Alex Svenson: People say you are the most interesting man in the cigar industry and your travel I think sets you apart from the competition. How many countries did you visit in 2013?
Rocky Patel: Twelve countries in 2013.
AS: That’s impressive! With all of that travel, how do you spend your down time?
RP: Cooking, working out, fishing, golf, building and designing homes, and spending time with friends and family. Of course, just relaxing with a good drink is always nice.
AS: Speaking of good drinks, you opened you own cigar bar and lounge in Naples several years ago, Burn. How is the place doing? What can you tell our readers about the atmosphere and what they can expect when they visit?
RP: I think Burn is one of the eclectic lounges in the world. It takes you on a journey between Cuba, Morocco, and Asia with a lot of modern elements. It certainly has the “wow” factor with amazing architectural design, service, and some of the best music. It is one of the most upbeat, vivacious and fun lounges in the world.
AS: Of course, Burn is a culmination of all the success you’ve had over the years. For our customers who may not know your story, how did all this get started?
RP: Well, basically it started in early 1996 when I was a member of the Grand Havana Room. I was approached by a young man and asked to invest in making cigars. We started the journey and then a couple of years later I started spending a lot more time in Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. I was focused on working on the farms, the curing and the fermentation, and asking a lot of dumb questions just so I could educate myself.
Of course, everyone told me I could not make it since I wasn’t Cuban or Latin. That just made me start working harder and thinking outside the box. I’d go to 600 cities in 700 days just to spend time talking to customers and retailers. I was working harder than anyone else in the business to show them that I was here to stay and could really build a brand and make it one of the top brands in the world.
AS: You have one of the most expansive portfolios in premium cigars. What recommendations would you give to someone who is new to your brand and trying to navigate the vast selection?
RP: For the amateur that is just starting out, I would certainly recommend that they start with the Vintage 1999, which is a 7-year-old Connecticut cigar with 8-year-old Nicaraguan and Dominican filler. It’s very creamy, mellow, and smooth. Then from there graduate to the Vintage 1990, which is medium-bodied. From there, you can then step up to the Vintage 1992 or the Decade to experience the best of the full-bodied portfolio. This will take you across all levels of taste profiles and get you an amazing experience.
AS: On the topic of your Vintage 1990 and 1992 lines, there seems to be some confusion on the age of the tobaccos in the blends given the years assigned to each blend. Can you expand on those dates and what cigar aficionados can expect from these best-selling lines?
RP: The Vintage 1990 is a 12-year-old Broadleaf wrapper that’s grown in Talanga, Honduras. The fillers have been aged 8 years and hail from Nicaragua and the Dominican. In the case of the Vintage 1992, that’s a 10-year-old Sumatra Wrapper from Ecuador and has the same 8-year-old fillers from Nicaragua and the Dominican. So what really distinguishes the Vintage cigars are the age of the wrappers, and those are the years the cigars were founded.
AS: I know you are always working with interesting materials. Are there any special tobaccos you are fond of right now, and any innovative new blends you can tell us about?
RP: We are always seeking out some of the rarest tobaccos in the world. We even use tobaccos that some people don’t even know about. Currently, we are working on a secret project that utilizes tobaccos from India. We’re always committed to pushing the boundaries of the industry, and 2014 should be an exciting year. That’s all I can say for now. I can’t reveal all of my secrets…
AS: Thanks for taking the time to answers some questions for our readers. Anything to add before we wrap up?
RP: Just keep up the good fight. Join the Cigar Rights of America and make sure you are very involved in all of the legislative work that goes on to protect our rights on the state and federal level to enjoy a fine cigar. Our only fear is that the federal and state government is taking our privileges to enjoy a perfectly legal product away. So stand up for your rights and let your voice be heard.