Interview: Yadi Gonzalez-Vargas: President, Flor de Gonzalez Cigars
by David "Doc" Diaz
Thursday, March 22, 2007
When Arnaldo Gonzalez asked his daughter to come to work for him at Flor de Gonzalez Cigars, he no doubt knew that, in an industry that has been dominated by males for over a hundred years, there would be some difficulties. And yet, he must have also believed that as a woman growing up in a family that had three generations of tobacco people, his daughter would have enough tobacco in her blood to excel in this male-dominated industry.
Yadina Gonzalez-Vargas, or Yadi, as she is most often called, is the president of Flor de Gonzalez Cigars. She has been successful in guiding the company through the post-Boom drought and into what looks to be another golden age of cigars in the United States.
Though extremely busy with a family and a business to run, Yadi has been gracious in working with me to complete this fine interview. I think you will be as surprised as I was to see the tremendous accomplishments that Yadi has earned in the cigar business and what passion and energy she expends to insure the future success of this outstanding cigar company. What follows is the result of conversations that I have had with Yadi. It is my hope that you will see the depth of her passion for tobacco as I have, and also her commitment to balance a successful company with a successful family life.
DOC: Many growers of tobacco and cigar manufacturers come from several generations of family history in the industry. Can you tell us a bit about your family’s history in the industry?
YADI: My great-grandfather, Don Irenes Gonzalez, was the first to cultivate tobacco in Cuba. His son, Ramiro Gonzalez (my grandfather), continued the legacy and, subsequently, so did my father Arnaldo, who grew up in the tobacco fields helping my great-grandfather (my grandfather passed away when my father was a very young boy).
My father proved himself to have tremendous passion for tobacco and he eventually decided that he would continue the family tobacco legacy. After 14 years of being in this country he was able to get involved in the tobacco industry once again by manufacturing cigars in Miami.
During the cigar boom in the 1990’s he could not make enough cigars to keep up with demand (a problem everyone enjoyed and would love to experience once again). At that time I was fresh out of school, working and excelling in my chosen career in Finance for an aviation company. Although I grew up around tobacco and cigars, I really never associated myself directly with the industry, primarily because it was a male dominated business. But my father had diversified into other areas of the industry. He had purchased land in Ecuador and began cultivating wrappers and brokering fillers and binders and one day about 5 years ago he asked me to come and work with him.
My functions working for him were to basically manage his finances. I could not say no to my father, I mean, after all, he had put me through school and I was going to work for my future, so I took on the job.
Before I knew it I was physically involved in the day-to-day operation of manufacturing cigars. I wanted to learn absolutely everything from A through Z. I was curious to know how different tobaccos from different regions and different countries impacted the blends. I was smoking the cigars to learn their different tastes and aromas. Since numbers were “my thing,” I became interested in learning how much tobacco of each type was required, based on the different vitolas, to make the cigar blends work best.
Also, the cultivation process absolutely absorbed me emotionally. I was amazed to see in detail how much work is involved from the time the plant is a mere seed, to the time the tobacco is ready to manufacture a quality cigar and then aged some more before it is just perfect to smoke. It’s truly remarkable how many hands actually work the tobacco for so many years to produce a fine cigar. Anyway, I was perplexed to realize I was so interested in learning more and more about something that was basically an everyday subject for me when I was growing up. I had taken for granted all those years of “absorbing” and learning about tobacco and cigars from my family. It was not long after I took on the challenge of working for the family business that I realized I had become the fourth generation in my family to enter the cigar industry.
DOC: You immigrated to the United States from Cuba when you were quite young; can you tell our readers about the rewards and challenges of coming to a new country and starting a new life here?
YADI: The rewards of growing up in the United States have been immense. Freedom is just about everything for anyone who has lived under any kind of oppression. I was only eight years old when I immigrated to the U.S. and at such early age I had learned the hard way about the lack of freedom we faced in my former country.
In Cuba, I remember living on a government-issued quota: whatever we wanted, whether food, toys, or any consumables, were bought with the quota. I was told at home at an early age that the teachings I was receiving in school were not what my family believed. I always knew we would leave the country one way or another. I look back now and realize how my childhood (like many other children whose families were anti-revolutionary) was marked forever.
I worried about things then that my children today would never have to think about. I remember having to hide anything and everything that was acquired beyond that quota because that was a crime in itself. If I had a new toy, for example, I had to beat it up a little before I was able to show it off or share it with a friend. If they asked, I was supposed to say it was just an old toy that I found.
Below: Yadi with father Arnaldo Gonzalez
On the other hand I don’t recall any major challenges as a child growing up in this country. I picked up the language before I knew it and from then on I was on my way to a great education in the country that had adopted our family. I know this was much different for my parents and my sister who were adults when we migrated and therefore had greater responsibilities. I guess I consider myself extremely lucky and am grateful to my father who had the courage to be one of the first to storm the Peruvian Embassy in Havana and demand political asylum. I am also grateful to my mother for following his footsteps and being diligent in reuniting the family through thick or thin.
