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An Interview with Alejandro Martinez Cuenca

Cigar Aficionado sits down with the owner of Nicaragua's oldest cigar brand, Joya de Nicaragua.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Sopranos, Mar/Apr 2007

(continued from page 2)

A: Nineteen-ninety-five. During the boom we produced that kind of cigar. But the boom was horrible at the end of the day. When the boom was over, at the end of 1998, all the good years of the boom gave us a financial reserve, so we never went to the bank. I told my shareholders we are benefiting from an accidental boom—we kept building the company. It was the smartest thing to do. We would not have been able to survive the downturn. That's when I decided to make the Antaño.

Antaño comes to the market in 2000. It took two years to find out what tobacco to use, blend it, and manufacture the cigar of the quality you see here.

Q: What did you want to do with Antaño? What was the idea?

A: I had heard that in the 1970s Joya de Nicaragua had replaced the Cuban cigar at the White House receptions. They were buying Nicaraguan cigars because it was the closest to Cuban Vuelta Abajo. With Mario Perez, we put together a group of five rollers who had been with the company from the very beginning, and we dedicated for two years blending.

Q: So you were trying to capture the taste of the old days?

A: Yes, that's why the name: antaño means circa. And the person who manufactured the Joya in the 1970s was our major blender. After thousands of blends, he said, "This is it."

Q: So it wasn't just trying to recapture the style, but to actually make the same blend?

A: Yes. So that's how I came out with Antaño. Before throwing it into the market, I wanted it to be Joya de Nicaragua Antaño. Joya de Nicaragua was registered by my company everywhere but the United States. [Altadis S.A. owned the U.S. rights by virtue of its acquisition of Hollco-Rohr.] I got in contact with Mr. [Theo] Folz. I went to the United States, and I found a real gentleman. That guy is the most astute guy I ever negotiated with. In 1998, we spent four hours in a negotiating room, and at the end of the day, he said, "This is the deal: you take it, or leave it." I said, "I take it." That's when I bought the trademark.

Q: What was the consumer reaction to Antaño?

A: When we sent the first trials, Brad [Weinfeld, who is in charge of the brand at S.A.G. Imports] called me and said, "We hit it. That's what the market wants." And then, some years later, some people tried to get the same wrapper, the same filler, but they couldn't make the Antaño. When we came out with Celebración, we asked the question why the market hasn't taken to Celebración, which is a full-bodied cigar, but much less strong.

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