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These friends of Cigar Aficionado were there at the beginning in 1992, and they are still working with cigars today.
From the Print Edition:
Cigar Aficionado's 20th Anniversary, September/October 2012

(continued from page 4)

Ernesto Perez-Carrillo

One afternoon in 1991, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo was checking his inventory of tobacco in his small rolling gallery in Miami where he produced the La Gloria Cubana brand. Marvin R. Shanken, the publisher of Wine Spectator magazine, came in unexpectedly and asked him what he thought about the possibility of a new cigar publication. “I wished him luck but considering the state of the cigar business at the time, I didn’t think he’d succeed,” says Perez-Carrillo, now the owner of EPC Cigar Co., which he runs with his son and daughter. “It was the big companies making most of the premium cigars. The rest was bundle business.” When Cigar Aficionado had its unveiling, Perez-Carrillo found himself writing more orders than he ever had before. Then in the Spring issue of 1993, the magazine featured the cigars of the then-little-known manufacturer, and he was flooded with requests. “People saw the rating for the Wavell. It got a 90. I didn’t even see the score.” When asked whether he thought Cigar Aficionado was in any way responsible for the boom, Perez-Carrillo responds: “I don’t think. I know.” —G.M.

Gary Pesh

Gary Pesh, the owner of Old Virginia Tobacco Co., a group of cigar stores around Washington, D.C., began working in his father’s store when he was in school, and went full-time upon his college graduation in 1980. “The cigar business was a bundle business then,” he remembers. He was stunned when Davidoff—which at the time didn’t have a non-Cuban version—partnered with Baroness Philippine de Rothschild in the 1980s to introduce Zino Mouton Cadet cigars at a price that seemed unthinkable. “It was going to retail for the astonishing price of $3.60. And we were looking at each other like she was nuts.” Then the advent of black-tie cigar dinners at Ritz-Carlton hotels later in the decade elevated the stature of cigars.  “Culturally, we had just gone through this fad where everything that was fun was bad to do. Red meat was bad, you couldn’t drink, you couldn’t smoke, but then there was this idea: you were going to celebrate these things, damn it.” —D.S.

Manuel Quesada

“The cigar industry was very conservative before 1992,” recalls Manuel “Manolo” Quesada of S.A.G. Imports. “Smokers were married to one size of one brand and it was quite difficult to introduce new cigars into the market.” From Quesada’s perspective, Dominican premium volume was low, blending was simple and cigar makers had scant contact with retailers or consumers. “Then in early 1992 Marvin Shanken and Gordon Mott visited the Dominican Republic to announce the coming of a cigar magazine. We had no idea of what was to come. Cigar Aficionado came out and it was the most fabulous ride our industry ever took. The after-effects are still being felt today—closer contact with consumers, new tobaccos from new seed varietals, and more diverse blending giving the smoker the biggest range of tastes and sensations our industry has ever provided.” —G.M.

Nestor Plasencia

If you’ve smoked a cigar over the past 20 years, you’ve probably smoked tobacco grown by Nestor Plasencia, Central America’s largest cigar tobacco grower. The cigar boom that began two decades ago kick-started the Plasencia business. “For 20 years the market didn’t change—until 1992,” says Plasencia. Then demand soared, both for tobacco leaf and cigars made in his factories in Nicaragua and Honduras. Since the cigar renaissance, Plasencia, working alongside his son, Nestor Andrés Plasencia, has expanded his tobacco plantings from 500 acres to 2,500, employees have increased from 500 to 5,000, and cigar production quadrupled from 25,000 cigars a day to 100,000, including Rocky Patel Decade and Casa Magna. As good as the last 20 years have been, Nestor Andrés says: “I think we are living at one of the best moments in this industry in terms of quality.” —D.S.

José Seijas

“The industry in 1992, or at least an important part of it, was confused about what a premium cigar was,” says José Seijas, who served as vice president and general manager of Tabacalera de Garcia Ltd. in La Romana, Dominican Republic, until he retired earlier this year. “In many people’s minds, a cigar should be sold at cost, plus a fixed rate like a commodity, not like the luxurious product it is.” The factory where Seijas worked for almost 40 years is the largest factory in the country and the home to Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta and many other handmade and machine-made cigars. He adds that in that year for the industry “there was nothing more relevant than the first issue of Cigar Aficionado. The magazine had a remarkable, almost impossible, alignment with the market. Cigar Aficionado came out like a baby that is desired for long time. The rest is history.” —G.M.

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