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Macanudo's Main Man

Angel Daniel Nuñez controls General Cigar's brand portfolio, from leaf to box
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Jeff Bridges, Sep/Oct 01

(continued from page 2)

The tobacco grew well, but it really wasn't what American cigar smokers of 1970 were looking for. The tobacco was Connecticut seed, grown under shade, but it produced darker tobacco than the partners had hoped. The flavor was also a bit strong. "It was very nice tobacco, but in those days we were looking for a duplicate of Connecticut shade. There was not a market for anything that was not either Connecticut shade or Sumatra," Nuñez says. "It had the color of Connecticut shade, but it had the Dominican taste. The market wasn't there for that."

The Bonao project didn't work wonders for General, but it gave Nuñez the roots of an education in the cigar industry. "Edgar Cullman Sr. [the patriarch of General] told me once, "You need to see everything,"" says Nuñez. He took his boss seriously. He augmented his knowledge of growing tobacco in the Dominican Republic by traveling to General's fields in Connecticut. As soon as the Dominican crop was in from the fields in early spring, it would be time to go to Bloomfield and watch as the seedlings were transplanted into the rich, Connecticut glacial soil. When that crop was finished in the fall, the Dominican crop was ready to begin again.

Nuñez spent his first decade with General focusing on the fields. In the beginning, he failed to realize the importance of cradling the tobacco leaves being grown on the wrapper project in Bonao. As a filler tobacco grower, taking care of the leaf was a foreign concept. The difference was pointed out to him in 1977 by Joe Prensky, then the president of Culbro Corp.

"He took the crop from Connecticut and put it on the floor next to the crop I grew in the Dominican," says Nuñez. "His had a yield of 75 percent, 80 percent wrapper. Mine was 5 percent. I felt the pain in my stomach. I could see how unforgiving the tobacco is -- it never gives you a break."

His career at General was a series of lessons. In 1984, he spent all his time in the Dominican Republic, where General had its massive tobacco sorting operation. Sorting was the next step after farming, the process of preparing the leaves for the aging process. After sorting, he went to manufacturing, where he learned under the tutelage of Cifuentes. From 1992 to 1994 he traveled the globe with Alfons Mayer, then the chief tobacco buyer for General, where he learned how to purchase tobacco. Then he tackled tobacco processing, the stage where men use heat, water and time to turn raw, young leaves into smooth, elegant cigar tobacco.

"Every step was enjoyable, but tobacco processing was one of the greatest," Nuñez says. "It's where you become a chef. When you grow tobacco, there isn't much you can do. In sorting, you can't change it. But when it comes to processing -- we tend to believe we are in control."

Nuñez was later able to change tradition at General, convincing his superiors to let him shift fermentation of the Connecticut shade tobacco from the northeast United States to the Dominican Republic.

"It took me three years to convince Edgar Sr. to ferment in the Dominican Republic," he says. Why did he want the step done there? "Tobacco is from the tropics and it belongs in the tropics. In the tropics the tobacco never dries out. Here it does."

Nuñez has been at his busiest over the past two years, adding blends to the sizeable General Cigar portfolio. They include the Sancho Panza brand, a high-scoring bargain-priced line of smokes from Villazon, a new Punch Rare Corojo, and Hoyo de Monterrey 1066. In 2000, Nuñez blended a cigar called Ramón y Ramón, in tribute to his fallen former mentor, Ramón Cifuentes. The result is a strong, diverse product line with an increasing number of stronger taste profiles, the type of cigar that General seemed to lack in earlier days.

The price of Nuñez's seat of power is a Homeric travel schedule -- he's on a plane nearly every week. He flies constantly between Connecticut and the Dominican Republic (often stopping in New York City to visit the top brass at General Cigar headquarters) and he has to be in Central America every three weeks, to look at the two Villazon cigar factories. Every weekend, no matter the schedule, he's home in the Dominican Republic, where the trek begins again the following week.

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