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Generation Next

We look at the youth movement in cigars, from the fifth generation of Quesadas, to the Perez-Carrillo children and the Levin young guns at Ashton.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Catherine Zeta-Jones, September/October 2009

(continued from page 1)

While there were some dispensations made because they are female ("I used to work summers, and my mom would call the factory and say 'Is she sweating? I don't want her to sweat,'" says Raquel) the women say their dad is demanding. "Even though we're girls, he still expects a lot," says Patricia, describing 12-hour days and 10 p.m. work calls.

The fifth generation wasn't supposed to be this deeply involved in Matasa, certainly not this soon. But in 2002, everything at the company changed forever. The plane was a small Cessna, and it set out from Santiago on the morning of April 17, bound for Haiti. The weather turned, and contact with the plane was lost. The following day, the downed aircraft was spotted atop Mount Pelona, one of the tallest mountains in the Caribbean.

All four aboard the plane were lost: Manuel's brother, Alvaro Quesada; his son Alvaro Jr., Julio Fajardo and the pilot. Fajardo was Manuel Quesada's right-hand man at Matasa, and the heir apparent to the factory. Alvaro Jr., 24 at the time, was being trained to one day take his place.

"When we lost half of our staff in 2002, we all knew we would have to pull together, but at first we had five years not even thinking about it. We were on autopilot for about five years," says Patricia. "A year ago [the members of the fifth generation] started having meetings once a week, without my father. There, we talked about how the industry has changed."

The fifth generation took a hard look at stronger tobaccos, the type of thing that just wasn't used very much at Matasa. The result is in the company's newest cigar, the Quesada 35th Anniversary, which was created collectively by the youngsters.

One day, the five called Manuel Quesada into a meeting room, and presented him with a tray of five cigars. They told him they were the blend choices for the 35th Anniversary. "I said, 'I thought I was doing that,'" says Quesada. He started smoking. They started tweaking. "And they were the ones doing the tweaking. It was very refreshing," he says, calling the moment both proud and scary. "It's a cigar that the fifth generation decided to do on their own. Unfortunately," he says with a laugh, "I didn't have anything to do with it." The cigar is a milestone, not only for the considerable involvement by the youthful members of the Quesada family, but for its name. While the Quesadas have rolled cigars in the Dominican Republic since 1974 (before any member of the fifth generation was born), this is the first time the family name has appeared on a brand.

The squared-off cigar is made with a combination of Nicaraguan, Dominican and Ecuadoran leaf, including a wrapper that is grown in Ecuador from Arapiraca seed, which is usually grown in Brazil. "It's totally different—we have never used these tobaccos at Matasa before," says Raquel Quesada. Adds her father: "It's a radical departure from the blends that the old man has been doing." The cigar was previewed at the Madison Avenue Davidoff store in New York City on June 29. All six members of the fifth generation lined up to present the cigar as Patricia took to the microphone. Manuel stood far to the right, separate from the group, letting his daughters, nephews and niece bask in the glow of their creation.

"Tobacco has been an essential part of our lives since the day we were born," Patricia said to the crowd. "The love for tobacco, and this industry, is something we all carry in our hearts, our souls, and even our senses, and that is what has kept us going, and will continue to keep us going for more generations to come."

In a private moment, the two sisters reflect on the journey the fifth generation at Matasa has taken, particularly the female contingent. "I think a lot of men did not take us seriously at first," admits Patricia. Now, she says, "They see we do know something." Then she exhibits some of the humor she has inherited from her father. "We're not just blonde."

The Perez-Carrillos — Life After La Gloria

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