Guillermo Leon Interview
February 18, 2011
GL – I firmly believe in the power of these tools. I use both Facebook and Twitter but I am more active on Twitter because I can interact faster. Social media has allowed us to communicate regularly with the end consumer and retailers. We use them to communicate events, launch new products and to receive feedback from people to see what they are looking for. A great example is the 107 lancero. That cigar size has been baptized as the “Twitter cigar.” This size was born because of the demand for it on that website alone. This would not have been possible without Twitter.
CP – Not too long ago Aurora moved into a larger factory. How do you like the new factory compared to the old one?
GL – The new factory has allowed us to be more efficient due to a better layout.
CP – How much bigger is the new factory?
GL – Thirty thousand square feet larger.
CP – Are the Preferidos still produced in the old location (replica of the original La Aurora factory) next to your museum?
GL – Yes they are. Being that our best rollers are selected to make this cigar we decided to keep them next to our museum as an attraction for cigar lovers around the world.
CP – When was La Aurora started?
GL – My grandfather founded La Aurora in 1903 with a very humble beginning. He started with three rollers. It was a very small operation in a town called Guazumal, near Santiago.
CP – Was that the first time your family was involved with the cigar business?
GL – Antonio León, my great grandfather was the first one to get into the industry as a grower prior to 1903. And he was the one that provided the tobacco for our first factory.
CP – Why did your family start producing cigars?
GL – Traditionally our family has had the love and the passion to cultivate the land, so my grandfather Eduardo León Jimenes decided to convert the tobaccos that he and his father Antonio were growing into cigars, thus establishing the first cigar factory in the Dominican Republic.
CP – What do you find yourself smoking regularly?
GL – Right now I smoke the Guillermo León.
CP – Do you have a favorite size?
GL – My favorite size is the Corona Gorda.
GL – Twenty-two million.
CP – It must be difficult to produce unique blends and keep consistency.
GL – Quality control is very important to us and we take this very seriously. It is tricky, and there are many steps you have to take in order to get it right.
CP – What was the first year that you produced wrapper tobacco?
GL – Back in the early sixties my father started growing wrapper on our farm in Sabana Del Puerto close to Bonaó. This is some of the best land in our country for cultivating wrapper, filler and binder that provides a very flavorful taste and aroma. Today we continue growing, doing research and working with different types of seeds.
CP – Originally did your family use native Dominican tobacco strains?
GL – My father always told me that the La Aurora brand started with Dominican tobaccos from different varieties in the binder, fillers and finished with an original Sumatra wrapper from Sumatra.
CP – What are some that you experiment with now?
GL – Now we do not use original Sumatra wrapper as we can acquire tobaccos using the same seed grown in different countries like Cameron, Ecuador or Indonesia. This lets us obtain tobaccos with remarkable characteristics that deliver great smoke with a lot of flavor and aroma.
CP – I remember the first release of the Cien Años, which promoted your own Dominican grown wrapper.
GL – The wrapper we used was Corojo seed, harvested in our country. That wrapper tobacco was very oily with a nice burn and a lot of character.
CP – You buy tobacco as well as grow a lot of your own. Is it difficult when buying tobacco to make sure you get what you want for your existing blends that use it?
GL – The tobacco we acquire is from farmers that we have worked with for many years. We provide them with the seeds and give them technical and financial assistance. This guaranties us the quality we look for as well as the origin of the tobaccos. For wrapper other than the one we grow, we buy from established companies in Cameroon, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Brazil. That fulfills 80% of our needs.
CP – How many different countries do you use in your blends?
GL – We blend from five countries, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Brazil, Peru and Cameroon.
CP – Has your family always been from the Dominican Republic?
GL – Yes
CP – What was is like for your family living in the Dominican Republic during the dictatorship of Raphael Trujillo?
GL – I wasn’t born at that time but from what I have heard and read, it was very difficult for all families in our country. Try imagining what it is like to live not knowing what will happen next at any given time. It’s pretty scary.
CP – Today it seems that the international market is opening up to other cigar producing countries besides Cuba, especially in Europe and Asia. How many countries can you find Aurora cigars?
GL – Currently in fifty-two countries.
