Q&A: An Interview With Jorge Padrón

The president of Padrón Cigars Inc. speaks about his Nicaraguan cigar brand.

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Q: How much has your production increased over the past 10 years?
A: In the early '80s, we made six million cigars a year. Then, of course, with the war, and the move to Honduras, production went down, and it gradually went up.
Q: Where are you today?
A: This year, we'll be a little bit less than 4.5 million cigars.
Q: And compare that with 2002.
A: About 5 to 10 percent growth.
Q: How many of those are Anniversaries?
A: Close to 500,000.
Q: I think a lot of people reading this will be surprised to hear you make so few Anniversaries, and say. "Why can't you just pump out more?"
A: If it were only that easy. You've been here for a couple of days now in the factory; you've seen everything that's going on: how many people it takes to produce a single cigar, how many hands touch that tobacco, the processing, the space, the sorting and deveining. There's a lot of added steps or work that has to be done in order to get to the final product. So it's difficult to increase at one end without increasing at the other ends as well. I would say it's more like a support system; the support system has to grow as much as you want your production to grow.
Q: Can you plant more tobacco?
A: Sure, you can always plant more tobacco, but the problem is you're going to need more space, you're going to need more people to sort, you'll need more people to process and ferment; you just need a lot of things to happen in order to get the most out of that extra tobacco.
Q: Do you think your company will ever make a cigar that's in the top 10 in terms of sales in the U.S. market?
A: I haven't even thought about that. I don't want to be in the top 10—I want to be No. 1 in quality. High sales don't necessarily mean high quality. For us, sales are not the goal. It's quality.
Q: Tell us about your newest creation, the Padrón Serie 1926.
A: The idea behind the 1926 was, first of all, to celebrate my dad's 75th birthday. It's the third—not counting the Padrón Millennium, which was a one-time production of 100,000 cigars—it's the third line that we've ever developed. So we just don't come out with products for the sake of putting new products on the marketplace. We've been a very conservative company in terms of how we produce new products, and only doing it when we felt that we could really make something that we felt could be different. We wanted to create something that was more full-bodied than we had with the Anniversary, but at the same time that was balanced, which we felt would be the biggest challenge—not just to make a strong cigar, but to make it complex and balanced at the same time. Last year was the first year that they came out, and we've only put out 20,000 cigars. And that was in six months. This year we hope we can keep the same pace and make 40,000. But there are no goals here as far as quantities—the important thing is that they come out the way they should.
Q: It's more full-bodied; is there anything else that sets it aside from the Anniversary?
A: The tobacco is aged for five years, as opposed to the Anniversary, which is aged for four. And on the Padrón, two and a half years.
Q: Some people age their cigars after they make them, but you don't do that.
A: No.
Q: Why not?
A: Our tobacco is aged before it's made into a cigar. If you walk around our factory here, you notice that we were out of cigars. Everything that's made is exported. We don't keep any cigars, we don't have any aging rooms or anything like that. The tobacco that goes into those cigars is aged prior to going into a cigar.
Q: Because you're a small, family-owned company, and you and your father play a direct role in what goes on here, does that also limit your growth? If you had twice the tobacco coming in, would you still be able to have that hands-on approach?
A: Our strategy reflects our family situation as well. We like to keep a very tight control of our operation. So that's always a consideration.
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