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
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I remember in 1992, driving to the farm with my father. As you get near the farm you go up a small mountain, and you can see down onto the farm. Every time I went there I got chills, wondering what we would find. One time I remember very well. There had been a storm. And when we got there, it looked like cattle had run through the fields, there were so many tobacco leaves down on the ground. The workers there had tears in their eyes when we walked up to them. The thought in my father's and my mind was that it might be the end. But that's when I first said this was a test of God. I told the workers that. I knew I had to keep the team together and motivate them and get them to work together.
CA: Early on, you had certain production goals for Fuente Fuente OpusX. But you delayed the launch because you said you weren't satisfied, and you wanted the cigars to have more time in the aging room. Have you learned that this tobacco needs more aging, that it requires a different treatment than other tobaccos?
Fuente:Yes, absolutely. Every tobacco is like an individual human being. It has to be treated or nurtured accordingly. There was definitely a learning process for us. We had to learn how to cure it, how to regulate the fermentation with this tobacco to capture the flavors that we're looking for, and how to bring out the utmost in its color. It was, and is, a long, slow process that really involves some trial and error. It's an ongoing learning experience.
CA: Is there a different fermentation process or is it basically the same?
Fuente:We rely on the Old World methods of fermenting, which is to say, really, Cuban techniques. But it's more than that. You have adjustments and you have your own personal style. Every tobacco master that I had the opportunity to observe when I was very young had their own book, their own techniques. They're all different but they are also very similar.
Each situation is different. The tobacco that we ferment from the Chateau de la Fuente, and the wrappers especially, are fermented differently than other tobaccos. We would not ferment a Connecticut-shade wrapper, or even a Cameroon wrapper, the way we ferment the Cuban-seed wrapper. We use different techniques on that rosado wrapper. I won't tell you the exact techniques--that's secret. But we use the old methods of natural curing on [the Cuban-seed] wrapper. We select by texture and grade by priming. Then we slowly ferment the leaves. But we don't totally end fermentation at that point. My grandfather told me it's like a slow-roasted pork: you have to leave a little juice in it. It's like that with our wrappers. We don't ferment it all the first time; we let it age for a couple of years with the "juices" still in it, and then we take it for another fermentation. We re-ferment. The tobacco is constantly changing, and the crops change, so you have to adjust year to year. But the secret is that it is done very slowly. We don't want to lose the character or the life in the tobacco.
CA: Do Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars get a longer aging process before they come to market?
Fuente:Yes, there is a longer aging process. That was possibly accidental. The accident started because there were some other reasons that there was such a long delay in bringing the cigar to market. I have to take responsibility for that because I had a setback in the packaging for the product. It was such a special cigar to me, and to my family, that I wanted something so special that I kept on going back and trying to improve it. I wanted the band to be powerful. I wanted to capture the Old World feeling and to highlight the family's dedication and involvement. It just took a long time to get it right. That kept setting us back with the introduction.
The box was also a big problem. I had a specific box in mind, and it took us a long time to make it. So, when we were finally ready, the cigars were already over a year old and we were forced to set a time of aging of one year. We originally had planned on aging them three to six months, but we had to change that to keep up the consistency.
CA: The biggest complaint I hear about your cigar is nobody can find it. What's your production target for 1998 for the Fuente Fuente OpusX?
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