Alex Svenson (AS): Pepin, it’s great to see you again. I can’t believe how much and how quickly your operation has grown. From the new factory to the new farm, it looks like you are making considerable investments to keep up with the ever increasing demand for your cigars. Will the current growth support all the demand or do you plan to keep expanding?
Don Pepin Garcia (DPG): As the demand grows, we grow. So we will definitely continue to expand our operations, although we are confident that, at the moment, we can fulfill the demand we have.
AS: Speaking of your farms, there’s something very specific with your tobacco that our clients just fall in love with. What is it about your tobacco that makes it so special? Is it the seeds or the process? Anything you can share, we would love to know.
DPG: It’s everything from our seeds to the process in which we work our tobaccos. Plus, our passion for our products and our drive for quality makes our tobacco so special.
AS: Over the last five years, you’ve earned many high ratings and designations within Cigar Aficionado’s annual Top 25 list, both for your brands and the brands you make for other vendors. How will you manage to keep outdoing yourself? It seems you keep setting the bar higher and higher.
DPG: I don’t think it’s so much about outdoing ourselves but more so about continuing to produce high quality tobacco and to continue creating cigars with a focus on our high standards. It’s about consistency.
AS: You make some of the strongest, but also some of the richest blends in the industry. There is often confusion among U.S. consumers regarding the differences between strength and flavor.
In your opinion, and in your own words, how would you describe the difference between strength and flavor?
DPG: For us, the flavor of a cigar is the flavor of tobacco. The flavor can also be in the aroma. The aroma can sometimes be sweet or woodsy. But in the end, for us, flavor is tobacco. Strength comes from the different leaves in the cigars. The leaves are what add the “kick” or the “strength.”
AS: So staying on the topic of blending, what is your process? Blending is indeed an art form and in my experience, I’ve often found each blender has a different approach to a project. What is your approach?
DPG: We look at different leaves from different seeds. We make combinations, give them time to marry, and then taste them. At times, the blends are good and at other times, they’re not. When they’re not good, we tweak the blends and see what comes out next. At times, it’s simply trial and error but with our experience, we usually know what will work together and what won’t.
AS: We’ve seen the prices of Nicaraguan cigars increase over the years, particularly recently with the sharp increases of Nicaraguan tobacco spawned from an unprecedented demand for Nicaraguan leaf. Do you see this trend continuing? It seems every time I visit Estelí, there are a dozen more factories opening up.
DPG: Price is dependent on many factors. It can be dependent on prices some vendors give us, changes in salary, taxes, etc. We continue to try our hardest to put cigars out there that are affordable and meet the demands of our followers.
AS: Have all the new factories opening up made it hard to find cigar rollers?
DPG: Not really. We train all of our rollers, our way. They go through a period of training and we’re happy to say that for the most part, they stay with us.
AS: How many cigars do you typically burn each day and what are some of your favorites?
DPG:Typically, I burn 10 to 12 cigars each day. And what’s my favorite, you ask? Hah! Everything I make here is my favorite.
AS: In the past, our articles have covered many topics about the struggles in Nicaragua for the people as it relates to poverty, education, medical care, and how different factories contribute a great deal to the people of Estelí, Nicaragua. I know you do a great deal to give back to the community. What are some of the things you do?
DPG: My family and I are very grateful to the country of Nicaragua. We’re humbled by them taking us in and helping us get to where we are. We make donations to many charities that help the poor and donate to a hospital for burnt children. We have also paved many streets, helped fund a school in Northern Nicaragua, and we sponsor many sports teams to help them purchase gloves, balls, bats, etc.
AS: Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me. Is there anything you would like to add or say to our clients before we wrap up?
DPG: We would like to thank all of our followers and supporters. We truly couldn’t do it without you and we promise to continue working hard to provide you all with high quality cigars. Thank you! Thank you for the last ten years! Thank you!