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Sunday, June 25, 2006




 John Vogel: Tabacos de la Cordillera

  John Vogel, tobacco master and Director of all operations at the farms and factories of Tabacos de la Cordillera, has had a rich, yet seldom publicized career in the tobacco industry. With a degree in agronomy from the Escuela Internacional de Agricultura de Nicaragua, he has devoted the past 40 years to all aspects of cigar tobacco agricultural research, including plant breeding, soils testing, fertilizer selection, curing and fermenting studies, plant disease and insect identification and control. He served 20 years as R & D project leader for Consolidated Cigar and spent more than 20 years as a cigar industry consultant.  

In 2002, John took up the Directorship of Tabacos de la Cordillera (“Highland Cigars”) in Costa Rica and channeled his considerable cigar tobacco knowledge into the manufacture of cigars in the mountainous farmlands near Puriscal. With an accumulation of genetically pure Cuban-seed tobacco strains, Tabacos de la Cordillera is poised to offer up unique lines of cigars to a public that has anxiously awaited a return to the “Golden Age” of Cuban cigars. From his office in Costa Rica, John graciously accepted my invitation to take part in this interview.

DOC: With your long history in the tobacco growing industry, what prompted you to start manufacturing cigars?

  JOHN: Half my career was devoted to managing every aspect of our industry ... leaf buying, product development and improvement, marketing, cost analysis, leaf processing, and manufacturing and quality control. My acquisition of 45+ strains of pre-Embargo Cuban-lineage “ancestral” seeds resulted from working with peer researchers and leaf producers on my assignments worldwide.  
  I saw great opportunity in the Cuban crisis. These seeds were a genetical bridge to transport the quality of the legendary Cuban cigars into the present. They are available nowhere else in the world ... providing a virtually endless alternative in exceptional tobacco. My next goal was to create exceptional premium cigars.  
  In 2002, a consulting assignment took me to Puriscal, Costa Rica, to evaluate the soil and climate for the owner of Tabacos de la Cordillera™. It proved the ideal environment for growing superlative leaf ... the missing link to the classic Cuban taste, aroma, and burning properties of old. This was my opportunity as company director to create unique cigars.  
  DOC: What do you see as the role of Tabacos de la Cordillera in today’s cigar industry?  
  JOHN: To foster the rebirth of the Cuba's Golden Age of cigars that died after its zenith in 1960, following 300 years of research and experimentation by master tabaqueros.  
  Not many today know that taste as we do. I sampled many during the 60s, when on foreign assignments. The manager of our online sales site, a professional cigar taster, also smoked his share of genuine pre-Embargo Havanas in the 60s.  
  Being vertically integrated, we control everything from seed to ash. We “engineer” [the plants] ... fine-tuning the soil with natural supplements and pest- and disease-control agents that we have proven ideally suited to each tobacco strain; genetically modifying the plants so the leaves have a rectangular, rather than round shape, for more usable leaf area; developing plants with leaves that point upward, so the raindrops won't lay on them and cause spots, and more. Our leaf processing and manufacturing reflect no less dedication to quality over quantity.  
  DOC: I first smoked your cigars while visiting Costa Rica last year and loved them. In fact, they were the only cigars that I brought back from my trip in quantity. I was struck by the absolutely unique flavors of your cigars; I have never had anything like them, either Cuban or non-Cuban. To what do you attribute the uniqueness of the flavors of your cigars?  
  JOHN: Like a connoisseur of fine wine, you and other seasoned smokers seek age, rarity and professional blending in premium cigars. Cigar smokers are restless, always looking for changes, for something new. This isn’t surprising ... much of today’s tobacco has a sameness. With rare exception, almost all tobacco comes from occasional releases of a single Cuban seed variety ... Criollo, Corojo, Habano 2000, etc. By its second generation, air-borne pollen cross-pollinates it, so it becomes homogeneous. Our proprietary hybrid strains don’t reproduce, so they’re unaffected by errant pollen. Instead, we replenish each strain from our bank of pure ancestral seeds. So, we’re able to perpetuate that classic Cuban flavor.  
  DOC: What would you tell the folks who say that, “If it's not grown in Cuba, it can't be Cuban?”  
  JOHN: Actually, they’re telling us, “Your cigars can't taste like today’s Havanas.” They aren’t intended to... Castro's cigars don't taste like the classic Havanas. His Cold-War interruption of research in tobacco, to focus on sugar production for Russia, created a vacuum in technology, as well as a degradation of what once was the world's finest seed stock. We’ve set the clock back 50 years.  
  It was once thought French wine and Cuban cigars were incomparable. Now, Napa and other wines surpass those of France, and our cigars and others’ surpass the Cubans. Like Columbus, we broke tradition and set sail in a new direction ... his discovery of not only America, but also tobacco, changed the world.  
   Here’s an analogy: Many Cuban expatriates bore and raised children in the U.S. cultural, economic, and political environment ... its “soil and climate.” But, just as our seeds hold the genetic programming from their parent plants, the Cuban children retain not only their parents’ physical traits, but also their parents’ cultural upbringing. Try telling them they’re not Cuban!  
  DOC: What does the future hold for Tabacos de la Cordillera, in terms of new products or marketing strategies?  
  JOHN: In July, we’ll introduce a Purisco™ Variety Sampler to our online catalog ... a mini-bundle of 3 each of the Purisco Rojo, Azul, and the new Negro (an oscuro cigar we’re adding to the line). Like our popular Cumbres de Puriscal™ Variety Sampler, it will be available in Robusto or Torpedo. It, and the Cumbres Sampler, will save our customers 40% over the cost of buying separate 5-packs of each of the 3 blends.  
  This Fall, our customers will have the chance to be testers. To help us select the 3 cigar blends for our next line of cigars, they’ll receive 5-packs, one of each blend, at special pre-release prices.  
  We’ve indexed over 70 possible blends for future releases, which should excite our customers. We have seeds of tobacco that were in not only Castro’s personal cigars, but also in those of the man he deposed, Fulgencio Batista. We’re currently evaluating an intriguing tobacco grown by Central American Indians, which is directly descended from a pre-Columbian strain. These are just a few of the possibilities for periodic, limited releases of signature cigars, available to us by merely reaching into our warehouse supply.  
  Look for U.S. and international retailers soon. This will reduce the present 2-3 week factory-direct delivery times, caused by U.S. Customs and FDA inspections. Many may continue to buy factory-direct, though, avoiding the excessive taxes retailers must add to our suggested retail price.  
  Rather than spending money on advertising instead of product quality, we’ll continue to rely on reviews by leading print and online publications like StogieFresh. To date, they’ve been almost unanimously enthusiastic, and we thank your staff you for your consideration and kind words about our cigars and company.  
  [Doc note: Be sure to visit the Tabacos de la Cordillera web site for their factory direct pricing and also be sure to check out the wealth of information on their site:]  




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