Gilberto Oliva Tabacalera Esteli

Gilberto Oliva Jr.: The Tobacco Whisperer

Oliva Cigar Company has produced cigars for over 20 years now, and the man behind almost all their brands is Gilberto Oliva. His secret is working with what you want, not what you get. “I feel like I blend in the field,” he says. “I don’t blend on the table. I imagine the finished product and what I want to accomplish, so in the fields I try to direct the growth towards the product I want to create. Then we assemble it in the factory. That doesn’t mean you get the perfect blend right away. You still have to fine-tune it.”

This gives him an upper hand, he says. “Many cigar makers work with the finished product. They buy from the tobacco dealers and work from there, but since I have a background in the growing part I feel like I’m one step ahead. At least, I try to be.” The key to blending in the field is understanding the weather.

“You follow along and play the weather. Sometimes you have to plant early or late, or add more fertilizer, for instance. Every year the weather changes, but that’s the challenge. What applied last year doesn’t apply this year and that’s what makes it exciting. You’ve got to start from scratch, and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Then the plant tells you when it’s ready for harvest, again, depending on the weather. Tobacco is a living thing. Some people hear, but they don’t listen.”

He maintains that knowledge of this can be found in the older generations. “You see it especially with the old farmers. They can tell you what’s going to happen. Like when certain flowers in the wild bloom early, you know rainy season is also going to be early. And if rainy season starts early this year, next year’s will be late. It’s trial and error. Nature has a way of talking to you, but then again, when you think you’ve figured it out you might still be in for a surprise.”

So, when he wants to create a new brand he starts thinking about it before he even grows the tobacco. Two of Oliva’s most successful brands were created this way, Oliva Serie V and Melanio. “Right out of the barn, when I tried the tobacco, I knew I had something there and V became a winning horse from the start. So did Melanio. They were extremely well-received and caused a lot of commotion in the industry. They stood out, and still today they have huge followings.”

However, there’s one successful brand that he didn’t create. “Nub was created by José. It was his idea and he did a great job. It became a flagship in the industry. Now all the short cigars in the industry are called ‘nubs.’”

Since graduating with an engineering degree in surveying in 2005, Simon Lundh has preferred to follow a profession in journalism. He stumbled upon the cigar world while working for a non-governmental organization in Estelí, Nicaragua, and is now mainly making a living writing about cigars, metal music, tattoos, and travel.


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