Ernesto Padilla

June 6, 2010

Cigar Press – You’ve been going through a ot of changes lately.  How has Padilla Cigars been evolving?

Ernesto Padilla – I feel like my company has evolved into addition areas such as manufacturing our own cigars.  When I started I was known for making cigars with El Rey de Los Habanos and Pepin Garcia.  There were other lines and other companies that we had made cigars with as well.  Owning my own factory in Little Havana Miami is something I’ve always wanted to do.  I’m right in the heart of Little Havana.  Domino Park is right across the street.  This is probably the nicest part of Little Havana.  A lot of Americans come down who are curious with the Cuban culture and the cigar culture come down to Miami to experience that.  The difference with my factory is that it is actually also a lounge.  You can have a coffee and a cigar here while you watch Padilla cigars being made.  You can both see the process and sit down to enjoy a cigar at the same time.  Most of the factories down here are small places, very humble.  I would talk to some people at their factories while we were eating lunch, and there were bales of tobacco all around us.  Crowded but fun also.  Ernie Carrillo (Ernesto Perez-Carrillo) is probably the godfather of exile Cuban Miami made cigars.  I know the Padrons and they are definitely people I respect.  Ernie Carillo kept the factory working here in Miami and kept people working.  He taught me a lot of what I know.  Pepin Garcia of course.  I had first heard of Pepin Garcia through a gentlemen names Edwardo Fernandez.

CP - Was Miami your first choice for a new factory?

EP – It was always a dream of mine to have control over a certain percentage of the cigars that I have made.  It’s very expensive to manufacturer cigars in Miami.  This is the largest exile community of Cubans.  It was an opportunity to take that work force and tap into that knowledge of tobacco from all of the people here.  Tampa has had a long history with tobacco and Cuban people. Miami’s Cuban community has really evolved, and being in Little Havana is a dream come true.  There were skeptics who didn’t know why I wanted to do it here.  It’s an ethnic neighborhood, which is where its soul comes from.  What I like to do when I go to New York or Chicago is go to all of the different neighborhoods.  I’ll go to the Polish neighborhood for great sausage, the Italian section for great beef.  The great thing about American is that we’re all very hyphenated in the sense that as a culture, this is the only country anywhere in the world where you can have so many mixed cultures which just becomes the American culture.  A lot of people might forget how much cigar culture and history we have in this country.  Look at how many brands there were being made here at the turn of the 20th  century.  Most Cuban cigars were actually made in Tampa, there was an incredible amount of manufacturing done in Tampa.  Clear Havanas.  There were some tax issues with Cuba back with Cuba back then so they made cigars in Tampa.  There is just an incredible amount of history here and I am very proud to make a cigar in the United States.  I still think we make great cigars with the factories in Central America, but there is no place except Cuba where you can make cigars like Miami.

CP – A lot of your tobacco still comes from Nicaragua.  How do you feel that country is evolving?

EP – With the end of the Nicaraguan Civil war in the 80s, that has allowed the country to flourish.  Today there is no country in the world that products such thick, stout tobacco as Nicaragua.  Cuba is great, I smoke its tobacco.  Nowadays everything is planted for volume there.  An analogy is UC Davis Berkley as a big wine school in the 60s.  Everything in California was set-up for volume.  It wasn’t until the 70s or even more so the 80s where California came into its own.  Everything was volume.  Now even though wine and tobacco are a different style of plant, with tobacco you have to really work the soil for nutrients, the more you keep the yields under control, the stronger and better quality you’ll get.  It’s the same with wine.  It’s like building muscle, you have to tear it down a little bit to rebuild it.  I always tell people if it weren’t for the pizza in Spain, I wouldn’t have access to the quality of tobacco that I have.  Reason being is Eduardo Fernandez.  He’s a Cuban-American who came here when he was 12.  He is a Warren School of Business grad.  He’s a very intelligent man.  He and his brother went to Spain in the early 80s, and started a pizza delivery chain, called Tele Pizza, then sold it for a lot of money.  Eduardo has always had an interest for agriculture and today he is one of the leading cattlemen, growers of rice, and being a Cuban has a passion for tobacco.  If you want to have a great steak, you have to start with a good piece of meat no matter how you cook it.  That’s what we have now.  Eduardo actually met Pepin in Nicaragua, and is still partners with El Rey de Los Habanos and that’s how I met him.  He told me that I should work with Pepin, and I did.  They did a fantastic job.  I saw details there that I didn’t see anywhere else.  Most people will see a Ferrari and think that it’s beautiful, but nobody is really noticing the leather, the interior or the mechanics.  But Pepin pays attention to all of the details.  That was great and that was the style of cigars that I wanted to make.  I still use Eduardo’s tobacco.  That worked great.  Padilla Miami came out and that was a hit.  I felt that like with anything, when you start getting more press and more success, other people, other bigger companies want to start coming in, and that is where, in my opinion, some control is lost.  Even the thing that made it special at the time is lost.  We decided to part ways.  A lot of people want to know what’s going on with my cigars.  No Pepin is not making my cigars anymore, but all of the tobacco is coming from its original source.  It comes from Eduardo Fernandez and the fields of Nicaragua from Jalapa and Esteli.  We have some older agronomists whom we use as our secret weapon, the guys are just amazing.  A lot of people grow great tobacco in Nicaragua.

