It all started in 1865, when Eduardo Plasencia made his way from the Canary Islands across the Atlantic Ocean to grow tobacco. In 1890, his nephew, Sixto Plasencia Juarez, started working for him. “That was my great grandfather,” Nestor Andrés Plasencia, vice president of Plasencia Cigars and Plasencia Tobacco, says. “He got his own farm in 1898. My grandfather, also named Sixto, continued the tradition and they had a good reputation of being good tobacco growers.” All was good until they were struck by the first blow, the Cuban revolution of 1959.
“Fidel Castro seized all the farms in 1963 and two years later Sixto and his family left Cuba for Mexico with nothing in their pockets.”At that time, Nestor Sr. was 15 years old, and after two weeks in Mexico they went to Honduras, where Sixto Plasencia was offered not one but two jobs at tobacco companies.
“He was known as a good man and he even accepted the job with less pay because he had committed to that first.”After only three months, the family made their way to Nicaragua. There, Sixto worked in Jalapa while Nestor went to agricultural university. When he graduated in 1969, he started working at the farm with his father. Later they bought their own farm, but in 1979, revolution number two happened. The Sandinistas took over and it suddenly became dangerous for Cubans to be in the country. Seeing that the former dictator Anastasio Somoza had started the cigar business in Nicaragua, Cubans were associated with him, which meant they were considered to be against the revolution. So Nestor Sr. went to Honduras to start over.Sixto, on the other hand, moved to Miami, but he often traveled to Honduras to help his son, and life there was never as bad as when they had to leave Cuba.
“Persistence is in our blood,” says Nestor Jr. assuredly. “I’m really proud of what my grandfather and father have accomplished. It’s amazing how they survived all of this.” Still more was to come.
In 1981, just two years later, blue mold destroyed 100 percent of the family’s crops.“It was really bad, and to prevent this they used a newly introduced fungicide. The 1982 crop was fine, but we used too much and the mold turned resistant. So we had to learn how to live with the blue mold and having fewer yields while trying to keep our customers. Then, in 1986, my father started developing new techniques to control the mold, but it’s still a problem.”After two years of disaster, Nestor Sr. started thinking about an alternative source of income. “During these bad years we had to sell off a little land and get loans, but we never stopped working, despite all the difficulties. And in 1985, my dad decided to start producing cigars, because we wanted to be more vertically integrated.“
So Plasencia started making cigars for Cigars by Santa Clara and Inter-American Cigars. “The production was very small,” explains Nestor, “but little by little, with hard work and good quality, more people started hearing about our cigars and production started to grow.”
Despite all the political and biological disasters that had struck the Plasencia family, they were still standing, and in the beginning of the Nineties they made their way back to Nicaragua. The Sandinistas had lost power in the general election of 1990 and the new president, Violeta Chamorro, gave the Plasencias some land in Estelí which corresponded to 30 percent of what the family used to own in Jalapa. In 1994, they started producing cigars in Ocotal, and a few years later in Estelí. “Then came the boom and we started buying farms in Estelí and Jalapa,” continues Nestor Andrés. “We had enough tobacco for our own production so we started selling tobacco. Today we have two factories in Nicaragua and two in Honduras. In 1997, we were even debt-free.”
One year after that, Nestor Andrés started working for the company full time. “I always wanted to study agriculture,” he says. “I wanted to be like my dad. He used to put me to work during all holidays, so when my friends were playing I had to work. Wait, I didn’t like that, actually.” He laughs out loud over his own realization. “But I learned about everything – rolling, fermentation and irrigation – and I did like the farms, so today I can really appreciate that.” Plasencia has mainly been a producer of private labels since they started manufacturing cigars, but they have also produced their own lines: 1898, Clásica and Reserva Orgánica (now called Original).
The latter is Nestor Andrés own little, but expanding, project.“I was more or less right out of school when I asked my dad if I could make a completely organic cigar and he was very open-minded about it,” he explains. “It’s really fascinating to use traditional methods with new knowledge. We use earthworm casting as fertilizer, the organic pesticide neem, garlic to keep the bugs away, since they don’t like the smell, a fungus called trichoderma to prevent root diseases, and we grow velvet beans in between the crops as it extracts nitrogen from the air and puts it in the soil. If you can grow tobacco in a sustainable way you will have a lot more generations of cigar makers to come.”
In the past year, the company also added two lines to its catalog: the Plasencia Alma series (see more details page 60), and the Cosecha 146. Both these cigar lines are 100-percent Nicaraguan and produced with aged tobaccos from Plasencia’s best crops. “We’re also introducing the Plasencia Serie Cosecha 146,” explains Nestor. “It’s the 146th crop of the Plasencia family from 2011, made with tobacco from Nicaragua and Honduras. With this cigar we want to celebrate the beginnings of the first Plasencia tobacco crop in 1865,” Nestor explains.
So after more than 150 years, the family business has prevailed, and is constantly adding new family members. Nestor Andrés’s brother, Gustavo, works in accounting and for Plasencia 1865 in Miami; recently, their 23-year-old, younger brother, José Luis, joined the business as well. “I also always knew I was going to work with tobacco,” José Luis says. “When I was a kid, my dad took me to all the farms and his passion for tobacco motivated me. Tobacco is also an amazing plant. There are no other plants that can have three different flavors in them, and all the people involved, from seed to cigar, fascinate me.” He graduated with a business degree, aiming for the financial side of the business, but at the moment he’s more in the field than in the office. Like his older brother Nestor Andrés, José Luis is also set on making his own blend, and six months into his employment, he’s not wasting any time.
“A cigar takes about three years to make, so I’ve already started. I’m doing it with this year’s crop.”Placencia greatly values their employees and also their staff’s personal development.
“We’re giving seminars about reaching your own potential, we’ve brought in a psychologist and we offer an English course, for instance. We want to encourage people to reach their own goals. If you think you can only produce 250 cigars per day, then you block your mind, but if you think you can do 300, you will do that. You can grow the best tobacco or empower the people to do the best they can.” The best in this case being an excellent cigar. “The final goal is for you to be able to relax with a good cigar produced by us with your friends and family, and forget about all your problems,” Nestor Andrés says. “We bring generations and different people together. We’re not in the cigar business. We’re in the business of giving pleasure to people, and the vehicle is the cigar.”
Plasencia sells tobacco to Altadis, Swedish Match, Quesada, Swisher, Davidoff, La Flor Domi- nicana, Drew Estate, Abe Flores, E.P. Carrillo, and Joya de Nicaragua, among others.
Their client base today includes the likes of Rocky Patel, Alec Bradley, Nat Sherman, Casa Magna, Maya Selva, Villiger, and Altadis, for whom Plasencia makes Montecristo.
Cultivated area: 1,200 ha (3,000 acres): in Nicaragua (Jalapa, Estelí, Condega, Ometepe), Honduras (Jamastran, Talanga, San Agostin), also small areas in Costa Rica and Panama.
Plasencia sells 50 percent of its harvest as raw tobacco; 50 percent is used for the manufacturing of cigars (in their own brands and for other manufacturers).
Main markets: 1. USA, 2. Europe, especially Germany; distributors in South Africa and soon also in Thailand.
Locations: Danlí, Estelí, Miami, Barcelona.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Summer Edition 2017. Read more