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Written by Kevin Godbee

Monday, 28 July 2008

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Cigar Review owner Kevin Godbee continues with an enlightening, educational and fun interview with Christian Eirora, President of Camacho Cigars. We learned how Christian goes about developing cigars, from seed, to blend, to taste-testing, to the packaging on the shelf.

We had an in-depth conversation about "Authentic Corojo" seed tobacco. The interesting background about "Corojo" Tobacco goes back to the 1930's. It originated on a farm in Cuba's legendary Vuelta Abajo region named Santa Ines del Corojo. For decades Corojo was the ideal wrapper on just about all Cuban cigars.

However, Corojo is difficult to grow, has low yields and is highly susceptible to blue mold. The original, renowned Corojo was phased out and hybrids were developed.

Camacho claims to have the only "Authentic Corojo" tobacco from seeds given to them directly from the owner of the original farm.

 


Part I of the Camacho Cigars Interview
Note
: We ended Part I of the interview where we were talking about a reddish Colorado wrapper Camacho is trying to develop for a new cigar, and the commercialization of new products  ...


So you have this beautiful Colorado wrapper.

The band you're going to put on that Colorado wrapper has to match the wrapper. It's not just the flavor  ...  remember, we want to give people a full experience. A guy who's going to spend $5, $6, $7, $8, $10 to $15 a cigar, whatever he pays for the cigars, they should get what they pay for. You've got to attract every single sense.

You can't hear a cigar, but you can see it, you can smell it, you can touch it and you can taste it. If we could make a cigar that speaks, we can hit all five senses  ...  but we can't. (Laughter). Who knows, maybe somebody will  ...  maybe CAO. (More laughter.)

Camacho Scorpion Cigar
Camacho Scorpion
Commercializing the product comes next.

This process can take 2  -  4 months. Once you have the finished product and you look at it, then you begin to really scrutinize it. Now you have a finished product.

What's a guy going to feel like when he gets this box? Is he going to love it, or is the box secondary. You can't overshoot either. The last thing you want is for the guy to think, I'm paying for the fancy box, I'm paying for the fancy band". So everything has to match.

When we developed the 10th Anniversary, the last thing I wanted was to box-press that cigar. But I realized that it looked a lot prettier, it looked flush in that box, everything about it looked beautiful. So it's just perfection.

This comes back to the whole thing I was telling you about maturity. You're searching for that next thing, and you just keep trying to get grander and grander. We're so fortunate in this industry that we have great examples like; Carlos Fuente, Padron, Kaizad (owner of Gurkha) fantastic man! The mind that guy has is amazing. I like Kaizad a lot. I admire these people for what they do and for what they bring to the business. I wish I didn't have to compete against them (laughter) but I still have to accept that they are doing great things.

Kevin: Maybe it helps you're creativity to have those other guys  ...

Christian: Yeah, definitely.

Kevin: I remember my first experience with a Camacho cigar back in 2004. The cigar was quite strong and I had to sit down. Camacho seems to be known for producing very full-bodied cigars.

Today it seems that several manufacturers are producing very strong cigars, and even saying things like "you better sit down when you smoke this", or "for professional smokers only" but it appears that Camacho was producing the fullest of the full-bodied cigars long before others.


Christian: It was around September '99, we had done the first experiment on the authentic Corojo seed. Corojo

Camacho Corojo Cigar
Camacho Corojo Cigar
Click Here to Buy
originated on a farm in Cuba called, Santa Ines del Corojo. It was Diego Rodriguez, who's no longer in the cigar business, but he used to grow a lot of tobacco in Nicaragua as well.

So, the farm was Santa Ines del Corojo in the Vuelta Abajo in Cuba. The Corojo seed was spectacular. Little by little, they would take the pick of the crop and re-grow that seed. So eventually, that seed began to be known as "El Corojo".

They had that registration that lapsed in 1996. Cuba stopped growing that seed in 1987.

We got our Corojo seeds in 1997 directly from Daniel Rodriguez, the grandson of Diego Rodriguez.

It took us about two years to really learn how to grow it. Which is what the Camacho 10th Anniversary celebrates  -  10 years of growing the Authentic Corojo seed.

The Corojo plant is not very tall. It only gets about 5 feet tall.

Kevin: How does that compare to the average tobacco plant height?

Christian: The best way to compare it is this: A Corojo plant might give you 900 lbs. of tobacco per one acre and 30 - 40% wrapper.

If you look at Connecticut Shade, you get 2,200 lbs. per acre and about 90% wrapper.

The yield on Corojo is terrible. We were growing the seed for 2 - 3 years and we finally got it. I tasted the first one.

Our first Corojo cigar was around July 1999, which is when I learned how to smoke cigars.

Back then, Corojo was a full-bodied cigar. It's a seed that produces strong flavor, very sweet, and no after-taste. We tested it out with a group of customers that went down in September '99. The first market test was done with 2 Guys Smoke Shop in December 1999.

We launched it onto the market in 2000 and it was explosive. It was really explosive.

Kevin: Perhaps you were a leader in the very full-bodied cigar trend?

