By: Lindsay Heller
Regardless of how long you have been enjoying cigars, one thing remains true: there's a LOT of work that goes into making them. Unlike something produced in a mechanized factory, all handmades have a distinct character, which is made even more unique through a befitting name. When a crucial aspect of a blend deserves recognition, however, the creative marketing component is a much simpler task: enter Latitude Zero.
Unless you're a cartographer or enjoy time out on the high seas, the phrase "Latitude Zero" doesn't just roll off the tongue; since we're talking cigars, though, this happens to be a tribute to Ecuador. More specifically, it points to the Oliva Tobacco Company (OTC), and their many decades of work as originator of the Ecuador Habano wrapper. While you may see the name Oliva and ultimately think Serie 'V' or Melanio, I'm actually referring to another family with the same surname, but a separate history altogether.
Long before Castro was a part of everyday Cuban vernacular, founder Angel Oliva headed to Tampa in 1925, and officially formed OTC nine years later. Successful ties to Cuba produced great harvests through Castro's rise to power in '59, but things would soon change. Angel fulfilled his obligations to the new government, but knowing that the Communist model was not sustainable, Oliva also began relocating his operations earlier than most.
Starting in Honduras, different parts of Florida, and in Connecticut, replacement Candela wrappers comparable to those OTC produced in Cuba became a reality. by the time President Kennedy instituted the embargo in February 1962, Oliva's Central American operations were in full swing, thus eschewing many hardships endured by his peers who weren't as forward-thinking. Always growing top-notch tobacco, demand for OTC's leaves increased so much so that they launched operations in Nicaragua, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic. Re-planting all the smuggled Cuban seeds wherever they could, the Olivas churned out wrappers, binders, and fillers in great quantities for over a decade before experiencing political déjà vu.
The Sandinistas took control of Nicaragua in 1979, and the Olivas knew that Habano wrapper production needed to be moved to Ecuador for two reasons: 1) the Nicaraguan government nationalized all farms in the same way Castro did 20 years prior in Cuba; and 2) the dreaded blue mold virus spread all over Central America after Hurricane Fifi ravaged the land. OTC started four farms across the mineral-rich Ecuadorian landscape in response; the natural cloud cover present at high altitude produced pristine crops year after year. Leading up to his death in 1996, Angel's farms had been selling tobacco to the likes of Arturo Fuente, Punch, La Gloria Cubana, and El Rey del Mundo, and his traditions and impeccable standards continue under the helm of current family patriarch John Oliva.
How does this all add up to the Latitude Zero blend of today? That's easy: NACSA and Raul Disla. Short for Nicaraguan American Cigars S.A., NACSA is located in Estelí; it's the manufacturing arm of OTC, and houses the top tobacco grown by the Oliva family. OTC sells their prized leaves to Drew Estate, Fuente, Rocky Patel Don Pepín García, and more, but they also manufacture many of Steve Saka's prized boutique blends such as Mi Querida and Muestra de Saka Unstolen Valor.
NACSA wouldn't be an aficionado's dream factory without its tobacco or Raul Disla. Serving as its Production Manager and one of its Master Blenders, Disla previously worked for Davidoff, AJ Fernandez, and Dunhill prior to moving to NACSA, where he oversees the rolling of as many as 65,000 cigars per day. Raul knew how important the Ecuadorian Habano leaf is to the Oliva Family's legacy, so he chose to work with only the top one-percent of tobaccos grown by OTC for the Latitude Zero.
The capa (or "wrapper") is an R13E grade leaf that's selected in small batches, referred to as the "Angel's Cut" because it's literally the cream of the crop. Each Nicaraguan binder undergoes a special fermentation process, and Cuban-seed long-fillers from a 2010 yield on OTC's Estelí farm aptly named La Joya (or "The Jewel") make up the cigar's core contents. Medium to full-bodied, Latitude Zero is full-flavored, conjuring up memories of Liga Privada's early days on the palate. Expect a layered experience that remains balanced at all times, with nuances of roasted nuts, pepper, oak, sweet cream, cacao, and caramel throughout.
If all that wasn't enough to convince you Latitude Zero is box-worthy, then let me ask you one question: who else has presented such a sophisticated smoking experience at such advantageous pricing?