Subscribe to Cigar Aficionado and receive the digital edition of our Premier issue FREE!

Email this page Print this page
Share this page

Straight Talking with Pete Johnson

The creative mind behind Tatuaje tells Cigar Aficionado what drives him forward
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
The Brains Behind Homeland, May/June 2012

(continued from page 2)

Q: Let’s talk about your relationship with the Garcias.
A: They’re like family. We kind of grew up with each other. We really made a life for ourselves by doing something together. They give me credit all the time and it’s a two-way street. I praise what they do. I think they’re phenomenal cigarmakers, and they take the time to teach me. They took the time to actually explain the history of what they did, and why they roll the way they roll. That’s why I made a commitment to work with them only.

Q: Tatuaje is a huge success. It was named the hottest brand in America in 2009 by Cigar Insider. And you’re selling more cigars than you used to. How many cigars are you making now?
A: Worldwide? Just under two million.
Tatuaje is the majority. I do just under 400,000 in Miami, with the small amount of rollers they have there. All the rest is Nicaragua. And surprisingly enough we do it with three people in the office: one guy on the computer, two packing and me on the road. I increase 12 to 15 percent every year, comfortably. I like slow growth.
Q: Some would say 12 to 15 percent growth isn’t that slow.
A: (Laughs) Yeah, I know. It’s a comfortable growth level though.

Q: How big do you see this getting in the foreseeable future?
A: I don’t know. I don’t think I want to make over three million cigars. That seems a lot for what I want to do. I’m on the road a lot. Retail events. There’s so many people coming out with new brands and there’s a lot of great ones coming out. Even now I have to step up my game to make sure my brand stays viable. That’s probably also the reason why I have so many brands. I wanted to build not just a Tatuaje book, I wanted to build a portfolio of old brands, and I’ve been lucky to get a lot of old brands that weren’t registered, and I’ve been able to snatch them up and get the artwork. El Triunfador is an old brand, La Riqueza, Fausto. Most of them were chinchalle brands. I try to pay tribute to what they might have been back in the old days.

Q: One of the things your success has allowed you to do is push the boundaries of tradition. Talk about what you’ve done with cigars like La Vérité.
A: La Vérité was really my way of not trying to bullshit people. That’s why it’s called “the truth.” I wanted to see if it could be done. It’s one farm, one year, truest form of a puro, and it’s really to see how tobacco will age. The key is fermentation. Simple. If you don’t have good fermentation or you just didn’t finish the fermentation, you’re not going to be able to put that tobacco in a cigar and really have it taste right. Or age right. There are some people who take tobacco and age it for years before they start using it, but as long as you have that first fermentation, you can start using it immediately. So my point with Vérité was the tobacco is ready, it’s clean, there’s nothing bad left in it that’s going to make it taste wet or grassy or whatever, or filled with ammonia, let’s put it in the cigar and let it age gracefully in the cigar, and it will hold the strength levels longer.

Q: You have great cigars, you’ve built a huge success—is there something you haven’t done that you want to do in the future?
A: In cigars, I don’t think I have much more to offer. You can’t come out with something new now. I don’t think there are more tricks that no one has seen before. But I also want to do wine one day. I’m doing my own wine in Bordeaux right now—just a barrel. I started with 2011, which isn’t a great year.

Q: You’re working with a winery?
A: It’s a small château, you can pick the grapes, be part of the whole process if you get in early. I’m in late, so I’m adopting juice and going there in April to do my blend of three parcels in St. Emilion. It’s a personal project for me, it’s so I can see if I know what a good wine is. One day, I actually want to have a vineyard. That’s the one thing I’m really curious about.

Q: Why St. Emilion?
A: I go there every year. That’s vacation for me. I have good friends in the industry. I like that style more than I do left bank. I like right bank wines. I decided to work with those grapes first.

Q: So 10 years from now we might see the debut of Tatuaje wine?
A: Yeah. One day. I’ve been very fortunate. One of my keys to success in this industry is I had good people who taught me. I had good mentors. I think it’s a privilege, and working with these great people has taught me great lessons in this industry.

< 1 2 3

Share |

Comments   11 comment(s) July 10, 2012 12:01pm ET

Pete makes some of the best and most sought after cigars out there. Always seems like a down to earth guy who just wants to put out a great product! Good luck, brother. July 11, 2012 5:46am ET

The Good Life world needs more people like Pete Johnson!!!I have never met him but I know that Tatuaje Pete is un hombre bueno!
Hasta luego compañero.
La Casa del Habano Luxemburgo.

