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A Quest for Cigar Excellence Takes A Colombian Twist

Scott Williams is a man on a mission.

Blond, blue-eyed and with a decided twang that quickly reveals his "deep in the heart of Texas" roots, Williams is working hard to bring Colombian cigars to the U.S. marketplace. He might seem an unlikely choice to head an effort that conjures images of Juan Valdez swapping his coffee bag for a load of tobacco, but it's a dream that Williams is deeply committed to.

Williams - who's known to his cigar compatriots as "Roberto Juarez," a name he picked up herding cattle alongside Hispanic workers at his grandfather's ranch - first heard about Colombian cigars when he decided to turn a passion into a business and set off to find a new cigar for the American market.

"I focused on Dominicans because the Dominican Republic is the number one cigar exporter in the world and they have a reputation for truly excellent cigars," said Williams.

After an enjoyable hunt that involved years of research and hundreds of cigars, Williams found the cigar he'd been searching for. "I knew it was the right cigar the first time I smoked one. It delivered a pleasant punch that was just amazing."

Eager to learn more about this amazing cigar, Williams uncovered a startling fact: his new favorite "Dominican" was really from Colombia.

"I'd never had a Colombian cigar before," said Williams. "You can't find them in any cigar store, I was just blown away by the quality of this cigar and had to know more."

Uncovering the mystery of the Colombian cigar

Williams learned that the cigar was crafted by Enrique Duran, a Colombian who has spent the last two decades in the cigar industry, and his master blender, Antonio de Jesus. Also known as Papiro, de Jesus has nearly 40 years of cigar experience and blended tobacco with Davidoff, one of the most famous cigar manufacturers in the Dominican Republic.

"I knew immediately that I'd found a real treasure," said Williams. "And once I learned the story behind the cigar, it became an obsession to bring Colombian cigars to North America."

Duran's journey to Colombian cigar manufacturing started in Miami. "I had a good friend there whose father manufactured cigars in Mexico. He introduced me to cigars and, before I knew it, I was captivated."

After spending years in Miami and Pennsylvania where he learned the business side of selling cigars - distribution, shipping and receiving - Duran headed to the Dominican Republic where he spent seven years mastering the art of fine cigar making. It was during this time that Duran crossed paths with a group from the Colombian Tobacco Growers Federation who was interested in bringing the cigar industry to their country.

"The tobacco industry has been an important part of Colombia for centuries, but the focus has been on tobacco for cigarettes," said Duran. "Their tobacco is excellent - once I saw the quality I immediately bought four tons to use in our Dominican cigars!

A revolution begins

In 2001, Duran moved his operations to Colombia and began the painstaking work of creating a world-class Colombian cigar. At the time, the Colombian growers didn't have the skills and knowledge to turn an excellent tobacco into a world-class cigar." Fortunately, Duran did.

One of his first decisions was to grow tobacco in multiple regions. "If you go to the Dominican Republic or Nicaragua, you have one type of growing condition - one altitude, one type of soil," said Duran. "But in Colombia we have four or five diverse geographic areas with vastly different soil conditions, weather, altitudes and sunlight. You can take the same seed and grow it in different places and it's as if you have an entirely different tobacco that you couldn't create anywhere else."

Ideal growing conditions mean Duran is able to produce over 50 tons of Colombian tobaccos annually, most without the use of fertilizers or pesticides. "Many of our tobaccos are grown either in the Andean mountain range or on the North Coast of South America, in very humid conditions. Our volcanic soils are rich with minerals and nutrients that allow us to produce some of the finest tobaccos in the world," said Duran.

Duran complemented the unique natural resources of Colombia with cigar manufacturing expertise from the Dominican Republic. "In countries with a long history of cigar manufacturing, cigar-making expertise is typically handed down from one generation to the next. Children sit by their parents and learn the craft from an early age," said Duran. "We were very fortunate to have the support of the Instituto Dominicano del Tobacco. We have employed many artisans from the Dominican to help produce our cigars and have some of the world's experts in farming and harvesting techniques, curing techniques and cigar rolling. This has ensured our ability to meet the standards that international buyers demand.

Creating the Bravo Cigar

Williams has partnered with Duran and his artisans to create five Bravo Cigar lines designed specifically for the American marketplace. "My passion for excellent cigars has led me to the land of coffee beans and tobacco. I've always dreamed of going into business for myself, and being able to do it in the cigar industry is definitely icing on the cake!" said Williams. "I am extremely proud of these cigars and experienced smokers tell us they're like nothing else they've ever smoked. They can't believe the intoxicating quality."

Duran attributes Bravo Cigars' quality to the excellence of Colombian tobacco and the skills of master blender de Jesus. "I understand which tobaccos will deliver the characteristics my customers want, and it's Antonio who works the magic and ensures that we create the experience our customers are looking for and keeps it consistent from one year to the next," said Duran.

And Duran believes that Bravo Cigar will play a critical role in helping Colombian cigars take their deserved place in the marketplace. "Roberto understands cigars. He's passionate about excellent cigars and appreciates just what sets Colombian cigars apart. He's been bitten by the same 'bug' that I was - and now neither of us can stay away!"

"If you're adventurous and want to experience something new, I invite you to give a Bravo cigar a try," said Williams. "These are unique, complex cigars that smoke like nothing else you've ever experienced." If you're the kind of aficionado that arranges a decent burial for you cigar nub, then this is the cigar for you.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Quest for Cigar Excellence Takes A Colombian Twist