A Conversation With Philip Wynne
The creator of Felipe Gregorio has been making cigars since 1990.
From the Print Edition:
Kurt Russell, May/June 2006
(continued from page 2)
Q: Did Bob Franzblau and Thompson pull you out of your debt?
A: Yes. I owe him. He saved my Dominican factory—100 percent.
Q: So this allows you to continue with your premier brands?
A: Yes, but it also opened up my eyes. I said, I've been busting my ass and going to these countries for 10 years, and the Dominican is fantastic. It was accessible, you could eat well, there were beaches, nice hotels. I said, What the hell am I doing struggling? I wanted to bring more of my type of production to the D.R., but we couldn't because we were basically mass—making cigars for Thompson, and not really any blends, but just working on price quality, good construction, Sumatra wrapper, Connecticut. So as I started building up reserves and started making some money, I started bringing in better tobaccos, started doing things in the Dominican different, because I want to make Dominican my flagship factory.
I created Felipe Dominican there, I created Petrus Fortus there, I made the Excellence there. You see the notches going up every time, I'm bringing the bar a bit higher—not exactly where I want to be, but I'm getting there. I had to change the mindset of my partner, who said, Listen, I don't give a shit about making good cigars, we have to pay bills here. Valid point. So we took the dream of making a hotel and cigar factory, we sold off half the lot and made houses, we financed ourselves and we became financially sound. So we have no debt.
Q: When was this?
A: Between '98 to about 2001.
Q: So during this time you're paying down debt, making lots of cigars for
Thompson and getting back on your feet?
A: Now we have money, we owe no money—we're always short of money in this business, everyone is—but since I've concentrated a lot on making cigars for other people, my personal cigar sales have dwindled. So now I have to bring those up.
I started doing a lot of stuff for Cigars International, too, so now we have two big mail—order houses we're making product for. But we're making an inexpensive cigar, which I don't want to do. I don't want these mail—order houses to take more than 30 percent of our business, so gradually we're changing. I'm making some more private—label cigars for some people in Europe, I make a cigar for a friend of mine who has a jewelry chain, and then I make cigars for a diamond broker.
Q: What's your distribution like?
A: At my height I had 500 or 600 shops that I sold to on a regular basis, and maybe now I'm at 300. In 2002, 2003, a German manufacturer called Poeschl that makes snuff approached me to do a joint venture in the United States to distribute their snuff. It did not work out, but it gave me a lot of exposure to my brands again, and I managed to get into shops that didn't traditionally carry my cigars.
Now I'm saying that I want to come out with great cigars, so I'm looking for tobacco. That brings me to Felipe Power, where I had stockpiled some of the original Centenario tobacco—the filler—plus I have some old Dominican piloto Cubano. We put a Nicaraguan binder on it, but what was missing was the wrapper. [I found this] Costa Rica Havana seed, and this wrapper was like, "Wow." This did it. Now I'm in the process of making this cigar.
Q: This is your 15th anniversary smoke?
A: Yes. [Offers a cigar.] This is blended to be very full bodied. It's a very much in—your—face cigar. Eventually I would like to bring all of my production over to the Dominican Republic. I'm seeing that it's about time to start going my own way.
Q: You talked about the Iguana, which is unusual. Recently, you brought out
double—barreled "shotgun" cigars called Three Tierras. Where did you get that
A: When I look for blends, I smoke a very small—ring—gauge cigar made entirely of that one tobacco, for me to get the full effect of that tobacco. So I was smoking that and I said, Let's educate the consumer by putting two cigars—one pure Nicaragua, one pure Dominican—[inside the same wrapper], and when they smoke it, they're getting a pure delivery of each cigar, and it mixes on the palate.
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