CP – Do you find the European market has more of a demand for non-Cuban cigars today?
GL – Absolutely. The European consumer has realized that there are more options to choose from. They have the opportunity to taste good cigars with tobaccos blended from different countries including Cuba.
CP – What brand of yours does the best in the European market?
GL – León Jimenes
CP – What brand does the best in the United States?
GL – Aurora
GL – Half of our production goes to other markets and half goes to the US.
CP – Do you find any challenges working with countries outside of the US?
GL – Yes because there are high taxes and of course smoking bans.
CP – Are you optimistic when looking at the future for cigars, taxes, and legislation?
GL – Times are tough right now with all of the bans and tax increases but I am supremely confident that we will be able to overcome them and be stronger for it in the future.
CP – Do you feel that the government will eventually try to make it impossible to smoke with bans and excessive taxes?
GL – Yes. They have been trying for many years, but people will not stop enjoying one of the true pleasures in life.
CP – Do you think other industries will be targeted next?
GL – If we continue to allow our rights to be stepped on and we do not defend them properly, the way things are going you will not have rights even in your own home to do what you want.
CP – What is Aurora doing to help?
GL – For many years we have supported state retail organizations, CAA (Cigar Association of America), CRA (Cigar Rights of America), IPCPR (International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers), and we will support any other organization that will defend the rights of people to smoke.
CP – So besides cigars, I have heard that you enjoy photography. How long have you been shooting photos?
GL – For over ten years now. I enjoy being able to capture any given moment and have a record of it forever. I enjoy sitting at home with a nice cigar looking at past photos and remembering all of the things in my past.
CP – Are you a Canon or Nikon man?
GL – I use Nikon.
CP – Are there certain areas that you like to concentrate on more when you shoot?
GL – My favorite things to shoot are nature shots and portraits.
CP – Besides photography what else do you enjoy?
GL – I am Dominican so naturally I love music. I also enjoy going to the gym on a regular basis.
CP – What sort of music do you like?
GL – I like all kinds of music. Really, it depends on the ambiance and the mood that I am in at that particular moment. I have an eclectic mix of more than 50,000 songs. When I’m working at the office I will listen to instrumental or smooth music like Raul Di Blasio, Richard Clayderman, Michael Bublé or Astrud Gilberto. If I’m partying though, that is a different story.
CP – The León family is big, how many brothers and sisters do you have?
GL – I have four brothers and two sisters.
CP – Does everyone work for the family business?
GL – I am the only one involved in the cigar business. One brother runs the printing business and another one is in charge of the beer business.
CP – A lot of people are familiar with Presidente. When and how did your family get involved with beer?
GL – We began with beer in 1983. It was a good opportunity for the family to expand the business.
CP – What was the original name of the brewery?
GL – Cerveceria Bohemia
CP – Is Presidente the only product being made there?
GL – No, we also produce Bohemia and Ambar.
CP – Do you feel those beer brands are becoming better known in the US?
GL – Absolutely. Presidente beer has made great strides in the US and there is still more work to be done.
CP – Cigars, banks, beer, printing, how many other companies does your family own and run?
GL – Besides the ones that you mentioned, we also have distribution of the rum Barcelo.
CP – Getting on the road has proven to be a necessity when pushing a brand to make it successful. Now you are traveling a lot more and doing events to push your brand “Guillermo Leon.” How do you like doing events?
GL – I really enjoy connecting with the consumer on a face-to-face basis. I also enjoy visiting my old friends at their stores and to see what the trends are in the market.
GL – I am currently traveling twice a month.
CP – Is the brand being well received?
GL – Extremely well, it is a great smoke. The Guillermo León signature is made with six different tobaccos that deliver a very rich and complex smoke. There is great balance and a tasty finish. It took us more than a year and over 50 blends to come up with one that was this unique in production. All of us at La Aurora are very proud of it.
CP – Is it something that all different types of cigar smokers can appreciate?
GL – It was made so that anyone can enjoy it, whether it is the first or the last cigar of the day. It depends on the person and the palate but we believe there is room for it in everyone’s cigar rotation, regardless of how seasoned or novice they are.