Carlos Fuente Jr. has become one of the most recognizable people in the cigar business. While at the helm of Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia., he has seen the company rise to one of the preeminent positions in the industry.
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
John F. Kennedy, Nov/Dec 98
Carlos Fuente Jr. has become one of the most recognizable people in the cigar business. While at the helm of Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia., he has seen the company rise to one of the preeminent positions in the industry. Under the watchful eye of Carlos Sr., his father, Carlos Jr., with his sister, Cynthia Suarez, and brother-in-law, Wayne Suarez, have transformed their company from something they once described as a "small family business" into a powerhouse that produced nearly 40 million cigars in 1997.
The Fuentes' success is no accident. The family is steeped in a tradition of tobacco and cigars. Their odyssey began in Cuba around the turn of the century and went through Tampa, Nicaragua and Hondurasbefore finally settling in the Dominican Republic in 1981. His struggling company was down to seven rollers at that point, but that did not deter Carlos Sr. from putting together from scratch a factory that began turning out cigars. Although still a young man at the time, Carlos Jr., now 44, was already devoted to a life as a cigarmaker. He had learned and begun to master the craft of cigars at the feet of his father and grandfather, from how to prepare a field for planting to the intricate art of blending a cigar in the distinctive Fuente style.
Carlos Jr. also started dreaming in the early 1980s about a cigar that he wanted to one day make using all Dominican tobacco, including shade wrapper. As he pursued his dream, tobacco experts tried to discourage him, saying any past attempts to grow shade wrapper in the Dominican Republic had failed. But Fuente wouldn't give up. Finally, in 1992, he harvested the first leaves from a small plot that was to become Chateau de la Fuente, and in 1995, he launched the Fuente Fuente OpusX, a 100 percent Dominican cigar. Today it is one of the most prized cigars in the U.S. market. Perhaps more importantly, the project marked Fuente as a tobacco man driven by a passion to achieve excellence.
In an interview with Marvin R. Shanken, the editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado, Carlos Fuente Jr. talks about his dream, about the lawsuit that aimed to deny him the Fuente Fuente OpusX trademark, the difficulties in keeping trained rollers during the incredible cigar boom in the Dominican Republic, and his own hopes for the future of Tabacalera A. Fuente.
Cigar Aficionado: Let's start with your pet project, Fuente Fuente OpusX, and the Fuente family's shade-wrapper operation at Chateau de la Fuente. Many people doubted whether you could successfully grow Cuban-seed wrapper tobacco in the Dominican Republic. Even today, people doubt its success. Why the controversy?
Fuente: When we started the project, we planted seeds that I've always called the seeds of hope. But they became the seeds of controversy. Maybe it's because so many people had tried and failed to grow shade wrapper there. I don't really know why they had failed. There was no logical reason why you couldn't grow world-class wrappers in the Dominican Republic.
The story begins a long time ago, when I was living in Nicaragua. I was so fortunate to be around the great tobacco masters, and I spent a lot of time at the tobacco farms of Angel Oliva and his son, Johnny, and Juan Francisco Bermejo. I fell in love with the idea and the reality of growing wrappers. When our family moved to the Dominican Republic, I felt there was something missing, a piece that was missing to complete the circle that would help us create a cigar that in our hearts, in my heart, I believed we could be making; that is, a cigar with 100 percent Dominican tobacco.
There was actually a single incident that triggered my desire--that moved me off of thinking about what was missing, to doing something about it. It started when a group of retailers from Europe were visiting our factory, and because I am a believer in destiny, I realized it was a message being sent to us. These retailers were in our factory, and I was very proud of showing them everything that had been accomplished in the Dominican Republic. I remember them commenting that, after traveling to other countries that were producing cigars at that point, it was unbelievable what had been achieved in the Dominican Republic, because the cigar manufacturers in the Dominican Republic were not really producing cigars, they were assembling them with tobacco from elsewhere. That comment broke my heart. And that triggered my desire to produce wrappers in the Dominican Republic.
CA: What year was that?
Fuente:It was 1989. But I wasn't sure where to turn. The Oliva family, which has been very supportive of us throughout our history--in fact, I consider them an extension of our family--had been, and is today, very successful in importing wrappers and supplying wrappers to cigarmakers all over the world. They had a farm in the Dominican Republic where they had sun-grown, Connecticut-seed tobacco. It was a beautiful farm. I approached Angel Oliva, who was like a godfather to me, and asked him to produce Cuban-seed wrappers for us on that farm. After several conversations he agreed, and when I saw the results, I knew it would be possible to grow shade wrappers on that property.
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