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An Interview with Tim Ozgener

C.A.O. International Inc. has now been in business for 40 years, evolving from making pipes to producing cigars.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Daniel Craig, November/December 2008

(continued from page 2)

Q: But where do you fit in the cigar universe? You're not a small company anymore, you're not a giant, you're somewhere in the middle. Where do you think you fit in? A: Well, define production that would be big?

Q: Twenty million cigars a year. A: Then I would say your description is accurate: middle trending toward more. We've had double-digit growth every year since '98. The only year we didn't was the year we introduced Mx2, and that cigar was much more difficult than we anticipated in making. It has maduro as a binder, and maduro as a wrapper. It held more moisture and took a longer time to dry. Once the cigars were made, we found it had to spend three times at least as long in the drying room. The Mx2 had to sit there for 90 days, sometimes more. We had this supply issue with Mx2 for a good two and a half years, maybe even three years. But now we've figured it out—now the drying rooms are more ramped up for the Mx2.

Q: What's your goal when you make a cigar? A: We try to innovate in our blends, and also in our packaging, and we try to create a wide palate for people, no matter what they like to smoke. And we like to use Nicaragua as a base.

Q: Is Nicaraguan tobacco in all your cigars? A: Almost all our cigars.

Q: Can you rank your brands, from mildest to strongest? A: C.A.O. Gold would be the mildest we have, followed by C.A.O. Cameroon, followed by Cx2, followed by Criollo, which is more medium bodied, then I would say Sopranos, then I would say L'Anniversaire Maduro, which is more like a medium full, as well as Vision, Italia, America, same thing, Mx2, and then Brazilia.

Q: Brazilia is your fullest blend? A: Yes. Now, we want to push the envelope and get even fuller, and that's where Lx2 comes in.

Q: Let's talk about that—it's your newest creation, it has a lot of ligero. What inspired the cigar? A: After I left our trade show last year, I was looking at all of our products, what people were responding to. There's a niche of cigar lovers that gravitates toward cigars that are stronger. That was sort of a response to trying to create a cigar that delivered a real full-bodied experience, for that niche of smokers. But we don't want to do a cigar just for the strength of it—we want it to be complex and have rich flavor.

Q: How do you create new blends? How does it work? A: It's a very creative process. We had some Pueblo Nuevo [Nicaragua] ligero. If it's something I want to explore, and find out the true nature of that tobacco, then I'll smoke only that. I did a lot of improv comedy when I was in L.A., so it's an improvisational process, which is what makes it fun. I'm down there, these guys at the factory are busy, and they're not sure what I'm going to do. But I think they like that. I try to take them out of the comfort realm that they're used to being in. Most of our blends come from us trying to do a creative convergence of things. That's what drives it. We also like doing things in threes, which I picked up from my father—we did three country blends, Brazilia, Italia and America. We had Mx2, Cx2, now we have Lx2, which is a nice completion of the three. Actually, I wanted ligero wrapper, filler and binder. The factory said it won't burn. I said try it again—they said we can't give you a cigar that won't burn! [Laughs.]

Q: So the wrapper from Pueblo Nuevo? What's special about that farm? A: It has to do with flavor. When we were down there, smoking and trying these different cigar blends, I had all these cigars made that were 3 1/2 by 46 ring gauge. They were each made of one type of leaf from each region of the country. We use 41 different types of tobaccos from 21 different countries in all of our blends—that's some total. We looked at the materials that we thought were quality ones, and when it came down to Pueblo Nuevo ligero and Pueblo Nuevo viso, we found those to be outstanding—great flavor, great strength but great sweetness. It's like eating barbecue—great barbecue isn't just smoky. It has smoke but it also has sweetness. With cigars, if it's strong but doesn't have that sweetness, it's not satisfying. I tell all of our leaf suppliers—anything that's interesting, bring it and let's try it.

Q: Is that a standing order? A: Not order it, but get in a bale, let's try it out. I'm not saying all of our blends are to be a kaleidoscope of different countries—Lx2 is almost pure Nicaragua. But we're very open-minded, and that's part of our success.

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