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Richard L. DiMeola

Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, Consolidated Cigar Corporation

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CA: Royal Jamaica?

DiMeola: Royal Jamaica is Indonesian.

CA: Te-Amo?

DiMeola: Te-Amo's Mexican.

CA: How long have you been using Indonesian wrapper? You apparently used Cameroon at one time, but you no longer do. Can you explain how the switch occurred?

DiMeola: We were a big user of Cameroon. It was used on Antonio y Cleopatra, but when we converted A&C, which was as big as the whole premium market combined, we began using it on H. Upmann, Montecruz, Royal Jamaica and some others...

CA: Say that again. After A&C, you said you used it on H. Upmann?

DiMeola: H. Upmann. Royal Jamaica. Montecruz. There may have been some others.

CA: Primo del Rey?

DiMeola: Not Primo del Rey. In 1988, George Gershel saw the handwriting on the wall. Even then, he saw that the quality of Cameroon was starting to deteriorate. And also, he had the feeling that maybe the supply would also dwindle. So, in 1988, he started playing with Indonesian wrapper. Up to that point Indonesian wrapper was used primarily in Europe on machine-made cigars--and it still is today. But by 1990, George, in cooperation with the suppliers in Indonesia, felt that we had developed wrapper that was good enough for Antonio y Cleopatra, and so we converted the whole of the A&C brand from Cameroon to Indonesia. Very successfully.

CA: That's a machine-made cigar?

DiMeola: That's right. Without a peep from the market--we haven't had a single complaint in five years on A&C. We said nothing. The tobacco looks the same. You can't tell the difference. We continued to work with it, because they had to change the way it was processed. Change the fermentation. Put a little more fermentation on it, handle it differently. Once we learned how to work it, in '92, we converted Royal Jamaica from Cameroon to Indonesia. That was a "no-brainer" actually, because Royal Jamaica always had a Cameroon wrapper and an Indonesian binder. So all we did was reverse it. We used Cameroon binder and Indonesian wrapper. That was quite successful. No problems. A year and a half or so later, we converted Montecruz from Cameroon, and a little more than one year ago we converted H. Upmann, very successfully, to a wrapper from Indonesia referred to as TBN, which stands for Tabakau Bawah Nuangan, which means, 'tobacco under a tent.'

CA: What happened in Cameroon that caused George to become suspicious, and what actually happened that made it necessary to switch?

DiMeola: I'm not a leaf man, but as I understand it, I believe that the French financial supporters in Cameroon and the Central African Republic pulled their money out.

CA: How did that affect production?

DiMeola: Well, I think they're still growing tobacco, but the amount of tobacco that they're getting is much smaller, and the quality has been much lower. Fortunately for us, we were able to make a change.

CA: Was there any difference in price between Indonesia and Cameroon?

DiMeola: I think it's about the same. So today, they're growing 600 acres for us in Indonesia.

CA: Can you, for the benefit of our readers, put into words--your words--what you see as the taste characteristic of the Connecticut wrapper, the Cameroon wrapper, the Indonesian wrapper--so when they're smoking, they know what they're looking for?

DiMeola: We use Connecticut for eye appeal, because people smoke with their eyes, just like we eat with our eyes, and the taste characteristic is neutral, in my opinion, allowing the blend to take over a little bit more. I think Cameroon has less eye appeal, but it is sweeter and adds more to the flavor and aroma than does Connecticut. Indonesian is less sweet than Cameroon--more neutral and therefore similar to Connecticut wrapper, but it has the same color characteristics as Cameroon.

CA: So what I'm hearing is that the Indonesian wrapper is somewhere between Cameroon and Connecticut?

DiMeola: That's a good way to describe it, but then again, that's my taste. You might think differently.

CA: In your Dominican factory, you use tobaccos in the blending process from various countries. Which tobaccos are more important to you?

DiMeola: Dominican. Dominican filler of all kinds and Dominican binder.

CA: So in the case of the Don Diego, which has a Connecticut wrapper, the binder and the filler is all Dominican Republic.

DiMeola: There's a little bit of Brazil in the filler.

CA: In the case of H. Upmann, which is an Indonesian wrapper, is it 100 percent Dominican binder and filler?

DiMeola: No. It's not 100 percent. There are some other things in it.

CA: What else besides Brazilian tobacco--other than Dominican--do you use for binder?

DiMeola: We use Mexican and Indonesian.

CA: Honduran?

DiMeola: No. We experimented with Nicaraguan, Ecuadorian, and we're not now using any of them. We're still using some Cameroon, but not for wrapper.

CA: Do you see the quality of the crops for binder and filler in the Dominican Republic changing, or has it basically been consistent in quality for the last 10 or 15 years? Is it in any way changing?

DiMeola: It's been more or less consistent. Last year's crop was good and I'm told this year's crop is looking excellent. I'm not a leaf man. I'm only telling you what I hear.

CA: Do you have any plans for using or experimenting with Dominican wrapper?

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