CP – How did Eduardo perfect it?

What Eduardo did was use the expertise of the Cubans, uses Cuban-seeds as well as other types of tobacco.  You always here that, Cuban-seed, Cuban-see, Cuban-seed.  Everyone grows Cuban-seed.  What generation is a seed no longer Cuban?  If you dropped me in Texas, twenty years from now I’ll start speaking with a twang.  It’s normal.  The same with these plants.  Over time they evolve and they take on the particular characteristics of the soil and the land that they are part of.  Taking a first generation seed is pretty interesting since it still has some of its original characteristics.  We have a new project coming out called the Dominus, and that uses a Corojo 2006, which is a new seed strain.

CP – Is that a hybrid?

EP – Anytime you cross seeds you’ll get a hybrid, which is a plant that can’t reproduce.  I don’t know too much technically about hybrids, but I know that when we rolled it up and smoked it, it (corojo 2006) had a very rich tobacco flavor with a little spice and sweetness.  Right now the Miami, 32s and 48s are all made out of the Racias Cubanas factory, which is a great factory where some great cigars are produced.  The series 68 are made by the cousins of the family of Racias Cubanas factory.  Everything is kind of inter-related.  Their cigar construction is top notch.  It’s all Cuban Style with mounted heads and triple capped.  It is the place to be.  The transition from Pepin’s factory to this one was very smooth.

CP – People always say Cuban-seed this or that.  But wouldn’t that seed just take on the characteristic of the soil and climate of where ever it is grown?

EP - You can hear a lot of people saying that they have Cuban-seed Nicaragua, but what you’re seeing on there is Habano-seed Ecuador, which is very nice and used on a lot of cigars that I adore as well.  It’s a thinner wrapper and has a citrus aftertaste.  It burns very nicely, it’s a forgiving leaf.  Some of the leaves that I use aren’t as forgiving.  They are heavy duty, full-bodied thick leaves.  The Cuban seeds that were coming out in the late 90s, Habano 2000 became very  popular.  No one could ever ferment that leaf – it just never burned right.  It was so thick, it was beautiful, and no one could get it to burn right.  I’m pretty sure Eduardo had similar problems with that leaf so he started working on different seed strains, re-examined how they were working the soil with magnesium, and then there was this miracle grow that was being used, which oxygenated the earth too much.  You don’t see the problem, the plant looks great growing in the fields.  But what works for tomatoes doesn’t work for tobacco, even though they are related.  Now they say that the tobacco plant can be traced back to Peru as its origin.  There are so many different kinds of tobacco out there that can be used for cigars.  Cigar tobacco is completely different than cigarette tobacco.  It’s really complex.  The one thing about the cigar industry is that you learn something new every freaking day.

CP – What cigars are you going to make here at your factory in Miami?

