada and I was even more surprised. Everyone knows about Estelí but I had never heard of a cigar factory in Granada. They explained their concept and showed me their factory; it was an awesome place to enjoy cigars, with a pool and a beautiful lounge. The idea was to spread the love of cigars from Granada to the world, so they were making one size, one blend, and having events in China and Canada. We agreed to a three-month contract and I spent that time going to Granada and understanding what they were doing, looking at their tobacco, opening the cigars, making suggestions. And I found we had very good chemistry; we had the same ideas, the same way of talking to each other, and I was embracing their vision. So after the three-month contract was up, Cam called me and said, “The contract is over, it’s been a pleasure working with you.” As he was talking I was thinking, “Man what a shame, I really like working with these guys.” And he went straight forward and asked me if I wanted to jump on board, not as a consultant but as a partner.