Dion is a West-coast punk rocker with a passion for cigars. In Reno Nevada Dion set aside his music and became just a part-time rocker and a full time tobacconist. Fumare, his retail shop, is described by visitors as the “best cigar lounge in Reno”. But Fumare is simply the beginning of Dion’s tobacco voyage. As a retailer, Dion always wanted to create a cigar specifically for his own tastes.
Through the shop, he developed relationships with many cigar makers and leaf growers, and got to know those at Aganorsa in Central America very well. As he explains, “I developed a lot of respect for what they do and how they do it”. In 2006 Dion’s brainchild Illusione was born. It may have taken only two years to develop the brand, but as Dion explains, “It was a learning process” that began at age 14.
Illusione, a Nicaraguan cigar made in Honduras with a largely Corojo makeup quickly gained popularity and critical acclaim. This continues today as the lancero “HL” has won this magazine’s Honduran Cigar of the Year. The blend focused on rich, dark Corojo tobaccos which suit Dion’s personal preferences. Clearly, he is not the only one with that preference. It soon became clear that while Illusione was loved by many, some customers in his shop and around the country preferred the “spicy, stout, and bold” flavors of the criollo leaf. And thus a new cigar blend was imagined. Using the same suppliers and manufacturer, Dion launched Cruzado in 2008. At the same time Dion developed a cigar to commemorate the 15th anniversary of this magazine called the ECCJ 15. It is a variation on the theme of the original Illusione blend with lots of Nicaraguan Corojo leaf.
LIKE BEES TO HONEY
At the American trade show (IPCPR) the ECCJ 15 created a buzz. A Cubanesque blend with complexity and lovely flavour, was exactly what connoisseurs wanted from a cigar made for the US market. Unfortunately, the ECCJ 15 was a limited production run that sold out as soon as it reached retailer’s shelves. So in 2009, Epernay, a new brand, was released in four sizes based on the original ECCJ 15 blend. It is available in cedar cabinets of fifty cigars as an homage to early 20th century Cuban packaging. Dion explains, “I love cabinets of 50. They are so clean and simple and give that cedar aroma that goes so well with cigars.” Alongside Illusione and Cruzado, Epernay has found its niche. These cigars have earned Dion the respect of fellow cigar-makers. So much so that several have approached him and invited him to make cigars in their factories.
Jonathan Drew the man behind Drew Estates and a factory owner, invited Dion to make a new cigar in his Nicaraguan factory. Dion visited the factory not sure what to expect from this famous maker of infused cigars. “I was impressed by the variety of good tobaccos they had there”, Dion said. “Some I was familiar with but others were way out of my comfort zone. They had tobacco from every part of the world.” In the end, the tobaccos worked perfectly for a blend he had in mind. The product of this partnership is a new brand called Nosotros, “we” in Spanish. The name is meant to pay respect to everyone who works together to produce premium cigars, not just Dion and Jonathan but also the many farmers and factory workers who work precisely to create these beautiful smokes.
What is it about Illusione, Cruzado, Epernay and now Nosotros that captures our imagination and hearts? Surely the blends of well fermented and balanced, full flavours have something to do with it. But that isn’t the whole story. Dion listens to his customers at Fumare. He has also taken lessons from Henke Kellner and other manufacturing luminaries. What makes him different is that he combines these influences with his punk rock style and communicates with smokers in a way that is purely his own.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Autumn Edition 2009. Read more