EP – We’re going to be making a Miami Maduro.  My idea here was to have the boutique of boutiques for the Padilla brand.  But not only for the Padilla brand.  I’m also working with the Oliva family, Jose Oliva and his family.  We’re very close friends and we’ve worked together before.  They made the Padilla Habano in the past.  They made a brand called the Nub, and it was a hit.  I personally don’t like big ring cigars.  It was unique and worked for them, doing really well.  The Oliva’s came to me asked me, why don’t I make a nub?  I told them, are you crazy? A freaking Nub?  Sam Leccia and I are friends.  I mean he really takes his cigar culture seriously.   He rolls his own cigars at events and has done a great job with the brand.  I think it’s a legitimate brand.  It’s unique and relatively hard to find.  It’s hard to find something unique on this business.  So Jose asked me to do a Nub.  So I told I’d do one if we could do something else that’s fun and different.  So we’re working on a Nub figurado.

CP – I can’t even imagine what that would smoke like, and afraid to picture what it’ll look like – sounds pretty crazy.

EP – It looks like a small fresh turd, honestly.  I thought we could do something to really change the profile of that thing even more.  We thought about changing the wrapper to this or that…then I thought, why don’t we just fuck with the shape?

CP – Even more?

EP – After all at the end of the day it’s a ridiculous cigar.  But it smokes and actually takes while to burn down.   It’s pretty interesting.  So that is in the works.  Sam has another cigar in the works that should be fun.

CP – Having fun makes everything worthwhile.

EP – That’s what it’s all about.  Sometimes I think all manufacturers strip way that aspect of it when they produce so much.  The end consumer doesn’t see it so much, but the big guys can strip that aspect away from it, they might as well be selling widgets.  It becomes any old product.  I got into the business because I enjoy cigars.  In my experience with marketing and advertising, which is what my background is, and apply it to this world.  My father grew up in a tobacco plantation, our family grew tobacco, and they loved cigars.  Even though my father was a writer, cigars have always been a part of our lives.  I really enjoy the business.  When you get in to it, it is a business, and businesses require certain things.  Along the way though, people have a tendency to zap the fun out of it.  You can make a cigar cheaper anywhere except the United States of America.  It’s expensive, no doubt about it.  It’s a pain in the ass dealing with the treasury department.  It is a pain in the ass bringing tobacco into America.  It is a pain in the ass dealing with all of the new laws and taxes.  But it does have a tremendous advantage to be here in Little Havana.  We’re in the heart of the Cuban community where cigars are very associated with it.  I may be a little weird, but I’m the kind of person who will go to Italy in order to taste their buffalo mozzarella just to see if it tastes different than it does here, and I’m sure that it will.  You really get to immerse yourself in the Cuban culture here in Miami.  There are people smoking cigars across the street that have been smoking cigars since they were fourteen years old.  Now they’re in their eighties.  Everyday smokers too, mostly Cubans.  I love to give them some of my cigars to try.  It’s funny because these guys would never n their right mind pay ten dollars for a cigar.  To Cubans that doesn’t exist, especially for the ones who have been around a while.  The industry has obviously evolved, but it’s fun to talk to them and get a comparison from their experience.  I saw an old guy smoking a Cohiba the other day.  I saw him and asked what the hell he was doing.  He told me a friend gave it to him, and I asked what he thought.  He didn’t have much to say about it.

CP – Well there are still a great number of people out there who say they won’t smoke anything else

EP –  Cuban tobacco is unique, there is no doubt about it.  But you have to do tobacco right in order to make great cigars.  You have t0 let the soil rest, you gotta have a motivated team, there are so many parts that need to come together.

CP – It’s almost like telling people that Bordeaux makes the best wine.  Or Belgium the best beer.  The mainstream media has really screwed with people’s interpretation of how to think for themselves and decide what is best for their own personal palate.

EP – Well I would say that they’re missing out on some great Barolos, Argentinean Malbecs, missing out on some great California cabs, missing out on an entire world of wines.

CP – It’s almost like an insult not only to the cigar makers form other regions, but to someone’s personal interpretation on what they personally think is good.

EP – I remember when people used to bring my dad Cuban cigars.  It’s funny, I’ve never seen anyone get so pissed about a gift like cigars, especially Cuban cigars.  But he couldn’t stand the fact that only half of the box would draw, and then only half of those would actually smoke good.  He was so frustrated sometimes.  I think the Cuban debate will soon be over.  Soon enough people will be able to go down to Cuba and be able to smoke them more openly without them being so mystified.  We are in for a of good after the storm passes.  A world of new blends and cigars will open up.  We’ll have great Nicaraguan tobacco blended with good Cuban tobacco, as well as so many other blends.  It will really be extraordinary.

