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An Interview with Ernesto Padilla

A conversation with Ernesto Padilla, owner of Miami's Padilla Cigar Co.

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Q: What was your next cigar?
A: We made a maduro, the same factory as the Hybrid, with San Andres Mexican maduro. That's a very hard wrapper to get. The wrapper is fantastic. That wrapper with Nicaraguan filler is a home run, a match made in heaven, but it's really tough to get large yields of that.
Q: What inspired you to make cigars? I know you worked for Tabacalera Perdomo for a short time before making your own cigars.
A: I was basically a guy who enjoyed cigars. Then I said, 'Holy shit—we're actually selling this thing. We're out of it. Now what?'
Q: Did you find yourself in situations where you would make a cigar, then find yourself out of it?
A: Only in the maduro. The good thing was the relationship between ASP and that factory was very tight. So they had access to tobacco that many factories would love to have. But ASP stopped growing in Mexico. That really made things more difficult.
Q: That ended the maduro?
A: That pretty much ended that. But then I met a guy with a small factory, Pepin [Garcia]. I smoked his cigars—I thought they were great. I was impressed. And we got to talking about the possibility of making a brand. But I was always looking around saying, "Jeez, how many cigars can we make?"
Q: So you were concerned with the size of the factory?
A: That, tobacco availability—he was extremely small at the time and I didn't know if he was going to survive. I was talking to different people, different factories, nothing was really hitting me, and then when I saw the construction on Pepin's cigars, and the flavor, I said, "Wow. This is really unique." There was nothing like it at the time. There were cigars out of Nicaragua that were full bodied, but they lacked refinement.
Q: What did you tell Pepin that you wanted? Describe the process.
A: I came to him and I was looking for something that was rich. I didn't know what he could do. I knew his style. Before coming to Miami he worked in Nicaragua, and he got to play with Nicaraguan tobacco and really learn how to work it. I wanted something that was Cubanesque.
Q: Did you know that you wanted a cigar with Nicaraguan tobacco?
A: Yes. That's where the flavor was.
Q: 2003 was your first year—how many cigars did you make?
A: Maybe 50,000.
Q: How many are you making now?
A: Close to a million cigars. It's not a lot.
Padilla says he makes his cigars to his own taste. Q: Were you happy with that first year's production?
A: Yeah, it was just myself. I would go out there, try to sell to a cigar store, come back, pack it myself, go out and do it again.
Q: What's your philosophy with cigars?
A: I want to be synonymous with traditional cigars. I see people around me making bigger ring gauge cigars. I've never come out with a bigger ring gauge, because I don't think the blend is interesting in a bigger ring gauge. If I were to take that blend you're smoking, the 1932 Corona Gorda, and try to make it bigger, it wouldn't taste the same. And it feels awkward in your mouth. I don't recall ever in the history of cigars, things being that big. The toughest size to make is a lancero. I offer that in every brand I make. I think the blend really rocks in those sizes—it's really harmonious, it blends really well. You can really feel the ligero a little more.
Q: Speaking of sizes, let's talk about the Padilla 1932 La Perla, which is a really small cigar.
A: I haven't smoked one in a while. [He gets up, takes the short walk to his inventory room and comes back with a box of 50.] It's 4 1/2 by 40. This is the perfect example of how a little cigar can have a lot of flavor. It's a punchy little cigar—I really love it. I didn't think it was going to do so hot commercially, [but] this size has been meteoric. [He lights the cigar.] That's going against the current right now. I know the bigger European companies are trying to get guys to smoke cigarillos, but to me it's not really the same thing—this is actually a cigar.
Q: You made the Padilla brand in tribute to your father. Let's talk about what the numbers mean.
A: '32 is when my father was born. I wanted a cigar to commemorate his birth date. 1948 is when he published his first book of poetry. 1968 he published Fuero del Juego.
Q: Can you describe your brands, and how they differ in strength?
A: To me, none of them are extremely full-bodied cigars. I think they're just rich. Maybe if you haven't been smoking for a while it's not the cigar for you, but if you want to experiment with something richer in flavor and complexity, these cigars are a good way to start. I'd say the 1932 is probably one of the fuller ones.
Q: I'm smoking the '32 now—I'd say it's a medium-plus body.
A: Five to seven years ago people would probably have considered that a full body. I think the Miami and the '32 are, strengthwise, what a Cuban is.
Q: And the '48?
A: For me it's a milder smoke. I smoke it earlier in the day.
Q: How many cigars do you smoke a day? I think you've smoked three so far during the time we've been together.
A: On average? Probably six to maybe sometimes 10. I lose track.
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