A Conversation with Jose Blanco
Jose Blanco: Well any move you make in industry is going to take up time and give you disruptions. On the positive side, there are things that you find that you never knew you had even though you keep a pretty tight control and you discover you have maybe two or three bales of 10 year old tobaccos that you think you used up and the move is good and bad. Now, we are in a bigger facility everything is more integrated and we can make cigars faster now.
Jose Blanco: Yes, the weather this year was bad. Besides our move, in the fall, we had tropical storms Olga and Noel. They stalled over the country and caused massive flooding in the Cibao valley. The baby seeds in the beds were hurt a lot. But after Olga was gone in December, we were able to get the crops in and the weather improved. So far, things have calmed down and I think we will have a good crop. It certainly will not be as good a crop as what we had the last two years when the conditions were just perfect, but it is looking good for this year.
Cigar Weekly: Was all this the reason you delayed the release of the Barrel Aged and the Léon Jimenes Series 300 cigars?
Jose Blanco: The 300 was a different issue. When we got to RTDA, we realized we did not like the packaging and we wanted to let the cigars rest a little longer. The 300s with their Cameroon wrapper will come out towards June or maybe at RTDA in July. They have been made for 2 years now and they just keep getting better.
We got the idea because we have been doing that with filler and binder for the Preferidos since their inception. We got to wondering how it would affect the wrapper so we experimented and came up with the Barrel Aged. To me it helps the color of the wrapper, which is already 3 years old, be more uniform. We are getting that great oscuro color. The barrel aging also brings out the best of the tobacco; you get a more round, licorice sense to it. The liquor and wine industry has been using barrels for years to improve its products and it worked well with the filler and binder. So now with the wrapper, the barrel aging brings a whole new dimension to the tobacco. We keep the filler, binder and wrappers in separate barrels. They don't join until they are rolled, then we give it another 6 months in the aging room so the flavors can marry.
Cigar Weekly: And the Cien Anos, are they gone?
Jose Blanco: We only have a few boxes of the Cien Anos left. We'll probably use them for special events. We said we would only make about 400-thousand Cien Anos and we've kept our word on that. But with that said, we do still have tobacco left over that is aged and we have the runner up blend to the Cien Anos. To come up with the Cien Anos blend we went through 40 to 50 blends before narrowing it down to the final two. So we might do something with the tobacco and the other blend, but it would not be a Cien Anos.
Cigar Weekly: What about this contest you and Stinky are running?
Jose Blanco:We did it more as a learning tool than anything else. People are always asking what the wrapper means, how much does it change the flavor and many smokers want to learn the difference in wrappers. So we took the 1495 with the Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper and just changed out the wrapper. Now with the Connoisseur Selection you have the opportunity to smoke the same filler and binders with five different wrappers - the original Ecuadorian Sumatra, Connecticut, Corojo, Cameroon and Brazil -- in a size that is adequate to let you taste the differences -- the robusto size which is the most popular size in the states anyway, by far. I have said it for years one of the biggest problems within this industry is a lack of good information so people can learn. Now there are a lot of people who are going to walk into a store and they want that 5 to 6 dollar cigar and they don't want to be bothered about anything else. But there are a lot of people who have traveled to the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras and want to know about cigars. They even go down to Miami just to visit a cigar factory because they want to know and learn more about cigars. That is our target with the Connoisseur Selection. What also is interesting is how the new four are selling...the Cameroon, Brazilian, Corojo and Connecticut. It really depends on where the people are. Some have said the Corojo is the best they have had in years. For some guys it is the Brazil, and still others it is the Cameroon. In Arizona they really like the Corojo. In Miami, they really like the Cameroon. In the Northeast it has been a tossup between Brazil and Cameroon. Others really like the Connecticut. It really has been fun.
Cigar Weekly: So what else are you working on?
And of course we are always looking for new blends. The thing about the business is if you come up with another Connecticut, or Maduro or another Cameroon it is not going to happen. You have too many great cigars out there. I would say today you have the greatest cigars in the history of tobacco that have been made in the last 3-4 years. Every year it is more competitive and you have to come out with something unique.
Cigar Weekly: I am guessing things will get even more interesting in the coming months.
Jose Blanco: Yes definitely. The funny thing is I am going to say the next 18 months, if you look at who owns who now and check again in the next 18 months there will be a lot of change. The big guys will try to get into niches of the market and make their portfolios better. You have cigarette people interested in a piece of the cigar pie. You have small cigars and the flavored segment which is growing. On top of this you have the announcement of Castro turning power over to Raul, it could foreshadow a possible lifting of the embargo. When that happens, you will most likely see blends of Dominican and Cuban tobaccos...whole new blends and whole new cigars. I think that is the future, adding Cuban tobacco to Dominicans. In my mind, it will bring more dimension the Cuban puros and possibly add a new layer to our cigars. It is going to be exciting.