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Cigar Insider: A.J. Fernandez of A.J. Fernandez Cigars

1 Mar 2011

A.J. Fernandez may be the best cigar maker you haven’t heard of. But not for long.

Born in Cuba where he worked with the legendary Alejandro Robaina, Fernandez has quickly gained fame making cigars for other cigar companies including Rocky Patel, Padilla, Graycliff, and Gurkha, as well as making exclusive cigars for catalog giant Cigars International (for whom he makes Diesel, Man O’ War, La Herencia, and other smokes.) At the 2010 industry trade show, Fernandez introduced his first solo national brand, San Lotano. (For more on San Lotano, read our reviews of the Connecticut and Habano.)

Via email (with translation help from company co-President Kris Katchaturian) I asked A.J. Fernandez about Cuba, Robaina, Niacaraguan tobacco, and his new San Lotano blend.

Stogie Guys: Growing up in Cuba, did you notice cigars playing a role in the country’s culture? How did you first become involved with the cigar industry?

A.J. Fernandez: I noticed it a lot. It is an integral part of our culture. I come from a generational family of tobacco growers. I was born and raised in San Luis, Cuba (this is in the Pinar del Rio region). This part of Cuba is known worldwide because most every local is involved directly or indirectly with tobacco. Mostly, I remember when I was a child helping my grandfather stripping the leaves. I have always loved the natural aroma of tobacco. I guess, you could say, it is in my blood.

SG: You’ve been described as the protégé of the “Godfather of Cuban tobacco,” Alejandro Robaina. Tell us about what made him so special. What was the most important thing he taught you about cigars?

A.J.: That is a fine compliment. Too much, even. He was a great man and mentor. But I won’t say that I am the protégé of Alejandro Robaina. Our families had a longstanding relationship with each other. We had great respect for him… I idolized him. We would often get together and I would listen to everything he had to say. I suppose one concept that I always keep close to me is to continually tinker with different (leaf) blends. You never know what you might fall upon.

SG: What made you decide to leave Cuba? Why did you settle in Nicaragua?

A.J.: My father wanted to keep my family close together. He came to Nicaragua in 1997 to run the fermentation process for his nephew, Nestor Plasencia. I joined in Nicaragua shortly thereafter. I used that golden opportunity to become independent, utilizing the knowledge which I brought from Cuba to begin my own factory.

SG: You use a lot of Nicaraguan tobacco in the blends you create. What is it about Nicaraguan tobacco that you think makes it so special?

A.J.: In my opinion, the Nicaraguan tobacco is totally unique. Hey, it’s beautiful. Why? It combines the perfect balance of aroma and strength. I am very proud of the quality of leaf here. It is a gift from above to work with such high quality product.

SG: Tell us about the new San Lotano blend, you first independent, nationally distributed cigar line.

A.J.: San Lotano is crafted from carefully selected Cuban-seed leaves. The ligero is aged more than five years. This aging results in a naturally sweet aroma and fine balance. I also make it with lots of passion.

SG: What do you think about the quality of Cuban tobacco? What would you do if you had access to Cuban tobacco for blending today?

A.J.: People ask this question often. For me, Cuba has very rich and complex tobacco. If I were given the opportunity to mix it with my Nicaraguan product? Oh man, we would have some highly sought-after blends.

SG: Besides those you make, what are some of your favorite cigars to smoke for your own enjoyment?

A.J.: What a difficult question. Like asking what my favorite food is. There are so many excellent lines today, both new and old. I would hate to leave something out. Naturally, I am so busy making new blends I do not have a lot of time to smoke outside product. Was that diplomatic enough of me?

SG: Give us the one-sentence pitch: Why should a cigar smoker who has never smoked one of your cigars try one?

A.J.: It is not only in the exacting method in which we ferment our tobacco, which gives great balance to our blends, but also in the passionately intense supervision of the rolling process for that perfect construction.

Thanks to A.J. Fernandez for taking the time to talk to us. For more information on his cigars, visit AJFernandezCigars.com.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

4 Responses to “Cigar Insider: A.J. Fernandez of A.J. Fernandez Cigars”

  1. Padronnie Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 6:26 am #

    Love AJ's stuff… particularly San Lotano Habano, Diesel and Man O' War. Great interview.

  2. Todd Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    AJ Fernandez is one great cigar maker… hard to believe I hadn't heard of him until last Fall. Only then did I realize all my favorite cigars that he makes: Padilla Habano, Man O'War, Diesel…

  3. ckay Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    Awesome interview.

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    […] Fernandez, the subject of yesterday’s interview, is a prolific cigar maker who has crafted smokes for the likes of Rocky Patel, Padilla, Graycliff, […]