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An Interview With Jose Orlando Padrón, Chairman, Padrón Cigars Inc.

The patriarch and founder of Padrón Cigars Inc. has been making cigars since 1964.

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Q: But now you see a lot of cigars that are mainly the strong kind.
A: Anybody can make a strong cigar. The important thing is to achieve the correct balance, a balance between strength and flavor. That is the difficult thing. Not everybody can achieve this. We had that idea in mind when we launched the 1926 line.
Q: To produce a balanced cigar, is it a question of the quality of tobacco or the know-how of the person in charge of developing the blend?
A: Both. In order to produce a good cigar you need to mix a good blend with good rollers.
Q: How would you describe Padrón cigars' taste then?
A: The taste of tobacco that has been cured properly. Just think that with our production, this year it will be 4 million, with an increase of 10 percent, we now have over 7,000 quintales [354 short tons] of tobacco in stock. And it is all being cured properly.
Q: What's your opinion on the main tobacco areas of NicaraguA: Estelí, Jalapa and Condega?
A: The three of them are good areas. Other areas can be tried but I would not recommend them.
Q: Yes, but people are taking about Ometepe, an island in a lake for growing tobacco about 100 miles south of here.
A: The first to try that out was Padrón back in 1973 or 1974.
Q: And how was the tobacco then?
A: It lacked flavor.
Q: What is the key to producing a good blend from Nicaraguan tobacco?
A: The secret is that everybody knows that there are three main tobacco areas, but nobody knows how we blend the tobacco from those farms in order to produce our cigar. That is the secret.
Q: Why don't you ever use tobacco from other countries?
A: I have tried tobacco from Mexico, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Honduras, and from many countries. We have tried them out. I tried various seeds too.
Q: But haven't Padrón cigars been considered Nicaraguan for a while now?
A: Yes nowadays it is. We have used 2 percent Mexican tobacco but we haven't liked the results.
Q: Why do you always use sun-grown wrappers?
A: When you smoke a cigar with a sun-grown wrapper, you taste its flavor. Shade grown tobacco doesn't have flavor. That's the problem. It looks very pretty but it doesn't have the taste we like. There's another factor. Our clients are used to sun-grown seed, and that is what we should keep giving them.
Q: Growing and processing your own tobacco is very important then, no?
A: Exactly. There are many things involved. I am involved in the whole process from the picking of the seed to the smoker's mouth. That is what I have done always. When you buy tobacco from somebody else, he sells tobacco and does not give tobacco the attention that is required. The buyer does not usually get involved in curing and so on. We suffered this experience at the beginning but later I never again went back to this kind of policy. We control every part, and when we haven't been in control [we] decrease production. Padrón has never been afraid of decreasing production.
Q: I have always heard people say that Padrón manufactures cigars following the Cuban way. How do you know the old Cuban method?
A: I did everything as a young man in Cuba, from the seedlings to make bales of tobacco on our farm. We processed and sold tobacco from all farms from Remedios and Pinar del Río.
Q: Why are Padrón's best cigars square shaped, or box pressed?
A: I smoked a little cigar in Cuba, the H. Upmann No. 4. It was square shaped and did not have a cellophane wrap, and one day I told myself I am going to produce a square cigar, and I did. Nowadays we aren't the only ones producing square cigars. Everybody is making them because they are all copying Padrón.
Jorge Padrón: Tobacco is what makes a cigar good or bad, not its shape. The shape is so it fits nicely in the box without the cellophane wrap. People think that if they make cigars square they will taste like a Padrón. This is totally untrue.
Q: Why don't you make all your cigars square?
A: Because it's really hard work. They are not easy to manufacture. The idea is that we want to make a distinction with that line from the rest.
Q: When you launched the 1964 Anniversary Series, did you ever think it would have the success it now has?
A: We always have success in our minds. We do not think of defeat. I've gone through a lot in my life. I have suffered a great deal. For example, I had to run during the war [in Nicaragua] to Tampa with my tobacco, put it on a plane to San Salvador and from there to Honduras, all the while trying not to lose the raw material. The raw material is worth more than money, because that is the ammunition I will use to shoot. That warehouse you have seen had 700 bales of tobacco in storage during the war. I thought I was going to lose it all but workers took care of it all and managed to save it. Thank God.
Q: When was this?
A: 1978. I was lucky. Our turnover was the highest of all times because I had enough raw material to supply us until 1985. Just think that in 1981, while the war was on, I was still able to make the highest turnover of all times in Miami. We were just slightly under 6 million cigars. All this time I was running from one place to the other. I nearly got kidnapped in Honduras once. Men will invent and find solutions to problems only when needy. Under adverse situations, men will have the balls to keep going, and do what we have to do. I went through hell. These boys were kids back then and my wife was scared from threats we were getting.
Q: Your Miami factory was also bombed several times. What have you learned from all that you went through, all those problems you had?
A: That one needs to have friends, people who will support you. The only thing I did was to bring political prisoners over from Cuba. People knew that I was innocent and was being attacked for no reason. One day a man walked up to me and said: "Do you know why I smoke Padrón cigars? I had never met you before but I thought to myself that this man needs help." Like this man, many others helped me. I managed to make the highest turnover ever under the bombs!
Q: Do you think that, once Cuba changes, you may be able to get your family's plantations back and make cigars there?
A: Anything could happen. The intelligent thing would be for the people living there to be able to keep their houses. But I think that, for the good of Cuba, my family's plantations should be returned so that [the land] could be developed, as it should. But that is something to be decided by them.
Q: But what about your business?
A: I hope we can do something in Cuba. If it cannot be done, then at least bring the tobacco over here and make cigars. Whatever is done will probably be done by my sons. I may be several feet under ground by then.
Q: So then Padrón would have two lines of tobacco?
A: Yes, the Nicaraguan and the Cuban. However, I don't think Cuba will get a tobacco harvest in the first or second year of the change. The soil needs fertilization. It needs to be analyzed. An infrastructure needs to be created from zero. It won't be easy.
Q: It may be easier than you think. You still have the soil and climate. Plus, Cubans are intelligent people.
A: Yes, exactly.
Q: Wouldn't you want to use tobacco from Remedios, not only from Vuelta Abajo?
A: The blend will be from Piloto, San Juan y Martinez, and Puerta de Golpe.
Q: Hmm, vegas from the Vuelta. Then no Remedios.
A: Remedios tobacco was used for blending, not for strength.
Q: Some people say that Cuban cigars will be too strong for American smokers.
A: It all depends who makes the blend. There are stronger and weaker cigars. Whoever tells you that, you tell them that they do not know what they are talking about!
Q: So you will make a cigar from Cuba that you like to smoke, just like what you say about your cigars from Nicaragua?
A: I make all my cigars for myself, but I cannot smoke them all, so I sell the rest to my clients. That's the way we work.
Photo by Gary John Norman
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