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Interview: Francisco Padron, Cubatabaco

Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Groucho Marx, Spring 93

(continued from page 2)

CA: Many American cigar smokers don't realize that there are two brands of Partagas, a Partagas in America from the Dominican Republic and a Partagas sold around the world from Cuba. Assuming that tomorrow the embargo is lifted, how would it work? What would happen?
Padron: We are not going to have two brands over there. Not even in Europe. We decided to break our deal with Davidoff because of that. So what would happen is that we would launch new things for the North American market, new brands. Or we could make an arrangement with the brand owners over there.

CA: General Cigar, as an example, owns the brand names Partagas, Ramon Allones and Cohiba for the U.S. market, and it has tremendous distribution in the United States. I would imagine that they would love to sit down with you and work it out to represent those brands of Cuban cigars in America. Is this possible or is it a problem? You are shaking your head no.
Padron: The first condition is that they must pass the brand name to us. This is the first condition. Immediately. If not, forget about it. Second condition, they must be our partner. The same way that we have it in the rest of the world. There is no other way to make a deal with us. If not, forget about it.

CA: But having said that, would you be willing to create a new brand for the American market that General Cigar could have if you worked out a partnership agreement?
Padron: We would have to analyze the relationship of the commercial end of the American market, but we are prohibited from doing this today.

CA: I understand what you are saying and it seems consistent in terms of your practices around the world. The only thing that I question is that America is such a big market and companies like General Cigar, Consolidated Cigar and Villazon already have the distribution, salesmen, would be easy for you and for them to get together for distribution. If you had to start a new company and create distribution and a sales force, it would be very expensive to duplicate what they already have. That is the only reason I mentioned this.
Padron: Marvin, I don't believe you. I just have to go to the United States and sit down in a hotel room and say that I am here and who wants to buy these brands? You? Okay. Here are the conditions.

CA: Have you ever smoked cigars from a different country...the Dominican Republic, Honduras? When people ask you what is the difference between a good Cuban cigar and a good Dominican, how do you respond?
Padron: Whenever I smoke a cigar, for instance a Macanudo....I tried a Macanudo earlier today, I was not thinking of a Cuban cigar when I smoked it. I was thinking of a different thing. It is like if you are going to drink a Bordeaux, and then a wine from a different place. If you are looking to find the same thing in the Macanudo as a Cuban cigar you are not going to find it. It's a different thing. Don't think about Cuban cigars. Macanudo has a certain blend because they know how to make a cigar. It is not a Cuban cigar but it is very good for what it is. They know how to make cigars. Some cigars are not well-blended. They are just leaves and taste like straw.

CA: Cuban cigars are a great topic of conversation in America because they are forbidden fruit. People dream about them. They read about them. Some people like to say that ten years ago Cuban quality went down. In your opinion, has there been a change in quality in the last ten years?
Padron: Let me tell you something. Maybe people were right. There was a reason. When we produce cigars, we use three years of different crops in our blend. So, we lost two crops in a row in 1980 and 1981. That was a very strong blow to our production. So, when that happens, you have to change the blend, and you cannot use what you normally use. You reduce your range of combinations of different tobaccos. You must realize that. And for another two or three years more you are not doing things like you were. For a few years in the early '80s, the cigars were not the same but they were still good cigars. That was a problem. In order to maintain our taste or flavor in cigars, we have to blend different harvests.

CA: I remember in the early and mid-1980s when I would buy a box of Cuban cigars in Europe, upon inspection I would remove maybe five, six, seven cigars because they were clearly in bad condition. Now I rarely experience a bad box.
Padron: Let me tell you something. We committed an error at that point. We were too flexible with our quality control.

CA: This was in the early '80s?
Padron: Yes. We did it in order to maintain our sales. I was not in the tobacco business then. It was not a good decision. Right now we have a very, very clear instruction from Fidel. Nobody can do something like that. That is finished.

CA: The other thing that people are saying today is that Cuba cannot maintain its quality because it has no fertilizer, no fumigation. You don't have the supplies you need to produce the quantity you need at the quality level you want. Is this true?
Padron: No. No. We reduced our production because of this. We are not trying to increase production at any cost.

CA: Today, are you able to get the necessary fertilizers and other chemicals you need?
Padron: Today, we have top priority in Cuba. We are getting it.

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