While he readily admits preferring to work behind the scenes, Wayne Suarez ends up having quite a bit of impact on the cigar industry at the consumer level. As one of the top executives at Arturo Fuente, Suarez oversees a number of facets of the business, including who becomes Fuente dealers, and who within that group gets to carry the company’s most exclusive cigars, the Opus X and the Anejos.
If you’ve been to a Big Smoke in recent years, you were likely handed a Fuente cigar by the otherwise unassuming Suarez. A trained eye might be able to see his involvement in the industry, but he could just as easily blend into almost any cigar shop in America, relaxing in a comfortable chair with a lit cigar.
He recently visited the Phoenix area, and took a few minutes to talk about things at Arturo Fuente.
While small batch, limited edition cigars are the rage in the cigar industry right now, Fuente seemed to be doing them long before they became mainstream. What’s the history behind those cigars?
A while back Carlito (Carlos, Jr.) Fuente, had some really old, aged tobacco that Carlos, Sr., wanted to know what he was going to do with it. Carlito took this small amount of tobacco and made a couple hundred, maybe 1,000 boxes, and that’s how it began. When the Anejos started, he would make them, age them for a year, and then release them once a year around the holidays
Then with the Fuente Opus X, they were told that they couldn’t grow wrappers in the Dominican Republic, and if there’s one thing you never want to do, it’s tell the Fuentes they can’t do something. They bought a farm from the Olivas, and Carlos, Jr. was on it day and night.
All the tobaccos are grown on that farm, so if you don’t yield a lot because of weather or whatever, that’s what creates the limited supply. Plus budgeting for future years, because you never know what the next year’s crop might yield.
So speaking as someone in the industry, not necessarily on behalf of Fuente, what do you think of the explosion of small-batch, limited production cigars that have come into the market lately?
I think a lot of that came from the Fuente family and what they did, and people see something successful and they try to do it. They find a limited amount of tobacco that they were able to pull out and age it, sweat it, and work it and it becomes something special – but there is not a lot of it.
Cigar Aficionado also took the industry to a whole new level, because there was never a publication that went directly to the consumer. The consumer is now much more educated, they want to me more educated, and he knows what he likes, doesn’t mind trying something new, but has and knows his pattern in tasting and strength levels.
Given what Cigar Aficionado has done as far as educating the consumer about tobacco and what goes into a cigar, Fuente remains fairly secretive about what goes into its cigars, especially in comparison to other manufacturers.
That’s the Fuente way – we’re a family owned company, no stockholders, no partners, so we don’t have to disclose anything, and the Fuentes do things a certain way that nobody else does it. If you put a pencil to it, it might not be the way to do things, but they’ll do things right and that’s the way they do things. It’s like the way they make their maduro wrapper – nobody makes maduro wrapper like the Fuentes, but it works.
But the Fuente family gives credit to Cigar Aficionado and what they’ve done for the industry as a whole, not just for our company.
What was the reaction when the Opus X XXX Belicoso received the #3 ranking on Cigar Aficionado’s top 25 cigars of 2010 list?
We were all very happy about it – we were #1 with the Opus X double corona in 2005, and we’ve been up in the top before, so it’s very gratifying. But Senior doesn’t get too excited about too much – he’s a very even-keeled guy and just goes. He’s amazing – probably the most amazing man I’ve ever met.
Junior obviously likes it, because he’s the one that created it. Especially after people told him that that cigar couldn’t be made with a Dominican wrapper – a lot of people thought it was a Cuban wrapper. But now they know because that farm is world-renowned.
It’s very gratifying – it feels good to be in the top 3 in the world – but it doesn’t deviate them. They still do what they do, which is make cigars. That’s their life, and I don’t believe anybody works harder than Fuente.
Finally, one of the things that comes to mind when it comes to Fuente is consistency, yet the push seems to be to introduce something new. How does that play out within the decision-making process at Fuente?
Our consistency comes from our tobacco inventory – Senior and Junior know that if you buy their cigar, and like it, that you’ll want to buy it again. Their mentality is that it has to taste the same as it did last time. The only way to do that is to have a great amount of tobacco inventory.
Carlito has a lot of things going on – he did the (Magnum R) Rosado, which he blended to have a lot of flavor, a lot of taste, without a big heavy feeling at the end. We introduced a 58 ring gauge belicoso in that line that we brought out at the end of last year, and we’ll be bringing it out to more places this year.
But he’s always got something got going on – he’s like a mad scientist. What we’ll come out with, who knows – because if it’s not right and he’s not comfortable with it, it won’t come out. If we don’t have something new for the show, that’s OK. He’s not a guy who’s always going to launch something new – he wants to keep doing things the best they can.