Carlos Fuente Jr. has become one of the most recognizable people in the cigar business. While at the helm of Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia., he has seen the company rise to one of the preeminent positions in the industry.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
John F. Kennedy, Nov/Dec 98
(continued from page 1)
Being around the Olivas probably first gave me the passion to grow wrappers, and I wanted to relive that. I had a burning passion to grow wrapper. When the Olivas grew the first crop there, my father and I knew it was possible to grow great wrappers there. But it wasn't that easy. Actually, it was the perfect combination of many things. A lot of the credit belongs to the Oliva family. It took a lot of guts on our part to invest a lot of money, and lose a lot of money, but in the very beginning, it was the Olivas who gave us moral and technical support. They helped us build a team on that farm with a lot of knowledge about tobacco and a lot of heart.
We started off the first year with 50 acres. At the time, there was very little on the farm. A lot of credit for what it has become belongs to my father. He came to me and said, "Carlos, if we are going to be successful, we have to put in everything that we have."
It was extremely difficult the first year. It only became more difficult as the pressures started growing on us, with people telling us it would be a total failure, that it would be impossible to grow a classic wrapper on that farm in the Dominican Republic. But we knew we had to do it for ourselves. It was not considered a prime area, because some people had tried to grow wrapper there and failed. But it was the area where the Cuban exiles had first tried to grow wrapper when they came to the island. I knew in my heart it was the right place, partly because Angel told me that the soil there was just like San Luis in Cuba where he grew up. [Editor's note: San Luis is one of the Vuelta Abajo's prime growing regions in Cuba.]
We named it Chateau de la Fuente almost immediately, even though we hadn't bought the farm yet. But the Olivas wouldn't take any money from us until they were sure we were going to be successful. Each year we started growing a few more acres. We were also buying small plots of land adjacent to the farm, and in 1996 we bought the farm across the road, which was about 150 acres, and we started building roads and tobacco barns. The Olivas finally sold us the original farm.
Before that we weren't tobacco growers, we were cigarmakers. But I believe today that the project needed a cigarmaker to make it successful. A cigarmaker was not only going to grow the wrapper, but then use it on his own cigars. We made the best we could because we knew we were going to smoke the cigars ourselves.
In truth, though, the Dominican shade-wrapper project was like having an inspiration. I am from the old school. I believe in el destino--"destiny" in English. The idea of producing a 100 percent Dominican cigar was important to us, and especially important to me. I believe with all my heart that for a country to be considered a truly great producer of cigars, it's important to produce all the components of cigars. That's why this wrapper has been so important.
CA: Have other manufacturers begun to experiment or to grow shade-wrapper tobacco in the Dominican Republic?
Fuente:Yes. They have always been experimenting with growing wrappers. As I understand the history, people started experimenting with wrappers in the Dominican Republic in the late 1960s. And since the launch of the Fuente Fuente OpusX, there are many more people trying to grow wrappers. But I don't know if it's gone beyond the experimental stage.
CA: What was it about you and the Olivas that allowed you to be successful where others had failed?
Fuente:I truly believe it's not so much an issue of agriculture. I mean, there have been a lot of agronomists and tobacco experts that have been involved with growing tobacco in the Dominican Republic. If you really want to understand our secret, it's the heart, the soul, the passion that we brought to the project, and the belief that it could be done. Maybe it was just perseverance. But it was definitely more than agricultural techniques. That can be studied in books. It's something more. It's nursing the tobacco from seedbed to the field. It's suffering with it, watching it grow, doing whatever has to be done to bring in the crop. I think that that's really what has been the secret element of success for that wrapper.
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