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Macanudo's Main Man

Angel Daniel Nuñez controls General Cigar's brand portfolio, from leaf to box
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Jeff Bridges, Sep/Oct 01

"These are not cigars," said the icon, his eyes alight under the wide brim of his straw hat. "They are sausages!"

Angel Daniel Nuñez felt the pain in his stomach. He was new on the job, and his mentor was angry. Very angry. This was not a good start to his new job, supervising General Cigar Dominicana. The factory was famous for making Partagas cigars for the American market. The man comparing his cigars to breakfast meat was Ramón Cifuentes.

In a world of cigar stars, none shined brighter than Cifuentes, an attractive man who was often compared to Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Cifuentes was the closest thing in the world to cigar royalty, having owned the Partagas cigar brand in Cuba before losing it to Fidel Castro. He fled the country, sold the Partagas name to General Cigar Co. and had a fortune that would keep him comfortable for a lifetime. Now he was in the Dominican Republic, watching over a newcomer. Trying to make sure that the cigars bearing his beloved Partagas name didn't look like sausages.

The young Nuñez reached out to touch the offensive cigar. Cifuentes' arm shot from the table like a striking cobra, and slapped Nuñez's hand away.

"No, not now," he said. "We will fix that tomorrow."

Cifuentes was the only man who ever slapped Nuñez. The student spent three long months under the tutelage of the Cuban legend. Each day was a lesson, and Cifuentes was an old-school teacher, sometimes believing that the best way to teach is with one part shock and one (small) part pain. It was cigar boot camp, and it was just what Nuñez needed. When Nuñez would arrive at the factory in the morning, Cifuentes -- a man twice his age -- would be waiting impatiently at the door, always wearing his guayabera and straw hat, pointing out the importance of punctuality. (The lesson learned, today Nuñez tends to arrive at work around 6 a.m.)

In scenes remeniscent of Yoda tutoring Luke Skywalker, or Mr. Miyagi laboriously stressing the importance of detail to his Karate Kid, Cifuentes picked apart every aspect of his young student's work. On his very first visit to Nuñez's office, Cifuentes went straight to the air conditioner. "This is filthy," he said, peering at the filter. "You can't make good cigars in this type of environment." After that, Nuñez kept his office as clean as a hospital ward. "He was demanding," says Nuñez in a trademark understatement.

Nuñez is a quiet man, who speaks slowly in heavily accented English. The scattered wrinkles around his eyes are from decades spent in sunny tobacco fields and the wide smile that so often crosses his face.

He's sitting in his office in Bloomfield, Connecticut, in the heart of the Connecticut River Valley. A tiny Macanudo Maduro Ascot is burning in an ashtray to his right; four more in a pack aren't far away. It is early June, and tiny tobacco seedlings have recently been put into the ground just steps from here. In about a month, they will be ready for harvest. The best of the leaves will become Macanudo cigars.

Watching over the Connecticut crop is only one of Nuñez's responsibilities. As Executive Vice President of Tobacco and Manufacturing for General Cigar Co., the 50-year-old oversees the company's cigarmaking operations from leaf to box. Not only does he supervise the three premium cigar factories owned by General (including two in Honduras that belong to subsidiary Villazon & Co.), he manages the tobacco purchasing, tobacco sorting and processing for the company, and supervises General's tobacco growing operations in Connecticut and the Dominican Republic. Nuñez is one of the most influential executives at the company.

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