A little while back we had the pleasure of sitting down with José Blanco, Senior Vice President of Joya de Nicaragua . Jose has been in the industry for over thirty years and was the notable director of sales and front man for La Aurora for many of those years. His love for the industry is infectious and he has often demonstrated this in his famous seminars on tobacco and cigars that were put together to help better inform the consumer and retailer alike.
Our first interaction with Jose was on a La Aurora trip a few years back, and I can easily say that he is one of the biggest advocates of the industry and cigar rights. The following is an illuminating interview with a man who has spent most of his career passionately serving the cigar industry and fighting for its rights. José was kind enough to talk with us about his new position with Joya de Nicaragua, where he sees his new company in the market, and where they are headed to next:
Cigar Brief (CB): So what’s new with Joya De Nicaragua these days?
José Blanco: A lot of people have been asking me that question on Facebook, on Twitter, and on the phones. They usually ask “when is a new blend going to come out?” and what people don’t understand is that it would take me 6, 7, 8 months before to make a blend. And I’m not going to cut any corners as to come out with a cigar, if we’re not satisfied with it, we won’t come out with the cigar for the next year because it takes time. At least for me, the way I used to make the blends, it takes time to blend, then smoke what you have, and then tweak it again until the blend is where you want it. To be honest I’m already on the 29th blend and on a scale of 1 to 10, I’m maybe a 4 on the satisfaction level.
The other thing that I don’t think people understand is that people think that blending cigars is going down to a place, and saying I want this piece and that piece. I want this wrapper and I want this binder, put it all together and smoke it and move on to the next project. However, smoking that cigar the same day, smoking it in 15 days, there is a lot of change you have to consider. If you take that cigar and you make it today and you smoke it in the week it’s different, 15 days it’s different, a month even. When we blend we take our time to see after 60 days how a cigar is going to form. Every, company has different ways of doing things.
One of the things that surprises me the most at Joya de Nicaragua is the fermentation process that they have and Alejandro keeps 3, 4 years of inventory, every time you open a box of Joya de Nicaragua you are never going to find that ammonia or anything and the selection of the leaves is very unique. You have like a Antano that’s a full body very rich cigar but you then have the Dark Corojo that’s a step more, but how do we, the fact we get at that level and that we classify all the ligero leaves, then we go and take the thicker leaves by texture, by oils, by how the crop was and we incorporate it to bring that product to the next level. Because, ultimately what a lot of people don’t understand is that you could have a mild cigar that’s full flavoring, you could have a very strong cigar with no flavor at all. In Joya de Nicaragua we have been able to combine where you have that rich taste, earthly sweetness of tobaccos from Nicaragua with the strength or the body you want from the cigar.
CB: Yeah. Cabinetta is still one of my favorite cigars.
José Blanco: It’s good. I’m not really a big Connecticut smoker, but when you smoke the Cabinetta because of the sweetness that Nicaraguan has it in your mouth, when you put that in your mouth you don’t get the bitterness and the twang that Connecticut has, it doesn’t matter what company. It always has that bitterness in that twang. So what it does, it melts out the sweetness, it’s very rich, very complex, it has no bit of spice, but it’s overall a good, mild-to-medium smoke for those people that don’t like cigars that are heavy.
CB: Absolutely. So now has your blending approach changed as far as how you approached your process back in La Aurora days versus Joya De Nicaragua nor, or is it pretty much the same?
José Blanco: No, the blending is more or less similar in the two companies, but we’ll be working more with tobaccos from Nicaragua than I was, because when I was in the Dominican Republic we wouldn’t use Nicaraguan tobacco, we would use tobaccos from Brasil, we would use piloto, and criollo 98 tobaccos from Brazil. Here we’re working in different things, we’ll see what happens.
CB: Switching topics a bit, what do you see the role of your company being in the current marketplace?
José Blanco: Well, in the current market we have to look at it in two aspects, Joya de Nicaragua is right now in 35 countries, one of our goals for 2012 is to bring it up to 50. We have the advantage that Joya most companies a 100% of all their sales are here, some other bigger companies they have 80/20 but we are fortunate that our international sales are more than here in the US, even though here in the states we grow year-by-year and we have steady growth. The cabinetta is doing well for us here, the Antano has for many, many years had it’s followers, and now the newer dark corojo also is picking up with people that want to take their strength up a notch.
So in the future we’ll be doing more events, we’re very involved in social media Facebook, the phones, working with the bloggers, organizing trips, I will continue doing seminars. And we’ll just ultimately try to bring more awareness to the global market about Joya de Nicaragua.
CB: Sure. Is part of your new role at Joy de Nicaragua to be the face for the company?
José Blanco: Yes, I will be working as the face for the company and working with the sales people, working with seminars, working with new blends, new concepts, and a whole bunch of new things.
CB: Speaking of new things, you recently established a distributorship through Drew Estate’s, correct?
José Blanco: Yes, through Drew Estate.
CB: Ok, for the sake of our audience can you explain how that distributorship works?
José Blanco: Well, to be honest, you cannot be in better hands right now than to be in the hands of Drew Estate. Now for many, many years I’ve been friends with Jonathan, Marvin, and with the Steve Saka whom I respect a lot. I think they are a talented group of people, very creative. But with Drew Estate distributing, what you have is a flavor like chocolate, for every milk chocolate you want dark chocolate, you want a sweeter chocolate, and what the distribution through Drew Estate brings you is if you like the Acid line they have it, if you like Liga Privada they have it, and if you like the Antano or Dark Corojo, they have it.
So you have a portfolio of brands that are coming through a great distributor and one company right now that I’m probably saying if it’s not the hottest company out there right now, it has to be the second.
*** Editor’s Note: Wednesday we will run part two of our interview series with José Blanco as we continue to look at Joya de Nicaragua and his thoughts on where the company needs to go next.***