Q & A With Sales Executive Patrick Vivalo | Rocky Patel
Q: The cigar business seems to be a close knit group. Businesses seem to be handed down from generation to generation. How did you get into the business?
A: I had my first cigar back in the late 90’s and from that moment I fell in love with cigars. I read up on everything I could get my hands on to
gain a better understanding on the history of cigars and what makes each one unique. I began working in this industry back in 1997, for the next 5 years I was on the retail side until I met Rocky Patel and started working for what we were then known as Indian Tabac Cigar Co. The rest is history!
Q: Small 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: I believe that most all premium cigar manufacturers put the same amount of passion and dedication into building a brand as well as constructing a blend that they like or what they feel best suits the market place. Yes, I believe the similarities are there between craft beer and boutique cigars simply due to the level of detail as well as the raw materials that go into producing both cigars and beer. Beer, like cigars or for anything in that matter is subject to personal preference. What one person enjoys may not be the same for another regardless of it is considered boutique of not.
Q: If you are a new company how did you start? What inspired the new brand and what are you doing differently?
**Editors Note**Rocky Patel is obviously not a new brand, however Patrick Vivalo had the oppurtunity to putting his name on a cigar manufactured in the Rocky Patel factory. The cigar’s characteristics, blending and manufacturing are overseen by Patrick. Patrick gives this article a rather unique perspective.
Q: How do you pick your tobacco?
A: I choose the tobacco based on what I want out of a cigar. For the “Vivalo” cigar, I wanted a cigar medium plus in strength with a full rich flavor. I am a big fan of tobacco from Nicaragua (particularly the Esteli and Jalapa region), the filler is 2/3rd’s Ligero and 1/3rd Viso with a Viso binder from Nicaragua. Choosing a blend is similar to how a Chef creates a dish, trying different recipes and tweaking it until it meets the expectations of how it should turn out based on the profile he or she is looking for. As for my blend, I have experimented with many blends over the years and I am proud to have my name on this blend. It is also important to know which farm the tobacco came from. To say that one of the leaves is from Esteli is not good enough for consistency, knowing which farm it is from and the vintage is key as each farm can vary in flavor and the way it burns.
Q: How about your wrapper?
A: Wrapper is very important as it delivers a majority of the flavor. The overall profile will vary based on the wrapper chosen. For example, the “Vivalo” blend has a Colorado shade wrapper from the Jalapa region in Nicaragua. I have experimented with different wrappers and found that this one best suits the blend.
Q: What is different about the manufacturing process. Do you oversee manufacturing?
A: Staying on top of production is key to a consistent blend. One variation in either the ratio of filler or the way the tobacco is bunched can alter the flavor and the way the cigar smokes. Keeping the same quality year after year is a challenge for any company. Having great quality tobacco makes it easier to keep the cigar consistent with any brand.
Q: What characteristics or flavors do you want people to taste in your cigars?
A: In blending a cigar, it is most important that it is a cigar that I like to smoke. If you go around chasing trends the long term affect might not be where you want to be. With my initial cigar it is something that I liked to smoke while I was down at our factory in Honduras. I wanted something medium in strength with full flavor. I am very happy with the result of the blend. One thing I did with my cigar is I blended it to each specific size the way I felt each size should taste. For example, the Lonsdale is well-balanced with the right amount of spice and sweetness whereas the Gordo is fuller in strength and is more spice forward. This is achieved by adjusting the percentage of the filler.
Q: Like wine how do the different climates and soil produce different characteristics in your tobacco?
A: Like wine grapes, tobacco is dependent on Mother Nature. Heavy rain, to dry, too hot, too cold are all variables in how the tobacco will grow, ferment and taste. For example, if there is a lot of rain in a growing season the tobacco retains more moisture than normal and will require longer fermentation.
Q: Besides your own what cigars do you smoke and what do you like about them?
A: I like to try new cigars to understand other companies profiles and new trends in the industry. As far as other cigars besides mine and RP’s, I enjoy Tatuaje, Padron, Liga Privada, Herrera’s, Illusione and Espinosa to name a few. I find the profile of those cigars best fit my wheelhouse and give me the flavor I look for in a cigar.
Q: Obviously every novice cigar smoker in the US wants Cuban cigars. Isit the mystique or do they really make superior cigars. I’ve always found them to be rather harsh. I’ve heard that there is really no difference anymore. How would you respond to that question?
A: I do think it is mostly due to the mystique of wanting something you can’t have plus of all the talk and press on Cuban cigars. As far as quality is concerned, in my humble opinion they are way too inconsistent and are a shell of what they used to be. The harsh flavor you speak about comes from the tobacco not going through the proper amount of time in fermentation. The soil over the years has been depleted of the nutrients necessary to grow a healthy tobacco plant. I think this has also helped non-Cuban cigar manufacturers outside of the U.S. market. Educating consumers and doing events to promote brands has broadened their horizons as well as expand their palate.
Q: Does anyone make a good flavored cigar or are they all just junk with flavoring?
A: I am not personally an Aficionado on flavored cigars but I can tell when good tobacco is being used by the appearance and the aroma. Just like anything, there are ways to cut corners to keep costs down. From my experience on the retail side, I have seen long filler and short filler as well as flawless wrappers to spotty wrappers.
Q: What is your favorite tobacco leaf and where is it grown?
A: For my personal tastes I prefer Nicaraguan filler and binder tobacco. As for wrapper I really like Ecuador Habano.
Q: Is there any domestically grown tobacco that is as good as foreign tobacco? If not,why not?
A: To say that domestic tobacco tastes as good as foreign tobacco again falls under personal preference. There are some great regions throughout the United States as there are throughout many parts of the world. Tobacco from Connecticut has been a staple in the premium cigar business for decades. They grow everything from Shade Grown, Broadleaf and Habano. Though they are mostly known for wrapper leaf, there are some cigars that use the tobacco for binder and filler.
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: I am big on pairing my cigar with what I drink, it really comes down to what cigar you choose or which libation. For whisky , I like to smoke a cigar that has some spice to it so I’ll gravitate towards a cigar with a Habano or Sumatra wrapper. With red wine, I really enjoy a cigar with a maduro wrapper as I find the natural sweetness from the wrapper complements the overall style of wine that I like. Craft beer can lean either way depending on the style of beer, I really enjoy Stouts and Porters, which I find pair well with a big bold maduro wrapped cigar.
Q: What do you love most about the cigar business?
A: The heritage and the people. The history of the cigar industry is rich and deep with its roots. I have been in this industry for 17 years and have enjoyed every day. Sure, we all have days where we don’t want to get out of bed, but I have always enjoyed what I do. I am lucky to be able to say that I love what I do and do what I love. Everyone from the people in the manufacturing side to the shop owners/employees and consumers make this industry what it is. I see it as a brotherhood/sisterhood. When you walk into a cigar shop we are all there for the same reason, to enjoy a premium cigar. It doesn’t matter which walk of life you come from, once you enter that shop you feel at home.
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: Join the Cigar Rights of America (cigarrights.org), which is a non-profit organization to help protect your rights to enjoy a premium cigar. Get involved with your local state’s government. Most importantly, stay educated on to what is going on around the country. Just because you see laws and bans being put in place in a state you don’t live in it can easily happen to you.