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An Interview with Ruben Ysidron

Ysidron created the first branded cigar for Savinelli 15 years ago, and the standards have been high ever since.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Jay-Z, May/June 2009

(continued from page 2)

Q: What was it about that one?
A: It was the way that it smoked, the way that it burned. The taste of the cigar wasn't overpowering. The key to me was, it was a cigar I could smoke one, two, three without having any problems about I've smoked too much. We're still doing the cigar today 15 years later—the wrapper today is still as beautiful, if not more beautiful.

Q: Is it still the same?
A: It has not changed. It was launched in '94. We got a 91 from Cigar Aficionado.

Q: And you put "Made by Tabacalera A. Fuente" on the box.
A: I sat down with them, and I said, "This is going to be a Savinelli cigar, but I'm very proud that it's made by the Fuentes. I'd be very happy to put your name on the box."

Q: It's a selling point.
A: It made me feel very good. Fuente at the time was already making cigars for other people without their name.

Q: You never were able to get a ton of the ELRs, right?
A: There wasn't sufficient production for us to sell to everyone. We had to select the dealers where we could place the cigar. Unfortunately, some of the dealers who weren't selected never forgot. So today, there are some retailers who have said, "When we wanted it, you wouldn't give it to us. Now that you're coming out with other cigars, we're not sure we want it." We couldn't pick everyone.

Q: What was your second cigar brand?
A: It was the [Savinelli] Oro, from La Aurora, which never really got legs behind it. And I decided after a while, maybe it was time to do something with Nicaraguan cigars. I met this guy from Estelí Cigars.

Q: Kiki Berger?
A: Yes. Kiki said, "I can make a cigar for you." I went down there, we started working on the [Savinelli] Nicaragua Reserve. Kiki started making it, and then he got very ill. We pulled the line away because I couldn't be down there for four weeks [at a time], and that's what it was taking. We gave it to Tabacos Puros [de Nicaragua, a company now known as Joya de Nicaragua S.A.]. They made the Nic Reserve for us.They made a good cigar and we were happy with it. We then added the Liga Especial, which was also made by Tabacos Puros. We stayed with them awhile, and contacted the Oliva Cigar Co., which started making a line of cigars for us that we called the Special Selection. The 2004 and 2005 were made by the Olivas. They made the 2004, we loved it, and then they made the 2005.

Q: Tell me about the years on those cigars.
A: It's about the wrapper and some of the crops they used in those cigars. The Special Selection started out with tobacco that some of these larger manufacturers had that was very good, but they didn't have enough tobacco for it to become a regular ongoing line. I said, "Hey, we change our Special Selection every year or two—these tobaccos are good for us."

Q: Almost like a vintage wine.
A: Yes. So we did that, and we've been doing that. We pulled away from Tabacos Puros about a year ago, after they entered a contract with Drew Estate. Their business changed, and everything going into the United States had to go through Drew Estate and prices were going to go up. We had a long conversation; I said, "No hard feelings," even though we didn't move forward with them. We started doing some more Nicaraguan cigars, and the latest is probably the strongest one that we have, the Series Y RyR. We're moving in a cigar direction obviously, and I think there's more room for expansion there. [Nestor] Plasencia is now making the Nicaraguan Reserve for us.

Q: Can you take us through all Savinelli's cigar brands?
A: You have the ELR, in natural and maduro, which is made by Fuente. We have the Nicaraguan Reserve, that's now being made by Plasencia. We have the Special Selection 2005, which is made by Oliva, and the Liga Especial, which is made by Oliva. And the RyR, we took a section of the Estelí Cigar factory and that's making RyR.

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