Alex Svenson: Gilberto, thank you for taking the time to discuss Oliva with us.
Gilbert Oliva: Thank you, Alex. We have worked with Cigar.com almost since the beginning and a chance to tell your clients more about our family and products is a pleasure.
AS: Your family has a very rich history in tobacco growing. In fact, your father has grown tobacco in more places than anyone else in the industry. Is it fair to say tobacco is in your blood?
GO: My father, Gilberto Oliva Sr., has grown tobacco all over the world including Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Honduras and even the Philippines. For me, tobacco has been an important part of my life since birth. It’s definitely fair to say that tobacco is in my blood. I couldn’t imagine wanting to do anything else. Growing tobacco, much like making the actual cigars, is an art form all its own. You have to consider everything from climate to soil and even weather patterns to make the right choices but also equally important, make those choices at the right times. I am always experimenting with different methods and different seeds. The agricultural side of the business is always evolving so each day brings new ideas and new challenges.
AS: What is your favorite seed and growing region?
GO: My favorite seed has to be Habano-seed tobacco. Habano is the most flavorful tobacco, and after all, you need flavorful tobacco to make the best cigars. The same applies to my favorite growing region. Nicaragua produces the most flavorful tobacco. Each farm in Nicaragua is great in its own way, and together, they produce the best blends in the world. People talk a great deal about puro blends, cigars blended from all one country. Nicaragua is best suited for this type of blending. With so many diverse growing regions, you can get a wide variety of tobaccos, each imparting its own unique qualities from its individual climate. Our family recognized what Nicaragua has to offer many years ago which is why we were one of the very first to set up there. When we started in Nicaragua, it was close to the bottom of the list in terms of cigar exports to the US versus places like the Dominican Republic and Honduras. Now Nicaragua is in contention as the largest exporter of premium cigars to the US and the town of Estelí is now recognized as one of the cigar capitals of the world.
AS: Speaking of Estelí and your growth there over the last decade, Oliva plays an important role in giving back to the people of Nicaragua, no?
GO: While we work quite a bit with the community here in Nicaragua, it is not something we actively publicize. As with some of the other manufacturers in Estelí, we help and contribute wherever we can but we don’t do it for the press, we do it because it is the right thing to do. We work with various groups and organizations promoting education and health, particularly for the kids.
AS: An early rain season has hurt tobacco yields in Nicaragua the last few years. Are you trying anything new to stay ahead of the rain this year?
GO: Actually we did have to make some adjustments with regards to planting because of the rain, and they’ve paid off. This year we’ve had the best crop we’ve had in 10 years. We will continue to make adjustments as needed. Tobacco is a crop that spends only a short time in the field, so every year can offer unique challenges. As enthusiasts’ tastes change, we have to be working many years in advance to ensure we are growing the right tobaccos and getting the right yields to meet the demands of more discerning cigar aficionados.
AS: You work alongside your other siblings. What is it like getting to work with family? How do you guys delegate the responsibilities?
GO: It is a pleasure and a privilege to be in business as a family. We each have our own area of expertise, and our strengths and efforts complement each other. I am responsible for growing and blending, my brother Carlos runs our production, my sister Jeannie runs the office and handles administration, and my brother Jose is responsible for our sales and marketing. We’re a very close family, and that has played a large part in our success.
AS: Your brands have been getting a lot of attention. Two of the three major trade publications picked an Oliva cigar as their “Cigar of the Year” for 2012; Cigar Journal with Oliva Serie’ V’ and Cigar Snob with Oliva Serie ‘V’ Melanio, which was new last year. Can you tell us more about Melanio? It has been a huge hit since it debuted.
GO: Serie ‘V’ Melanio has been a project we’ve been working on for many years. Melanio Oliva was my great grandfather, and grew tobacco in Pinar del Rio, Cuba in the 1800s. This cigar was made in his honor. Serie ‘V’ Melanio is a complex blend of select, very well aged leaves. It took a long time to finish the blending to make Melanio as smooth, flavorful, and complex as it is. I am very happy with what we have accomplished, and it’s an honor to have been selected as Cigar of the Year.
AS: What cigars do you like to enjoy when it is time to relax? Do you only burn your cigars or are there other makers/brands that you like to experience from time to time?
GO: When I am relaxing, I am usually enjoying a Serie ‘V’ Melanio or a Serie ‘V.’ When I’m out in the fields I’ll light up a Cain Daytona. From time to time, I’ll try somebody else’s cigars if I am given one.
AS: Anything new cooking with Oliva or Studio Tobac?
GO: We are always working on new blends. We have a few exciting new blends that I‘ve been working on, and they should be released very soon. You’ll be one of the first to try them when they are ready. Innovation has been an increasingly important part of our focus. We see that consumers always want to try new things and we are always working hard to give them just that.
AS: When you aren’t working, how do you like to spend your free time?
GO: When I am not working, I enjoy spending time at home with my family. Like you, I also enjoy hunting and had a great time with you going after White Tail last fall. With that said, my family always comes first. The importance of family was distilled in my generation of the family at a young age and is one of the reasons we are so close and work so well together. My biggest joy is watching my children grow up.
AS: Where will Oliva be in five years?
GO: I hope that we continue to grow, and we keep getting better. We’re always learning something, and we try to put out a better product with every new cigar we make.
AS: Anything to add before we finish up?
GO: On behalf of my family, I would like to thank all the consumers who have supported our brand over the years. Without such loyal customers, none of this would be possible.