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
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Fuente:Yes. We began making the Fuente Fuente OpusX Perfeccion "A" about two years ago with every intention to introduce the cigar into the marketplace. But it's such a special cigar that we were caught by surprise when we began donating them for charity and saw what kind of prices they were bringing. It was a very warm feeling to see the kind of money that the cigars brought in for charity, and for great causes. We realized that for us cigars are not about money, and this was a way for us to give something back to people. It was our intention to have cigars available for charities, and that's what we've been doing. We had only one cigarmaker. That's all he made: the Fuente Fuente OpusX Perfeccion "A". He made approximately 50 to 75 cigars a day, and the cigars began accumulating in the aging rooms. So now, we are going to release cigars that are about two years old in the aging rooms. They will be released sometime in the fall.
CA: What will the price be?
Fuente:The price will be approximately $25 each.
CA: The Opus One winery, which is a joint venture between the Robert Mondavi family and Château Mouton-Rothschild, sued you over the use of your trademark, Fuente Fuente OpusX, claiming that it infringed on their trademark and created confusion in the market. I know this lawsuit was a painful, difficult and expensive experience for you and your family. Now that a judge has ruled in your favor, can you speak about the whole matter?
Fuente:It has absolutely been a very painful two and a half years. It's been very difficult. When it first came about, it was really a shock to our family. It was totally unexpected. Our family had gone through difficult times in the past, but this was different. I try not to think about the lawsuit too much, but I can't help it. I ask myself, why did it happen? And, still today, I can't answer it. The only thing I tell myself, hopefully to find peace, is that this is another test, maybe a test of destiny, a test of God.
The Fuente Fuente OpusX--the cigar, the tobacco--was a lifelong dream of mine, and this is one of the tests that we had to go through. From the beginning of the project, it's been a test. From the dream to the planting of the tobacco, the controversy over whether it would succeed, and people saying it couldn't be done. It was a struggle from the beginning. We wanted to accomplish this so much, not just for us because we believed it in our hearts, but we knew it would be good for the Dominican Republic and for cigar smokers everywhere. And when something is done for the right reasons and when it's so successful, it's hard to answer why there's so much controversy. I don't have an answer why these things happen, but it's over. At least, I pray to God that it's over and I pray to God that no other tobacco family has to be faced with this.
The cigar business is not about legal matters. The cigar business is about families, about people who have their hearts in the business, people that sleep, breathe, live and dream tobacco.
CA: While the judge did rule in your favor, the case isn't really over yet because of the possibility of appeals, and that means you are still distracted. Hasn't this had an impact on your business over the past two and a half years?
Fuente:It will never be over for me. It's a part of my life. The lawsuit is now a part of our life's history. It's unbelievable when I think back to being in Ybor City [in Tampa, Florida] with my father and my grandfather, in a little wooden house that had a little cigar factory in the back. To think that 40 years later we have been in a legal battle with giants like the Mondavis and the Rothschilds. It's part of the history of our family, and regardless of how painful it has been, truth was on our side, and if we had to go back and plant little seeds of hope again, we'd go back and plant and go through it all over again.
The day-to-day distractions were enormous. I still can't quite believe it. The paperwork from our attorneys, the requests from the Opus One attorneys. I had no idea it would be such a battle. No matter how much we tried to stay focused on cigars, it was very difficult. Sometimes I wouldn't hear what people were saying to me. I had a lot of sleepless nights. I'm not sure I could have gotten through it without the support we got from people all over the country.
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