Christian: Ok, why not? I'll brag. I'll say I started the very full-bodied cigar trend. (Laughing)

Christian Eirora & Kevin Godbee
Christian Eirora & Kevin Godbee
The first full-bodied cigar we started with was Saint Luis Rey, made for Hollco Rohr, who was purchased by Tabacarela which was then merged into Altadis and were then purchased by Imperial Tobacco.

The Saint Luis Rey was like a hint of full-bodied cigars. I remember the excitement people had. I didn't know how to smoke cigars that well back in '95 - '96, so I really can't tell you how that cigar would compare today.

Anyway, we launched the Corojo Cigar back in 2000 and people went ballistic. They loved it. First it was box-pressed, then I said screw it, make ‘em round.

A guy out of California named Larry Wagner talked me out of box-pressed cigars ... on this cigar anyway.

I began to realize that I love full-bodied cigars. From then it just kept going on. The next big launch was the Havana at the RTDA in June 2000 along with the Corojo. The Corojo blew everything away.

In the meantime I was trying register the word Corojo because I knew copycatting was going to happen. I just knew it. Unfortunately, the U.S. Patent & Trademark office deemed it a common name. Just like you can't register the word "Miami", "Corojo" was named after a region, so you can't register it.

And that was that. Many hybrid seeds started coming out. Many competitors started using the word Corojo. Which they're not wrong, but they are hybrids and not the same thing. I wish we could've protected it.

Kevin: You were the first to come out with a Corojo cigar?

Christian: Some of my competitors might argue with me, but I will say yes.

Kevin: Are all of your cigars full-bodied? Do different cigars in your line target different types of smoker's or smoker tastes?

Christian: Not all of our cigars are full-bodied. The new 10th Anniversary is medium body. I am trying to target the medium-body cigar smoker now.
Camacho 10th Anniversary Cigar
Camacho 10th Anniversary Cigar Targets Medium-Bodied Tastes
We're so proud of our cigars, are sales reps are, and everybody else on down the line, but ...

... sometimes we can't get people to try the Camacho line because they think they are too strong.

Kevin: I think that's a common perception in the market.

Christian: Yeah man. But now we have the 10th Anniversary. We've got the Liberty that just came out  ...

Kevin: So we have to get the word out that there are medium body cigars from Camacho.

Christian: Yes! And we're re-blending and re-packaging the Camacho Select, which is another medium bodied Camacho.

So we really are targeting that audience because I want to more easily walk people into our line. It gets to a point where, it's really not about the market share or the sales volume, it really is about the pride in the product. My sales people feel it too. They want people to say, "I love that Camacho!" But if we can't get the guy in the door, to first try any of our Camacho products, we're done. We don't get the shot.

Kevin: Do you have a favorite cigar?

Christian: My favorite by far is the Diploma. It's the strongest one.

Kevin: What are your recommendations for the mild, medium and full-bodied tastes out there for our readers? Where would you direct them within your line?

My father loves the La Fontana. That's his favorite. And Baccarat are milder cigars.

In 2009, we may be launching a mild Camacho.

A Connecticut wrapper Camacho. I'm working on the blend now. It's going to be tough because eventually I'm always tempted to spice it up a little bit (laughter) so I will have to control myself

I want to do it because I want to try to outsell my father's Baccarat. (laughter)

Kevin: What is the story behind the La Fontana Consigliere cigar being a tribute to Salvatore Fontana? I heard that in the beginning, you and Sal didn't get along.

La Fontana Consigliere Cigar
La Fontana Consigliere Cigar
Christian: We have an old guy that works with us, his name is Sal Fontana. He's been around forever, but there really is no title for him. So I call him "Consigliere". That cigar we did for him and it was a fund raiser for his wife who had Parkinson's at the time. She has since passed. I think we raised around $100,000.

Sal Fontana is like an inside joke because every year we offer him the "lifetime achievement award". (Laughter). He doesn't quit man! He's 83 years old and he still shows up!

Kevin: How is business right now and what is your outlook for the rest of the year with continued smoking bans, a bad economy and soaring gas prices?

Christian: I think this year is going to be a good year. Politically, of course, we are under a lot of threat now. I don't want to get political, but we have to talk about politics.

The Republicans are the only people that are going to keep us in business.

 

The Democrats want to pass the SCHIPS legislation, which will kill the cigar business. Companies like mine will survive, we'll be much smaller, but the local retail stores will be put out of business almost immediately.

SCHIPS is our biggest threat.

Smoking bans do affect us, but you know, cigar smokers were banned from restaurants before that. Cigar Smokers are different. We never want to smoke around someone that is going to make us put out our cigar.

We pay a lot of money and we really do pick our spots for those cigars. Stores have invested in lounges in the stores and it's made everything a lot nicer and more comfortable for cigar smokers.

Some stores are even catering to women so they don't feel intimidated when they come to the store.

Kevin: Yes, I found that we are getting more women cigar smokers participating in the forums on Cigar Review and this is more recent.

Christian: Yes, we are getting more women cigar smokers. I see it too. Things change.

Getting back to Sal, you asked about us not getting along  ... 

