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The Next Big Thing
Five years ago, if you had asked any aficionado who Don Pepin Garcia was, you would have been met with a blank stare. Ask that same question today and there would be no hesitation as they talk about a man, who in recent years, has revolutionized the cigar industry with innovative blends. The truth is, every year skilled Cuban blenders and cigar makers with generations of experience leave Cuba in search of a fresh start and better work in Nicaragua, Honduras, the Dominican and of course, Miami. I'm aware of this fact because I receive dozens of samples every month from new cigar makers looking to break into this competitive industry. I always keep a keen eye on these new makers, looking for the next big name in cigars, which brings me to A.J. Fernandez.
Today's cigar enthusiasts are probably already familiar with A.J. He is responsible for producing such renowned brands as Rocky Patel Fusion, Rocky Patel Signature, Sol Cubano Cuban Cabinet, Sol Cubano Artisan, Padilla Habano and the all new ITC (Indian Tabac) 10th Anniversary. I met A.J. about a year ago when a small package of his cigars arrived at my office. To my surprise, his cigars offered a flavor and complexity unlike anything I had ever tasted before. Within hours I found myself calling the number on the return address label, and before I knew it, A.J. invited me to Esteli to get a first hand look at his operation.
I arrived at the factory, which was impressive in both its size and beauty. As the receptionist showed me A.J.'s office, I opened the door and was met with the first of many surprises. I was standing face to face with a stout, young Cuban who extended his hand and introduced himself as A.J. Fernandez. Most Cuban master blenders are nearly twice A.J.'s age, and being a relative youngster in this industry myself, I was very excited to find a young cigar maker with so much enthusiasm.
I immediately lit the first of many samples and began asking Don A.J. Fernandez about his history. He is a third generation tobacco grower and cigar blender from Pinar del Rio, Cuba. While his early education about cigars and tobacco came from his father (who is now currently in charge of all fermentation efforts for Nestor Plasencia, the world's largest grower of Cuban-seed tobacco), A.J. spent most of his late childhood as an understudy of the great Alejandro Robaina. For those not familiar with Alejandro, he is widely considered the greatest agronomist and tobacco grower in Cuban history. Under Alejandro's tutelage, A.J. learned the ins and outs of growing leaf. He then took the fundamentals his father and grandfather had instilled in him at a young age and combined them with the many secrets he learned from Alejandro, secrets which to this day Don Alejandro Robaina has shared only with his successor, his grandson, in addition to A.J.
At just 24 years old, A.J. was presented with an opportunity to leave Cuba in search of new opportunities in Nicaragua. In a short time, he found himself in Esteli running a small factory with just six rollers. Despite being a talented grower, A.J. bought most of his tobacco as he was getting his operation off the ground. He also spent a majority of his time fermenting tobacco with a proprietary activation recipe that had been handed down to him by his grandfather. A.J. explained that this process in fermentation is what makes his signature blends so unique. Knowing that buying good tobacco is difficult, I asked A.J. if he had any trouble sourcing premium leaf for his factory, Tabacalera Fernandez. At this point, A.J. went on to explain that he is Nestor Plasencia's nephew. My eyes lit up. Nestor Plasencia owns and operates one of the world's most prestigious Cuban-seed growing operations in the world. This familiar relationship means A.J. has unprecedented access to some of the best tobacco leaf on the market. As if that were not enough, he went on to explain his close relationship with another world-renowned tobacco family, the Olivas. For generations the Oliva Family has been the authority on growing tobacco in Ecuador. Today, they provide raw materials for such notable brands as Fuente, Ashton, Davidoff, Oliva, and of course Don Pepin Garcia. With access to tobaccos from both Oliva and Plasencia, and with his own special recipe for fermentation, A.J. began raising eyebrows rather quickly. In little time, his popularity increased and A.J. moved into a larger factory in Esteli, where he continues to expand today.
As I write this article, A.J. Fernandez is still expanding on his new "empire." He has planted hundreds of acres in anticipation of harvesting an impressive 400,000 pounds of Nicaraguan Habano-seed leaves this year. He employs time-tested techniques in growing, curing, and fermenting some of the best tobacco I have ever had the privilege of tasting. With help from his partner, Kris Kachaturian, all of the tobacco from his farms will be used in production for his impressive client list, including Rocky Patel, Ernesto Padilla and of course, Cigar.com. Today, A.J. oversees all 1,000 employees, including over 100 fine rollers, whom he selected and trained personally.
If you want to be ahead of the curve on discovering the next big thing in the cigar industry, familiarize yourself with cigars from Tabacalera Fernandez. I have little doubt that A.J.'s cigars will be difficult to acquire in a very short time, since more people are becoming acquainted with his unique, incredibly tasty blends.
Published Tuesday, March 25, 2008 9:21 PM by
Well we all know that this lead to what has to be described as a sensational cigar, The Man O War Ruination. This blend just blew me away. I have never tasted something so good. Good article.
October 1, 2009 7:41 PM
Currently, my favorite cigar is the San Lotano Oval --- fantastic
February 10, 2012 8:57 AM
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About Alex Svenson
I enjoy at least one premium cigar everyday and have the privilege of working directly with every major cigar maker in the industry. I love developing new and exciting cigar blends and bringing only the best this industry has to offer to our Cigar.com clients.
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