Q & A With Cigar Manufacturer Jose Blanco | Las Cumbres Tabaco
***Editors Note. The response we have gotten from our Q & A with various cigar industry innovators has been pretty humbling. Although most of the questions we ask are the same, the way in which each person answered them is fascinating. We hope these pieces give our readers a look into the minds of both the old family cigar business as well the new pioneers of the industry. As you read along you may see some obvious similarities and some interesting differences as well. Anyway enjoy because we certainly did. A salute to “The Lifestyle”
Q: The cigar business seems to be a closed knit group. Businesses seem to be handed down from generation to generation. How did you get into the business?
A: As you mention the generation-to-generation situation, which is exactly how I got into it myself. My great grand-father and my grand-father on the Blanco side grew tobacco, my father was involved and my uncle Arnaldo Blanco founded Tabacalera Palma in 1936, which is now run by his son, my first cousin Jochi Blanco (where Señorial is made). However, I was working for the Empresa león Jimenes for 30 years where I was always a part of La Aurora´s smoking panel until I started blending for them and also became their Sales Director – That´s how it all started.
Q: Smaller boutique cigar manufacturers seem to be the hottest ticket in town. What makes them unique? Is it similar to a craft beer maker? Are they a mixed bag of quality vs. junk?
A: LOL, that is funny how you say “mixed bag of quality vs. junk!” First of all, Emma and I have agreed to not call Las Cumbres Tabaco a “Boutique
company” nor Señorial a “Boutique cigar.” To be honest, it IS a boutique company and cigar: the “Boutique ” the way it was… This word has been used so much and in so many different ways and many variations have been made… So we don´t want to call Señorial that. Señorial is simply a Premium Cigar and if people like to call it “Boutique” that´s absolutely fine by me. What “Boutique” is for me is a cigar made of top quality tobacco, hands-on care and altogether made with passion, love, care and most importantly TRUE Knowledge. That being said, they are not the “best cigars.” First of all, taste is subjective and second, large companies often also produced very high quality premium cigars.
Q: If you are a new company how did you start? What inspired the new brand and what are you doing differently?
A: My decision to start my own Premium Cigar company was made many years ago, that was in fact the reason I left La Aurora in 2011. I then took on the Vice Presidency of Joya de Nicaragua mostly because of my love for their tobaccos and it would be interesting to work hands on there for a while, so it was decided to be one single 2-year contract in order to then go back home to my roots in the Dominican Republic and make my own cigars as previously planned. Everything was done by my wife Emma, myself and the tobacco-people in my family. Emma used to be Marketing Manager Eastern Europe for Premium Cigars Swedish Match (GCC cigars), so this was a dream for her too. She spent 7 months doing the Marketing and Business plans while I spent those months blending. All the designs and names were by her (Emma), the boxes were made at my cousin Jose Rolando´s factory, the rings and all prints at Cigar Rings Santiago… It was all kept very much in the family.
Q: How do you pick your tobacco and your wrapper? Tobaccos?
A: My cousin Jochi and I picked the tobaccos for the filler. I wanted the filler to be 100% Dominican and Jochi has excellent original Piloto Cubano and Corojo in his farms (among others) and they have 4 years of age. We basically “hand-picked” those between the two of us. Wrapper: I always loved Habano Ecuador, but I tried a few different ones according to the blend I was making but settled back to Habano Ecuador, it gave a perfect match for flavorful complexity
Q: What is different about the manufacturing process. Do you oversee manufacturing?
A: Since my cigars are made at Tabacalera Palma it is my cousin who oversees manufacturing and he is a true production and tobacco-guy, he definitely oversees the entire process from the farms to the final aging rooms of his factory. But since we are such close family, I spend my days in the factory too and I myself oversee the production of Señorial as much as possible. Jochi and I have a deep understanding, respect and brotherhood
Q: What characteristics or flavors do you want people to realize in your cigars?
A: Rule number one on this subject: Taste is subjective. I simply want my consumers to feel pleasure while smoking Señorial, but of course there are certain characteristics that I hope are felt such as: Full flavor, full body (or medium to full for some), complexity with changing flavors all throughout, balance and well married tobaccos, a rich nub and a pleasureful finish.
Q: Is tobacco like wine in that different climates and soil produce different characteristics in tobacco leaf?
