Cigar Weekly Interview with Dr. Alejandro Martinez Cuenca
The mythology goes something like this... In 1962, the Soviet
Union tried to base nuclear-tipped missiles in
Secure in the knowledge that Fidel Castro was a
dyed-in-the-wool Communist, the same President Kennedy signed an order
instituting an embargo on all goods, services of Cuban origin and travel to
The story continues with the Cuban government (read Fidel Castro)
nationalizing all agriculture and taking farms, plantations and cigar factories
from individual and family owners. These same people took their
brands and artwork with them as intellectual property and spent the 1960s and early 1970s trying to resurrect their businesses. Again, summarizing
what I've read over the years as fact and as cigar lore, it's been said that
the first post-Revolution cigars for domestic consumption were made from
tobacco grown in the
Generalizations? Most likely. These reflect my reading over the years, and are not intended to comprise an official, researched history or timeline of the period in question. The history of Joya de Nicaragua as a company reflects this, and also reflects Nicaragua's recent history in microcosm. According to their website history:
the end of the 60's in Estelí, where
The fertile valleys of Estelí and
In the meantime, the company has weathered the storms of political upheaval, including the Sandinista Revolution and Communist governance of the country by Sandinista president Daniel Ortega. Back to the official history we go...
was in July 1979 when the Sandinista Revolution took place in
In the early 80's cigar production continued at the same level of the 70's, nevertheless the brand could not be sold in the American market because the trademark of the brand in the
The fall of the Sandinista government in 1990 was a
fortuitous turn of events for the Joya de Nicaragua brand. The company was sold
to private company, comprised of their own workers, and it was in time for the 'Cigar Boom of the 1990s' in the
On February 13, 2008, Rich Perelman's Cigar Cyclopedia
reported that Joya de
Cigar Weekly: Dr. Martinez, I tried not to be too detailed in the introduction, and most of that is from your website. Fill in some of the blanks, if you would, as it applies to your involvement with Joya de Nicaragua. How did you come to cigars?
I first came into the business of
manufacturing and marketing cigars back in the 1980's, in my capacity of
Minister of Foreign Trade of the
It was through this episode that I learned about making cigars, but more importantly, I learned how labor intensive this handicraft activity was, and since then, I strongly supported the development of this activity in Nicaragua while I was a public figure, and afterwards.
In the early eighties, I must confess, I only knew how to smoke and enjoy a good cigar, but as I started to learn more of this 'art', the more passionate I became about cigars. The making of a good cigar is really an art that requires craftsmanship and knowledge. From then on, my passion for hand made cigars and particularly for the Joya de Nicaragua cigar started; and it was 5 years after I had left my public responsibilities in 1990, that the factory went into sale by the Chamorro government and, I took the opportunity to buy it after competing with other potential buyers!! In short that is the story of my baptism into cigars!!
Cigar Weekly: So much of Joya de Nicaragua's history is wrapped up in
political reality and government interventions. We interviewed another manufacturer based in
In relation to politics, let me be short but fair. I believe Ortega has made the effort to sustain good and respectful relations with both Congress and with the US Administration, in spite of his personal 'Anti-Yanqui rhetoric'. I do not see any repetition of the past as far as government intervention is concerned, less likely with such a noble industry that provides direct and indirect jobs to almost 30,000 heads of households around the country.
Cigar Weekly: How do you see this affecting cigars in general?
The fact that President Ortega understands the contribution that cigars manufacturers, as well as tobacco producers make to the general well being of the country, gives the industry an important place to be respected and taken into consideration. I see that as a positive thing for the industry in general.
Cigar Weekly: How do you see this affecting Tabacos Puros de Nicaragua, and Joya de Nicaragua?
Not the least, I am happy and satisfied with how we operate, and there are no reasons for concern with this or any other government that might come in the future.
Cigar Weekly: Tell us a bit about your cigars and your process from seed to smoker, please.
The majority of the cigars we produce in our factory are totally made with Havana seed Nicaraguan tobacco, grown in the best regions around the country. The lines Antaño 1970, Celebracion and Clasico Criollo are great examples of the authentic Nicaraguan Puro. Nevertheless, we also make a line called Clasico Claro with a nice Ecuadorian wrapper.
Cigar Weekly: Without revealing anything too sensitive, what lead to the break with Manuel Quesada? Was it simply two companies moving in different directions?
As I had indicated in other occasions, our lifetime relation with SAG and particularly with Manuel Quesada, has always been exemplary and cordial. So, there is nothing to hide, we are two companies, (SAG and TPN) that, as it happens every so often in life, after many years of mutually working together, we have now decided to move separately searching for each others' vision of the future.
Cigar Weekly: We want to thank you and TPN for giving Cigar Weekly the opportunity to cover the new agreement with Drew Estate, the same way you did with the other media outlets. What did you consider when choosing a new partner?