CP – It’s like giving an artist a new color palate to work with, or a blank canvas.

EP– Exactly.  It’s just waiting in the wings.  There really is no better country to make cigars, honestly.  You have the ocean, a country that is rich with culture that goes back for over 500 years that we know of.  It is so tied in to the US too.  Cuba is just as close as Canada is culturally, that you really don’t see a difference.  We don’t speak English of course, but still.  The Cuban culture really admires the United States.  Baseball is a huge apart of our lives as is basketball.  If you go to Cuba as an American, you’ll probably be treated better than you would in Chicago.  I think there are a lot of people who are interested in Cuban culture.

CP – How do you feel when looking at the future of the cigar business?

EP – I think there are great times ahead for the cigar business. That’s what I’m looking forward to.

CP – That’s a great optimistic point of view to have.

EP – I think the best times are still ahead of us.  I really do.  Its tough, every day there are new taxes and smoking bans.  I think there is hope.  We need optomisim.  I think we need to do a better job of saying that we can both achieve our end goals.  Both sides need to be pragmatic and need to work together.  Cigars are a luxury, and so are a lot of other things.  Some people say a car is a luxury.  So how much should they tax cars?  Now more than ever people need an escape from the madness.  Cigars do that.  I even send cigars to troops overseas.  I think there is a whole new crop of Americans coming back with an appreciation for cigars.  It’s a way to sit down for a few moments with some friends, even in the middle of a war zone and take the time to enjoy it.  Especially the military people, it’s really tough to be able to escape.  Cigars offer that unique ability for the people in the service.  A lot of people here forget about that and the ability to relax and escape from the rigors of the day to day, no matter what the situation is.     Most people don’t smoke cigars in this country, and I think that most people still see cigars as a luxury item that is seen in a positive light.  I think that the average American who smokes cigars is probably your middle class person who wants a break.  They enjoy the camaraderie.  As a manufacturer, you can’t rest on your morals.  You need to constantly be on top of things, and that’s good.  I mean a cigar is a cigar.  It’s not rocket science, but it’s not easy either.  It takes a lot of people, skill, and work.  There are probably over 900 people involved with the production of my cigars from the rollers, farmers, people packaging, the whole shebang.  I feel like I represent those people at the end of the day.  When I get the ratings or reviews, it’s not just a reflection of my cigar brand, it is a reflection of all the people who helped bring that cigar to life.  There is a certain level of pride with everyone involved who helps create a Padilla cigar, and I think it’s the coolest part.  If someone writes and email or says to me in a store that they really enjoyed the cigar, it can’t get better than that. Unless you hear it consistently.

CP – How heavy are you involved in the blending process of your cigars?

EP – There are several people who smoke the cigars and try them.  We try to come up with a general idea of what we’re shooting for.  Take the Dominus, 32, the Miami, the 48, they’re all sort of cousins.  In Nicaragua you have three main growing regions: Esteli, Condega, and Jalapa.  Jalapa has a reddish soil that is similar to Pinar Del Rio in Cuba.  It’s a little bit of a milder, sweeter tobacco in Jalapa.  Condega is almost a hybrid of the two regions Jalapa and Esteli.  If I want a fuller smoke, or create an immediate body, you add some ligero primings from Esteli.  You can’t just shove in a bunch of ligero though.  It’s become this magical like word.  Ligero this and ligero that, let me tell you something, bull shit.  Ligero is basically a cut or a set of leaves on a tobacco plant.  There are a couple sets of leaves in that priming, so you can get a big variance in ligero tobacco.  The one thing that is so frustrating about our industry is that there is no ward if you will.  If you say a wine is from Napa, then it’s from fucking Napa and not wherever you say.  In our industry it almost becomes whatever you want.  The one thing that has really remained consistent though is the source of tobacco in the cigar industry.  The people growing the tobacco has always remained.  If you say a wine is from Napa, then it’s from fucking Napa.  In our industry it almost becomes whatever you want.  To me that is the foundation where all of this is built.  The Oliva family is great.  Jonathan Drew of Drew Estate just brought me excellent maduro tobacco.  Fucking great stuff.  We’re having a lot of fun blending with that.  It’s all an experiment to try new things.  At the end of the day I am very traditional in certain aspects.

