SmokeGood DrinkGood Magazine

Cigars: An Interview with José Blanco

Today I had the chance to interview cigar industrialist José Blanco. José has been in the cigar industry for many years. He began his career as a salesman for a Dominican rum maker. He is known for his time at La Aurora as a blender and Sales Director and for his time as Senior Vice President of Joya de Nicaragua. What many may not know is he sold cigarettes for years before he graduated to cigars.

Before we get started Jose I want to thank you for doing this interview with SmokeGood DrinkGood Magazine. Now let’s dive in…

Q: José when did you have your first cigar?

A: When I was 16 years old with my father and uncle.

Q: How did you get started in the cigar industry?

A: My great-grand father, grand-father, father and uncle all grew tobacco. My uncle finally opened a cigar-factory in 1936. Tabacalera Palma is now run by his son, my cousin, Jochy Blanco. I was however working for La Empresa León Jimenes for about 30 years in several divisions but I was always a part of La Aurora´s smoking panel. I am also related to that family too on my mother´s side.

Then, in 1999, La Aurora finally moved me officially to their premium cigar division for which I was a blender and Sales Director.

I stayed with La Aurora until 2011 when I felt it was time to start my own cigar. But when Alejandro Martinez Cuenca offered me the position as his Senior VP I thought it would be interesting to work in Nicaragua for one contract before moving back to the Dominican Republic to create my own cigar-brand.

Q: What is your favorite part of making a cigar?

A: Everything! Thinking of the concept of the next project, the profiles of that cigar, smoking pure-grades, figuring out the actual blend and smoking my way through to the exact blend, there are many details to blending. The moment the smoking panel and I have agreed on the final blend to be used is extremely exciting!

Q: What advice would you give a novice smoker?

A: Have an open mind; do not listen to all “expert-friends” around you trying to impose their favorite brand or origin. Try to learn to retro-hale (blow through the nose without inhaling) to really feel the profile on another level. Try to learn strength-levels, sizes and ring-gauges. Smoke your way through different brands, origins and strength-levels and find the profile you like. In the same time, read all types of education you can find; ask questions but know who to ask… And enjoy!

Q: What advice would you give an advanced smoker?

A: Take your time, be open-minded, and be open to more knowledge, no one knows it all in cigars, stay humble and you will know even more. While you still regularly smoke your favorite sticks still be open to other brands and origins. Keep learning would be my advice, there is always more to learn in this field!

Q: What would you consider your best cigar?

A: I cannot choose between these two, but it would be the La Aurora 100 Años in 2003, out in 2004, and the Señorial 65th Anniversary from 2014. These are two Dominican Puros with each exceptional tobacco, each with many years of age and a long meticulous blending. The fact that they are both Dominican puros has nothing to do with them being my two favorite blends from my experience so far. I love to blend different origins, there are so many tobaccos that I love and use, these were my only puros. The way they were blended, the exceptional crops and everything that went into them made them very unique and memorable cigars each in their own ways.

Q: What are 3 key things that go into making a new blend?

A: There are far many more than 3 things. As I always say in my seminars there are 6 key-things to think about: Flavor, Strength, Aroma, Complexity, Balance and a good long finish. Note, the good long finish is not the end of the cigar; it is how the profiles stay lingering in the smoker´s mouth for a long pleasant time, tingling on the lips and a nice feel, not a bad after-taste which would ruin the experience. Then there is so much more… percentage of each leaf, positioning of each leaf and more…. This is endless.

Q: What is one lesson you learned from being at La Aurora and Joya that you carry with you today?

A: There is no “one lesson” because in our industry, both from the internal blending side and the business side, of which I did for both these companies; there is so much to take into consideration! It is very complex work which is what I love about it. I would say that it´s a shame that so few try working for both these cigar countries. We are all one thriving toward the same goal and working in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua is of course extremely similar and interesting to see certain details in each of our traditions; but that would be a lesson that both my wife Emma Viktorsson and I keep telling to everyone we can in this industry: Dominican Republic and Nicaragua work together, we are in the same boat.

Q: What has been what you consider your greatest accomplishment and failure?

A: Assuming that we are talking about my professional life, well every good cigar is an accomplishment and the business following that cigar continues that accomplishment. I do not feel like I have one greatest accomplishment or a failure either… My line of work is too complex to feel one of each.

Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?

A: Again I cannot think of anything… I have been thinking but cannot think of one. I used to train a little league team in baseball and basketball, but that was many, many years ago, it might look surprising now……lol. We are planning for European football (soccer) though for my little son so I can´t help much this time……..lol.

Q: What made you decide to host seminars?

A: I started hosting seminars around 12 years ago at La Aurora. It was my idea and I prepared and staged them together with my friends at La Aurora. The reason was that smokers need a lot more education! Back then there were some misconceptions but most of all a lack of knowledge. However what is worse are the misconceptions!!! Social Media has created fast communication and unfortunately the false information travels fast too and the misconceptions are growing. I did them under Joya for my time there, and now under my own company, Las Cumbres Tabaco; but in any case it never talks about a company´s cigar or any brand, it is just pure education.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

A: My own quote I´ve been saying for years: No matter how perfect a cigar is, one´s favorite, only one thing can ruin it, here it comes: “Never smoke next to an asshole.”

Señorial Cigars

In February 2014, his own company, Las Cumbres Tabaco was officially founded by himself and his wife Emma Viktorsson, to carry Jose´s own cigar, Señorial. Everything about Señorial cigars and Las Cumbres Tabaco have been created within the family, from the blend (blended by himself) to the production at Tabacalera Palm, to the name and designs by Emma.

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Señorial is the first cigar released from Jose Blanco’s newly formed company, Las Cumbres Tabaco.

For more information in detail checkout Emma Viktorsson´s blog called The Cigar Enchanteress.

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