Deciding with whom to work towards
the future was not an easy decision. We have various options. The major aspect in choosing DE as our
exclusive distributor for the
1. Drew Estate's commitment to adopt my vision of
2. The fact that DE had their own in-house sales force and marketing department with a very energetic and creative group of young people with whom we felt comfortable working with was also important.
3. DE success in increasing their own market
share within the highly competitive
4. The willingness demonstrated by the high executives of DE, who negotiated with me, to recognize that our two companies were two solely independent companies embarking in a project in which we as manufacturer and sole owner of the trade mark of Joya de Nicaragua in the U.S. and around the world would keep each one our individual sole identity.
Both for Joya de Nicaragua Company
as well as for Drew Estate. While Drew Estate was our distribution partner, in
Cigar Weekly: With that said, how did Drew Estate meet those criteria?
They met all those criteria. It
was because they met them to our satisfaction that my Executive Board voted
unanimously to designate them as our exclusive distributor for the
Cigar Weekly: Where do you see this relationship in five years?
I am a very realistic and pragmatic individual, and I am fully convinced that the decision of my Board will prove to have been a WIN-WIN proposition for our two companies.
Cigar Weekly: Taking a look at both the near future, and long-term, what plans do you have for your company? Do you have any new brands and lines being developed right now? And, can you tell us about them?
We are intensively working in the
reposition in the
Cigar Weekly: How do you see the strong, anti-tobacco movement, affecting your future, and that of smoking, in general?
It is a given reality. The important thing is that we have to live with it, and the challenge is to design our future steps knowing the existing constraints. How we do that? Let us wait and see.
Cigar Weekly: Which of your cigars is your daily cigar? Cigar Weekly member johnleeii (John Lee) submits this, as well. "What are your favorite types of cigars (flavor profiles, aromas, strengths)?"
I start my day with a Joya de Nicaragua Clasico or a Serie C. In the afternoon I go for a robusto grande in Antaño, and in the evening I take a Joya de Nicaragua Celebración in a torpedo size. The combination of the three types of cigars gives me the highest pleasure and satisfaction after a long day work.
Cigar Weekly: Do you smoke anyone else's cigars?
When I have the opportunity, I taste
a Montecristo or a Cohiba from
Cigar Weekly: Despite the competitive nature of the business, who do you see doing nice or interesting things?
Cigar business today is a very dynamic world. I would say all the players are not sitting on their successes. They all know we need to be ahead of the game if we all are to maintain our position in a world that is dramatically changing, and full of new challenges. I have only admiration for everybody in the industry that is taking initiatives, and that is why I also admire competitors like Drew Estate and many others.
Cigar Weekly: Who has influenced you?
The greatest influence has been
the team with whom I work. In particular, I appreciate what I have learned from
the General Manager of my company, Leonel Raudez, who has been in the business
of growing tobacco and manufacturing cigars for more than 30 years. He has
headed the '
Cigar Weekly: A few of our members have questions they would like to ask of you, also.
Johnleeiii (John Lee): "Sir, can you allay some of your customers' fears concerning the JdN Antaño Line, and how this business change may affect the quality, flavor profile, and the price of the cigars?"
are absolutely unfounded. There are no
changes in the way we will make our cigars; on the contrary, the changes in
distribution do not affect our commitment to consistency and highest standard
of QUALITY for our products, be it for the
Do not forget
that JOYA DE NICARAGUA is marketed around the world, and only 50% of our
production is presently coming to the
increasing our share of the market in the
Consistency and quality is what has made
(Dan Helton): Mr. Martinez, so many
great cigars are coming out of
speak by themselves, JOYA DE NICARAGUA Antaño, opened a new dimension to cigars
not only in the
I don't want to be pretentious and say we are 'the one and only'. But in my opinion, JOYA DE NICARAGUA, and particularly Antaño 1970, has made an important contribution to create a new dimension of tasty, full body cigar lovers not only in the U.S. market but worldwide. And we are very proud to be part of the group of companies that have contributed to rise the prestige of the Nicaraguan tobacco industry to its actual level.
Reconectn (Christian): I would like to know in which field Dr. Alejandro Martinez Cuenca receive his doctorate degree.
I did my Ph.D
in Economics at
Grtrx (Jeff Lackman): "If you've moved from Quesada to Drew Estates to grow or expand your market presence, are you certain you can maintain the quality of the cigars for which you are deservedly respected?"
I have no doubts of it, as I already elaborated before.
And I save this question for last, submitted by none other than your new partner, Mr. Steve Saka, President of Drew Estate:
"Here is one: Why in the world would you trust a company best known for making ACID cigars as the one sell and distribute such a traditional, historic brand?"
what Drew Estate makes, and I see that each company (Joya de Nicaragua, Sa, and Drew Estate) has their own identity.
Selling and distributing a product like ACID, is not incompatible in the world
of today, with selling a traditional historic premium brand like
Speaking for myself, as editor of Cigar Weekly, and for our members and readers, we are grateful to have this conversation. Thank you so much for your time and willingness to talk to us, as well as your candor and forthright answers. We appreciate it.