Last year, I wrote a two-part article for CigarAdvisor.com on the leading cigar makers of the Dominican Republic. Upon its completion, I realized that more than a few of them had one connection between them in common: they had all worked with Jochy Blanco in some capacity. Aging Room, Freyja, Kristoff, La Flor Dominicana, Matilde, Pinar del Río, Señorial, Trinidad Santiago, and Villiger are among the most familiar brands. And yet, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that what Sir George Martin was to the Beatles, Jochy Blanco has been to a whole host of boutique cigar makers.
José “Jochy” Arnaldo Blanco III is a fourth-generation tobacco grower, a second-generation cigar maker, and the CEO of Tabacalera Palma in Santiago, Tamboril. His family’s tobacco-growing legacy began with his greatgrandfather, Manuel Blanco Lozada, who emigrated from Spain to the Dominican Republic in the mid-1800s. In 1925, Jochy’s father, José Arnaldo Blanco II, founded Tabacalera Palma, making him one of the country’s earliest cigar manufacturers.
“I’ve been involved with my father’s business since I was a kid,” says Jochy. “In 1980, I began to make changes, and started making different types of cigars for exportation. Before that, everything was local market only. So we went from being a mostly North American market company, to exporting Dominican-grown tobacco and cigars worldwide.” In 1995, Jochy relocated the Palma factory to Tamboril’s free-trade zone near Santiago. He knew that cigar smokers wanted a higher quality product, and he had the means to do it. Jochy’s timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous. The Nineties’ cigar boom, which had given the premium cigar market a long overdue shot in the arm, was in full swing. “What you need are good growers, good tobacco, good fermentation, and good rollers,” says Jochy, who still ferments tobacco the way his grandfather did. “All of these processes, including the quality of the land and the leaf, come down to tradition. But the main thing is the passion you put into what you do.”
Jochy’s first cousin, José Blanco, of Las Cumbres Tabaco, with whom Jochy worked on Señorial and Freyja cigars, concurs: “Jochy is very passionate about his work. Plus, he has a great palate.” In addition to his farms in Santiago, Jochy grows tobacco in La Canela, Gurabo, Jacagua, and Mao. His chief crops are Criollo ’98 and Piloto Cubano, which he likes growing in different areas of the country because that’s what gives the tobaccos their unique flavor characteristics.
Jochy also buys tobacco from farms once subcontracted by Jochy’s father, Arnaldo. Some of these growers are third generation, and Jochy continues the tradition because it’s good for the growers, the business, and the Dominican economy. Of all the independent tabaqueros in the Dominican Republic, Jochy is arguably the country’s biggest grower and buyer. Consequently, it’s no surprise that so many cigar makers find themselves working with him. Jochy produces two of his own premium brands, La Galera and La Instructora. This year, Cigar Journal included the La Galera Maduro El Lector among its Top 25 Cigars of 2017. Even with all of the other critically acclaimed cigars he’s had a hand in, Jochy doesn’t feel like he’s competing with himself. “There’s a market for everyone,” he says.” I get a lot of satisfaction when any product made in my factory does well.” Aaron Saide of Sans Pareil cigars and collaborator on La Instructora, offers one of the best glimpses into Jochy’s work ethic. “I’d lost my passion for cigars and I needed to find someone that saw tobacco the way I did. It’s not about anything other than quality. Jochy is the only person that would actually listen to me, and the only person that could give me my dream on earth.”
How would he like to be remembered 50 years from now? “Mainly that I was a good father and friend,” says Jochy. “But, of course, also that I was a great cigar maker!”
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Spring Edition 2018. Read more