CP – When you blend cigars,  do you blend each size to taste the same?

EP – It depends.  I know certain people who think the only thing that should change with size is time.  In a lancero you’re going to taste more of the wrapper because there is less filler tobacco. It is amazing how much a cigar will instantly change the minute  you change the wrapper on a cigar.  We’re just taking the original Miami blend and putting a maduro on it. I do blend so each size is consistent.  By not all of the times depending on the cigar I’m making.  Sometimes I want to taste more of particular wrapper, which is the case with our lanceros, which is a true lancero with a 38-ring gauge, is the Series 68s.  The other ones we make are a 42-ring gauge.  Then with those sizes I think they re great, almost like a really long corona.  To me the foundation of a cigar brand should all taste the same, are the robusto, toro, torpedo and the Churchill.

CP – What about the smaller ring gauges?

EP – As I get into the small ring gauges I want them to taste a little bit different.  I want it to taste like a bigger cigar with some punch and some pop in a short time frame.

CP – How many rollers are you going to have here?

EP – Ten.

CP – Five teams of Two?

EP – No, Cubans don’t work in pairs.  That’s a good question because there is a big difference there between other countries.  I’m not saying that this is better than other countries which use pairs.  One person does the bunches and the other does the wrappers.  I lived in Princeton New Jersey.  The university was made by Italian stonemasons.  Sure there were great American stonemasons, but they weren’t Italian stonemasons who have been doing it since the time of Michelangelo.  Whether it was Michelangelo, DiVinchi, or Caravaggio, they have always had a great passion for the arts.  When you look at a Ferrari, or you look at a Michelangelo you know that these people are craftsmen.  What Cubans do, is really hard to put into words and through a machine and describe it.  But it’s special.  A Cuban roller knows a cigar from start to finish.  I don’t want someone to grab a cigar from me for 15 dollars, then put it in their mouth and find out that it’s plugged and doesn’t draw.   Or wondering why the cigar is getting bitter or hot.  The construction of a cigar is very important from the airflow and combustion to the radius, it will all contribute to the flavor.  If a cigar is messed up from the beginning there is nothing you can do about it.

CP – Can you tell if a cigar will smoke well by looking it?

EP – If you look at the swirl of tobacco at the foot of the cigar and see a lot of darkness on one end you could probably guess that you’ll run into some burn issues.  You don’t want to see that thick ligero tobacco displaced to one side.

CP – Not everyone realizes how difficult some sizes are to make.

EP – Our Salomon’s.  Most people should see how one of  these things are made, they’re huge with two tapered ends.  They’re incredibly difficult to make properly.  It’s a big pain in the ass.  Having Cubans who are rolling these products is a big advantage.  There are some great rollers in Nicaragua don’t get me wrong.

CP – Only yours are made well.

EP – It’s a Cuban style, Cuban made cigar.  It’s funny a long time ago when the embargo came people though that was it, American’s weren’t going to be able to smoke good cigars again.  Well that doesn’t seem to be the case.  I think Europeans are smoking overpriced bad cigars.  I see a lot of customers from Spain come in here and get a box.  Hen they see how well they draw they are thrilled.  They’re used to getting Cohiba’s where half of a box won’t draw at all.  And those are expensive cigars especially there.  They just accepted it singing it off as well they’re Cuban cigars.  I don’t buy a Ferrari to drive it a mile and have it break down.

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  1. Great insight from a cigar producer striving for greatness. Understanding that “Cuban characteristics, etc.” is a benchmark for cigars…what is exactly the “Cuban style” of cigar making?…accordian/book/entubado bunching?

  2. According bunching is where where each leaf in the bunch is folded like an accordion – entubado as he puts it, is where those leaves are rolled into tubes, like straws instead.

  3. Do you know which manufacturers/cigars are made in the entubado way? Do they use the different bunching method for specific cigars that they produce?

  4. thank you for this.. by the way, your layout is great.

  5. Every single interview I’ve seen with Ernesto has been awesome. The man clearly has a passion for his cigars and he’s always striving for quality. His 1932 is one of the best cigars ever made in my opinion. It would be awesome to visit his factory in Miami someday! Nice job CP!

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