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An Interview with Manuel Quesada

Owner, MATASA, makers of Fonseca, Licenciados, Romeo y Julieta, Jose Benito, Cubita, Royal Dominicana, Credo and Casa Blanca cigars.

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CA: Do the locals in the Dominican Republic understand that cigar-making is something which is really exciting and healthy and great for their country in terms of growth and export?

Quesada: Quite so. It not only creates labor and jobs, but it also creates a name for Dominican Republic. It's a product that is recognized worldwide.

CA: Do you get government support?

Quesada: No, we don't.

CA: What's an example of something for which you, as an industry, have tried to get the support of government, but were turned down?

Quesada: When we started the institutional advertising for Dominican Republic in Cigar Aficionado, we went to the government and told them, This is a wonderful opportunity for you to promote Dominican Republic. We wanted the government to come in with us and afford us a bigger scope of advertising. And the government said, This is your enterprise, you go do it yourself.

CA: That campaign, I remember it well, was part of ProCigar. Where is ProCigar now?

Quesada: ProCigar is alive and well. ProCigar has eight members, back to the original number that it was three years ago. We still meet regularly. We are continuing the job that we proposed to do when we started ProCigar: promote Dominican cigars.

CA: I remember that one of the missions--aside and apart from building brands, which are the responsibility of each owner--was to affect a sort of cooperative effort to strengthen the image of cigars made from the Dominican Republic. It would appear that that's been on hold for the last few years.

Quesada: It has been on hold. The arrival of all the new cigar manufacturers into Dominican Republic created a sort of situation where we could not create ill will amongst us by separating ourselves from all the manufacturers in Dominican Republic. For a couple of years we were in discussions about internal problems that faced industry in Dominican Republic such as labor, tobacco availability and so on. That has been settled finally. Now, we are back into looking at promoting Dominican Republic. We're finishing a campaign that should come out early next year.

CA: When I used to go to Europe five years ago, if I went to a classic tobacconist in London and they had a Dominican cigar, it was usually on the bottom shelf. The tobacconists would say they didn't want to sell them, they were low quality, there was no market for them. That's changed. Do you believe there's a world market for non-Cuban cigars?

Quesada: Quite so. The only problem that we have had is that we have not had enough production to dedicate ourselves to Europe or any other market. The United States has captured our attention completely. Some product has gone to Europe and one particular manufacturer has dedicated themselves strongly to Europe and they have done a wonderful job vis-à-vis the Cuban cigars in Europe. That is, of course, Davidoff. They have done a magnificent job in promoting Dominican Republic cigars in Europe and their sales have grown every year since they started making cigars in Dominican Republic.

CA: But Davidoff is based in Switzerland. What about you and the other mainline manufacturers? Is it still entry-level pipeline push or is there real consumer demand developing now for your cigars as an alternative?

Quesada: I can only speak for our situation because I have no idea what the other manufacturers have faced, but in the last four years, we have unfortunately had to say no to European manufacturers and distributors who have shown interest in distributing products from our company. If they feel that they can ask us for product, they must be sure that they can sell in Europe, so that indicates to me that there is a possibility that there is a market out there for us.

CA: You're one of the leading producers of maduro cigars. Is there a growing demand for that kind of wrapper and is there a growing supply to meet that demand?

Quesada: I don't want to say that there's a growing demand. There is a demand, perhaps because it has been unsatisfied in the last couple of years. Maduro cigars are a very individual type of cigar that has a specific market. The maduro smoker is a maduro smoker. He wants nothing but maduro and that's what he smokes. There is a shortage of maduro cigars and there will be a shortage of maduro cigars because of the line of supply, which comes from two particular countries, Mexico and the United States--where broadleaf is used. There's a shortage of broadleaf in Connecticut because of blue mold this last crop. In Mexico, they have started growing more of the maduro crop in San Andres, but they haven't caught up yet.

CA: So, does that mean that your production of maduro is going to decline?

Quesada: It will not decline, but it will not grow significantly. It will stay basically within the same level. Today, we have about 20 percent of our production into maduro cigars.

CA: The 1995 crop is mostly in the market, if not already sold, and 1996 is in the market, and 1997 is just starting to come in. How do you rate the quality of those three vintages?

Quesada: Those three years in Dominican Republic have been the greatest crops that we have ever had in terms of quality.

CA: What is there about the quality of tobacco that made it distinctively better?

Quesada: We had wonderful growing seasons. We had just the right amount of rain. We had the right amount of people taking care of the crops. We had the barn space to hold the crops, we had the warehouses to hold the crops. We had the time to work the crops. But basically the growing conditions were what gave the starting point for the best three crops we have ever had. Which in the situation of the market, it was a blessing. If we had a disaster in any of those years, we would be in dire straits.

CA: On Sunday afternoons, after you've had brunch with your family, and you go out on your deck, which cigar do you smoke?

Quesada: A Fonseca 7-9-9.

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