Toar — Simi Valley, Ca,  —  July 11, 2012 10:14am ET

Great interview Pete, I remember Big Easy was the only place I could find your cigars back in 04 and gladly trecked across the Valley to get the 03 Cojonu! my all time favorite cigar!!

John Davidson — Lakeside, Ca, United States,  —  July 13, 2012 7:50am ET

Wow, what blind loyalty.

Twice now at two different IPCPR conventions, we visited his sales booth, with a third party salesman. We didn't just present ourselves and expect to be recognized. We were acknowledged with a dis-concerning smile and a wave. After we stood there for several minutes and were completely ignored, the four of us left without ordering. Mind you, at that time, we already stocked Tatuaje Cigars.

It's very busy at IPCPR and so with many other vendors to see and many other appointments to keep, we decided to go to another company and at least be appreciated.

Pete Johnson couldn't give us the time of day. I was very unimpressed. With three locations to stock, two of which are Cigar Lounges, everyone lost. He lost one very significant order, we lost profit and my customers have to search elsewhere. That was 2010 at N.O. We no longer stock those boutique cigars.

Sorry Pete, but first impressions are sometimes the the most important part of any type of sales. My impression is the Tatuaje cigars are huge but it would appear so is one persons ego. Oh well. Maybe next time. July 13, 2012 2:37pm ET

Do you feel better getting that off your chest?

Tim C. July 13, 2012 4:14pm ET

Great interview. It's nice to get to know the man behind the cigar. I have been to a few IPCPRs and never got to really talk with Pete but it's a busy time as many of us know. maybe one day :)

Jason Simpson — Rockwall, Texas, USA,  —  July 16, 2012 8:40pm ET

Just an observation but, I hardly believe this to be an area provided to air dirty laundry. John obviously had what he believed to be a bad experience with Pete at the IPCPR.

As a cigar enthusiast and fan of Tatuaje I have to say that I have had several opportunities to meet and talk with Pete. Every time I walked away with a huge appreciation of how he conducts himself and doesn't treat the end user of his product as a number and/or dollar sign. Pete clearly loves cigars and provides us with some of the best out there. My bet is that had this situation been addressed with Pete directly and not published for the world to see, it would have been handled with utmost professionalism by Pete himself.

Congrats to John for being the first person I have ever heard utter a negative word about Pete or Tatuaje.

Keep up the good work Pete! I'll take whatever John decided not to order.



I'm a little confused. I'm not familiar with any stores in Lakeside California. Maybe because I have never visited that area. I don't recall your situation as that happens at every show where I never have enough time to visit with everyone. I'm not even sure what sales rep other than the broker I use would have brought you to my booth. I'm sorry if I didn't have time to talk with you but I was probably already in a conversation with another client.
If you are at the show in Orlando, I would like to talk with you as this all sounds a little strange.

Pete Johnson

Alex Anderl — Crystal Lake, Illinois, United States of America,  —  July 29, 2012 6:20pm ET


I think what you had was an odd-ball experience, maybe even a fluke. Meeting Pete myself, and having the experience to talk to him, having him share his story with myself, my brother, and my dad, really made me enjoy his presence. Everywhere I go ( cigar bars, shops, forums, etc. ) everyone has said how Pete is one of the most genuine guys in the industry. I understand you had an unpleasant first impression, but please give him another shot, and he'll prove you wrong.

Just my .02


Gary Bazdell — Ottawa, ON, Canada,  —  August 14, 2012 6:29pm ET

John Davidson. Please understand that this is an enthusiasts forum and should be respected as such.

Dwayne Campbell — Pickering, Ontario, Canada,  —  August 29, 2012 9:26am ET

Great article. I really like this magazine, very classy, great writing and great pictures. The magazines look good on my tables in my office and home.
I just ordered some leaves to roll my own cigars, thinking I could save some money and get the taste I want. Well, I got neither, but it is fun rolling cigars. I wished I knew where to get the really good tobacco from! I'm currently buying from the only place that sells online to the general public.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Log In If You're Already Registered At Cigar Aficionado Online

Forgot your password?

Not Registered Yet? Sign up–It's FREE.


Search By:



Cigar Insider

Cigar Aficionado News Watch
A Free E-Mail Newsletter

Introducing a FREE newsletter from the editors of Cigar Aficionado!
Sign Up Today