DOC: It is often said that the cigar industry is a “man’s world.” Can you tell us about the special challenges you have personally faced in the cigar world and how have you overcome these challenges?
YADI: I have to say it has been tremendously challenging trying to succeed in the cigar industry being a woman. Men just don’t quite digest the fact that a woman really knows anything about tobacco. According some men, the intricacies of growing and blending a good cigar is just not for a woman to handle. One of their first questions is (with a smirk on their face), “Do you even smoke?” I usually respond by saying: “Why don’t we sit down and smoke together while we go over our products and prices.” And then I see the “Aha” look in their face.
In a nutshell, I think it just takes me a bit longer to convince some people that I do know what I am talking about, but once they get my background I have to be honest, they are actually enchanted with the fact that it is actually a woman that taught them a thing or two about cigars. I think at the end of the road, I gain their respect. It might be a man’s world, but I’m okay with that.
DOC: Can you tell us about your flagship cigar line, Flor de Gonzalez Gold? What is the story behind this cigar and why is it so special? Also, can you give us a quick summary of your other main lines of cigars and their characteristics?
YADI: The Flor de Gonzalez Gold Series is our baby, if you will. It is our original line of cigars. Basically, this was the cigar that launched us into the industry. Since we first started manufacturing this line about 13 years ago, the Gold Series has been consistently rated an 89 by Cigar Aficionado magazine. In their rating scale 85–89 is “very good to excellent” and, indeed, these are excellent cigars.
The Gold Series is manufactured in Miami by expert grade 9 Cuban rollers. The Gold Series is a limited production, boutique cigar, made with top quality first-grade materials. The cigars are aged through various fermentation processes and meticulously inspected according to our quality control requirements. After the cigars are manufactured, they are aged in cedar for 8 weeks before they are boxed.
We also manufacture a very small amount of Reserva Selecta in Miami. This is our black label. As the name implies, it is made with a special reserve of tobacco from first generation seeds. Sixty percent of the filler is piloto Cubano ligero, which makes it a stronger blend, and it’s wrapped with a Habano 2000 leaf from Ecuador. This Cigar earned an 88–89 rating in Cigar Insider.
Besides these two lines, everything else we manufacture is done in Nicaragua. We have the Green Label, which for its price, is the best quality cigar you will find anywhere. It’s a long filler cigar with a Connecticut wrapper, Sumatra binder and the filler from Nicaragua. It is a mild cigar yet full of aroma and a nutty flavor. We also have the Flor de Gonzalez Selection (red label), also a premium long filler cigar that is hand-made and perfectly boxed pressed. The wrapper is a very dark Habano 2000, the binder is from Indonesia and the filler from Jalapa Nicaragua. It is a medium-to-full body cigar full of earthly flavors.
The Flor de Gonzalez Sandwich bundle is a mixed filler sandwich cigar like no other. It is a great smoke at a really unbeatable price in comparison with similar products in the market. If you are looking for an inexpensive smoke with good aroma and no funny aftertaste, this will be the selection of choice.
Our Habanique is truly a fine cigar and one that delights the eye as well as the taste buds. A special blend of Nicaraguan fillers aged to perfection, wrapped in a maduro Habano 2000 and then set-aside for months to allow the flavors to slowly set in for a smooth medium-to-full body smoke. Lastly, we have Vegas de Nicaragua, which was first introduced to the market in 2006. For the blend, we use three Nicaraguan fillers plus a broadleaf grown in Ecuador. The Binders and Wrappers are both Nicaraguan. This is a full-bodied cigar with a distinct, but pleasant flavor. It’s had excellent reviews.
DOC: What can the consumer expect from Flor de Gonzalez Cigars in 2007 and beyond?
YADI: We have just completed a new blend for a cigar that will be launched this summer. It will be a 4th Generation Anniversary that will celebrate our family’s journey in the industry. The wrapper and binder will be Connecticut and Habano Criollo from our 2003 crop and the filler will be a blend of Nicaraguan tobaccos. The cigar will be available in three sizes from a Robusto to a Torpedo. There are other plans for the near future that I am not at liberty to discuss right now, but the one thing you can rest assured is that we will continue to strive to provide our consumers the best quality cigars day after day.
[Doc Notes: Be sure to visit the Flor de Gonzalez web site for more information about their cigars.]
About the Author
David "Doc" Diaz is the publisher and the editor of the Stogie Fresh Cigar Publications. He has served as an educator, researcher and writer and has taught in the Health Education and Health Science field for over 30 years. He possesses an earned doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. Doc is a Certified Master Tobacconist (CMT), having received this certification from the Tobacconist University and is a member and Ambassador of Cigar Rights of America (CRA).blog comments powered by Disqus