An Interview With Ashton's Robert Levin
Best known for creating Ashton, Robert Levin is a 30-year veteran of the cigar business.
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, July/Aug 03
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Q: And within that 6 million, how big are the sub brands?
A: Ashton Cabinets are about 600,000, Aged Maduros 500,000 and Ashton VSG 700,000.
Q: Let's talk about the creation of Ashton Virgin Sun Grown. How did it come about?
A: I wanted a line extension to Ashton. We were going to come out with Ashton Crown, which was going to have Chateau de la Fuente wrapper. I had packaging, I had bands, I had everything. But after Fuente Fuente OpusX [which used the same wrapper] hit, the demand was so tremendous, Carlos couldn't make any Ashton Crowns.
Q: When were you going to make this?
A: We were talking about it in 1992.
Q: And it was going to be a strong cigar?
A: Strong cigar, OpusX wrapper, but with a different blend. But after OpusX hit like it did, and demand was so unbelievable, we could never make the Ashton Crown. I still wanted to come out with an Ashton with a more full- bodied, more robust taste, and that's how the VSG was born. The Fuentes have fabulous inventories of tobacco. The Olivas had this Ecuadoran Sumatra-seed wrapper tobacco, and the Fuentes were buying it for five years before we ever came out with a VSG. And this wrapper, the Fuentes had to work it. They had to ferment it, again and again, and process it, to get it to where it is now. So in 1997, '98 I took a trip down to the Dominican, and Carlito handed me a cigar and said "Taste this." And it was unbelievable. I almost passed out. These weren't aged. They were powerful cigars. And that's what happened. I have to give credit where credit is due: it was Carlito and Rick Meerapfel [the grower of Cameroon tobacco] who came up with the name Virgin Sun Grown.
Q: Did you consider using Ashton Crown as the name for that cigar?
A: I was going to, but between '92 and that time, there were too many crowns on the market. We decided that the time had passed.
Q: Did you have a good feeling about VSG?
A: When I was smoking it in the Dominican Republic, I had a great feeling about the cigar, and I knew we had something special, and that it was going to be a grand-slam home run.
Q: Why such a radical change in the taste profile from Ashton?
A: People were starting to want fuller-bodied cigars, and I wanted to have something for everybody, for every niche in the market. It was time to come out with something for that segment of the market that wanted that full-bodied taste.
Q: Did you ever think they might be too strong?
A: At first. But after we aged them for a while, they were fabulous.
Q: So you ultimately got VSG instead of Ashton Crown. Tell us about Ashton Estate Reserve, which does have that Chteau de la Fuente wrapper tobacco.
A: We did get Estate Reserve, one shot, that was sold with the limited-edition humidor. And we are going to be coming out with the Estate Reserve again, with the wrapper from the Chteau de la Fuente farm -- limited quantity, we'll have it once a year, in one or two shapes, maybe 25,000 to 50,000 cigars a year. I'm not sure when we're going to get it.
Q: Is that going to be out at this year's trade show?
A: We're trying.
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