You know, Sal and I  ...  when I first started man, I was "young, dumb, and full of cum" (loud outburst of laughter), and Sal had issues with me. Sal even wrote a resignation letter back then that he still shows to me once in a while.

I tell him, "File it! Please file it!" (Laughter.) But we've become very close. He was best man at my wedding, he is God Father to my third son, Santiago.

Kevin: Do you see inflation affecting cigar prices?

Sal and I go ‘round and ‘round now about the economy issue  -

"Does the economy really effect cigars, or the pricing?"

Camacho Diploma Cigar
Camacho Diploma Cigar

I don't know. I think a guy or girl that smokes cigars, they want to get some pleasure, they want to reward themselves. People look forward to a cigar. If they are anything like I am I look forward to smoking a Diploma. It relaxes me.

I think a guy that is willing to spend $6 - $8, it's not the cigar, it's the moment that they're buying. They want to be at that shop, or they want to be out on the porch, and I think it's our responsibility to make sure that inflation doesn't effect the enjoyment of a guy's cigar.

If the cigar is expensive to make and expensive to maintain, we have to make sure that we give the guy total value for it.

Kevin: Back in February there was some buzz in the news when Fidel Castro resigned. Not a lot has changed, but recently there was news that people could now buy computers and microwaves for the first time. Maybe these are signs of some gradual change and perhaps someday the lifting of the Cuban Embargo by the United States.

If and when this happens, what do you think it will mean for the cigar business and your business specifically?

Christian: The Cuba issue is interesting. No one knows what's going to happen. It does seem to be loosening up a bit. I see a need, should commerce be re-established, that if cigar manufacturers outside of Cuba decide to go back in there  ...  if it is part of their strategy, and it is part of ours, we need to know that our investment can be protected.

Teaching Cuban cigar people and rollers to work to the standards that we require is going to be very tough.

Kevin: There's a different work ethic in Nicaragua, Honduras and the DR?

Christian: Oh yeah bro! You don't need to work in Cuba. They don't have any incentive. The people there have been forced to live this scavenging lifestyle where everything is barter. Everything.

You cannot depend on the government for anything. So, if you sell ice cream, you're going to sell milk to the guy who sells gas because that guy's going to hook you up with a guy who sells lobsters, but it's all barter.

So how do you teach a person that they have to sit here from 8 to 5 everyday and produce so many cigars, if they're not good I've got to throw them away, and the guys says, "Wait a minute. Don't you pay me for just being here?"

So how do you re-train these people to be productive? You get all these people that have to be re-trained. The quality is going to be poor. There are all these issues to deal with in Cuba.

Cubans, compared to Nicaraguans or Hondurans, (I don't have much experience with the DR, so I can say)  ...  Hondurans are very good with their hands. Their dexterity is amazing. A Honduran can be rolling cigars in three weeks. Cubans take months to train.

Cuba opening up should increase interest in cigars in general.

Kevin: It's ironic that although we seem hear of a new smoking ban every day, sales of cigars continue to rise.

Christian: Well, actually, cigar sales have been flat. 290 - 300 million, but they hold steady. The boom, I think peaked at 411 million. It's still at a great level.

As long as shops continue to invest in lounges, people will continue to enjoy cigars.

Kevin: Camacho introduced a new web site early this year, which in my opinion as a web developer, is very well done, modern, professional and classy.

With the cigar business' long history, the industry seems to be quite "old-school", and some other manufacturers' web sites are quite "old-fashioned" to put it nicely.

I am wondering if your youth, compared to other cigar company presidents, had something to do with Camacho having such a slick modern web site? How involved were you in its creation?
Camacho Cigars Website
Camacho Cigars Website

Christian: Thank you for the compliments on the website. The website is fantastic. We've got a good marketing crew, there's a bunch of stuff in there; events, rss feeds, product info.

I find that when I want to buy something, whatever it is, electronics, a car, the first thing I do is look it up on a website. I'm looking for reviews, comments and information.

There's no possible way that even I, as a professional in this industry can know what every cigar tastes like. That's why review sites such as yours are so valuable.

And I should say thanks to Dylan Austin and Angel Diaz here in our marketing department, they beat me over the head all the time making sure that we stay up with the times and keep innovating with new products, the modern website, everything.

Kevin: Are there some new products on the horizon?

Christian: The Camacho CLE will be coming out next year. (Those are my initials.) It is currently available only in the special Executive Travel Bag we came out with recently.

I'm working something called "Cajones"  ...  not cojones  ...  Cajones with an "A". I've been storing cigars for 5 - 7 years and those cigars are very good. They just haven't made it to market yet.

The Camacho Plus will be coming out next year as well. The mild Camacho will be coming out. We do not have a name for it yet. And the re-launch of the Camacho Select.

See the review of the Camacho SLR Maduro Rothschild.

Camacho Cigars Available for Online Ordering:
Camacho 1962
Camacho Corojo
Camacho Corojo Ltd.
Camacho Coyolar Puro
Camacho Havana (1999)
Camacho Pre-Embargo
Camacho SLR
Camacho Triple Maduro

Part I of the Camacho Cigars Interview

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