A: The climate for a premium hand made cigar is most often near the equator so Latin America is ideal, while Africa has fantastic wrapper in Cameroon and Asian tobaccos from that are, in my opinion, often too mild for many premiums. Then there are of course outstanding exceptions such a River Valley, Connecticut and some other areas in the US and more… The soil of these areas each have their different types of richness, but they must all be fertile. The climate of areas near the equator help in the sense that it is always warm and no extreme climate changes occur (again, with respect to those fantastic exceptions!). Then it depends on what seeds you wish to plant into what soil – the same seed in different soils will give a very different tobacco, and vice versa too, different seeds in the same soil will give completely different tobaccos. There is a lot to take into account. Like wine as you mention, the agricultural work is huge!
A: I smoke a lot of different cigars and from different origins. I smoke more or less 4-5 cigars a day and each one a different one. I will not mention brands because for sure I will forget someone in the moment, and with respect for everyone in this industry I do not want to favor just a few. There are just too many great cigars our there. However, I don´t like smoking mild cigars, nor do I like smoking those extra strong ones that, to me, can lack flavor. I like anything from a medium to a full body in strength, but it also needs rich flavors, no specific ones, just rich and interesting, complexity and balance, and I´m very happy smoking!
Q: Obviously every novice smoker in the US wants Cuba cigars. Is it the mystique or do they really make superior cigars? I’ve always found them to be rather harsh. I’ve heard there is really no difference anymore. How would you respond to that question?
A: I say it is definitely the mystique and even outside of the US, this romance coming from the US embargo plays a large part, and of course the rich history of Cuban cigars. A Good Cuban cigar can be absolutely excellent!!! Not harsh at all, if you found harshness they were probably not aged enough or anything else during processing wasn’t finished off well – unfortunately that happens a lot… That is why I say “when a Cuban is Good it is great.” There are definitely not superior, that is simply a myth. Other countries such as Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras etc… make more consistent quality, and that is a simple fact. Cuba makes some top quality cigars too, but they sell every cigar made.. they have to. The other differences are simply taste and taste is subjective. I love a great Cuban cigar of quality but I need to smoke others too because I get bored smoking too similar cigars on and on…
Q: Does anyone make a good flavored cigar or are they all just junk with flavoring?
A: Again LOL to your choice of word “junk!” Makes me smile lol. I am not a fan of flavored cigars, I do not smoke them. I smoke and blend only 100% tobacco premiums. Flavored cigars is simply a very different market, smoker and business.
Q: What is your favorite tobacco leaf and where is it grown?
A: As you see from my answer above, I do not have one favorite one. But no matter how great a leaf is, the blend has to be made right, that leaf must marry the other tobaccos, or if it is a “puro” (pure grade), it needs to be blended very interestingly with different primings to make it flavorful and complex and with a good burn… So I have no favorite leaf. Again, with respect to all hard-working and great growers out there I will not mention names… But my blends show some leaves I love and there are many more! Then there is the processing work to make each leaf end up ideal for a premium cigar and those companies have their ways.
Q: Is there any domestically (U.S.) grown tobacco that is as good as foreign tobacco? If not, why not?
A: When you say “domestically” do you mean the US? There are quite a few. For example, Connecticut Shade and Connecticut Broadleaf as well as Pennsylvania Broadleaf are all great wrapper-tobacco, and Kentucky makes some good tobacco for premium cigars… and a few more places… This also seems to be a growing interest in American smokers and maybe even within the growers… time will tell.
Q: What is your favorite thing to drink while smoking your favorite cigar? I’m aiming at some kind of whiskey scotch, tequila, craft beer etc.
A: First of all, it is coffee. If it is during blending and tasting, it is sparkling water or club soda, in order to cleanse the palate. But to answer what you are indeed aiming at, it would be a good Rum or a good Scotch and occasionally Bourbon.
Q: What do you love most about the cigar business?
A: Wow this would be a long answer! But I will make it short: pretty much everything!!! The family-businesses in my case, the friendships within the industry, GOOD TOBACCO, Blending, the excitement and passion while I blend… There is a lot.. If there is one thing I like a little less lately, it would be the many misconceptions and false perceptions… But that is nothing to offset the positive list of just “Everything!”
Q: With so much negative press surrounding cigars and legislation to curb their use what have you done and what can our readers
do to make sure their voices are heard?
A: Yes indeed, the bans are making it harder specifically to Our Industry. The first thing as a consumer one should join the CRA, which is right now the last line of defense. As a retailer, one should join their State-association, be pro-active on any legislation coming, whether it´s State or City, which are to increase taxes or impose smoking-bans.
Within the industry, we all should keep One voice, Once speech, and stick together as a whole, no matter from what origin.
Click here for a link to the Cigar Right of America website