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Written by Lindsay Heller, Lead Merchant
There are few cigar makers today that rival the popularity of Rocky Patel: from his expansive portfolio, work with Cigar Rights of America to lobby on behalf of the industry, and his chain of cigar bars, he’s a one-man tour de force. With almost 30 years of experience, the man and his namesake products have come a long way, and they’ve both garnered a lot of success in between.
During the “cigar boom” of the mid-1990s Rocky found himself swept up in the renewed fervor surrounding cigars. At the time he was an entertainment and product liability lawyer in Los Angeles, and like many of his peers, handmades were a fascinating new hobby. He became a founding member of LA’s illustrious Grand Havana Room, and while there, was approached by a young manufacturer seeking an investment. By 1998 Patel was spending increasingly more time in Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic working on the farms and learning the curing and fermentation processes, but if you ask him, he’ll simply say he was asking “dumb questions” in the name of education.
Even after successful showings at the main industry trade show (now PCA, née IPCPR and RTDA) in his early years, numerous friends and colleagues told Rocky he’d never make it. He was an outsider, not of Latin-American descent, and trying to make a splash in a market which was long dominated by similar product offerings. With a pioneering spirit, however, Patel took a different approach: he would spend 300 days every year on the road speaking with consumers and retailers. No manufacturer past or present has ever come close to Rocky’s travel schedule, and this laid the foundation for his brand’s continual, widespread success.
Anyone with the means can start a cigar company, but it takes someone special to create a portfolio as diverse – and as consistent – as Rocky’s. It can be argued that his having been an outsider is an important catalyst for such a multi-faceted output over nearly three decades, but his personal passion for the craft is also what propels a high level of quality control. One could write an entire book highlighting all of Rocky’s blends, but instead, let’s focus on a few noteworthy premiums every aficionado should have in their humidor.
‘95’-rated, if you ever sit down with the man himself, Rocky Patel will say Decade is the best cigar he’s ever made. Showcasing a rare Sumatra wrapper atop a secret mixture of Honduran long-fillers, it’s rich and potent while remaining creamy and elegant from start to finish. The Vintage 1990 highlights a 12-year-old Honduran Broadleaf wrapper with a Nicaraguan binder and Honduran long-fillers each aged for five years, earning Patel a ‘93’ rating and two spots on Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 List. Medium-bodied yet laden with hearty nuances, the ‘92’-rated Vintage 1992 exudes refinement with its 10-year-aged Ecuador Sumatra wrapper hugging a binder and long-filler core each aged seven years, respectively. Focusing on one of the most sought-after leaves in the business, the ‘93’-rated Vintage 2003 Cameroon ages a spicy-sweet African wrapper for eight years with a Dominican and Nicaraguan core below. Also a Cigar Aficionado Top 25 pick, it took Rocky years to find the perfect balance between all components for the Vintage ’03 blend.
Still focusing on aged and rare tobaccos are bolder options such as the ‘91’-rated Sun Grown and its counterpart, the ‘95’-rated Sun Grown Maduro. Both are tailored toward the seasoned enthusiast as they’re intense on the palate; incredibly complex, each Sun Grown option is praised for its spicy, earthy qualities that capture one’s attention from start to finish.
If there’s one thing to be said about Rocky, it’s that he doesn’t rest on his laurels: the man is always seeking out unique tobaccos, working on blends, and trying to out-do himself with each new release. Over the past two years he’s graced his loyal fans with some noteworthy additions that continue to push the innovative envelope.
Marking his 25th year as a manufacturer, Rocky announced his Quarter Century blend in August 2020: featuring a Mexican San Andrés wrapper atop an undisclosed long-filler blend, selected tobaccos were aged for 10 years prior to being rolled, and then aged another two years before release. Spotlighting one of the most popular varietals on the market is DBS (Double Broadleaf Selection), where one of the dual binders is Pennsylvania Broadleaf and Nicaraguan Broadleaf is present as a long-filler component. (Patel describes DBS as world-class, and perhaps it’s no coincidence this premium shares its name with a flagship Aston Martin model driven by James Bond.) And finally, there’s the Vintage 20th Anniversary with its 12-year-aged Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, Brazilian binder, and Nicaraguan long-leaves: an ode to quality tobacco, masterful blending, and unparalleled passion.
In the beginning, all he wanted was to be recognized by his peers as a cigar maker not born into a cigar family. Approximately three decades later, Rocky sells almost 30 million premiums per year across nearly 100 countries. Still fueled by all the naysayers from the mid- ‘90s, his fear of failure is what propels him forward despite his obvious success. Exemplifying his mantra of “Work Hard, Play Hard,” don’t expect Rocky Patel to retire anytime soon because in his eyes, the perfection he so desires has yet to be achieved.
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