Cigars.com is dedicated to bringing you the most in depth coverage of the cigar industry as possible. That requires more than simply telling you about the newest products or what cigars have high ratings. When you get to know a manufacturer and understand their mindset and process, you garner a much deeper appreciation for the product. This enables you to open up your mind and step outside your cigar comfort zone. That is why every month, we will be featuring a section called Manufacturer Spotlight. These articles are dedicated to bringing you closer to manufacturers and giving you insight into their world. We will start off this section discussing the hottest name in Nicaragua right now: A.J. Fernandez.
A.J. was born in 1979 in the town of San Luis, Cuba. San Luis is located in the Pinar del Rio region which has been known as one of the worlds premium tobacco growing areas. A.J. already have family roots in the cigar industry. His grandfather, Andres Fernandez created the original San Lotano line. Although not extremely well known, it became very popular among the cigar makers of the region. Due to his families connections, A.J. began to learn the cigar business alongside the “Godfather of Cuban Tobacco”, Alejandro Robaina. Robaina is one of the best known figures of Cuban cigars, with his fields producing the tobacco for Cohiba and Hoyo de Monterrey.
At a young age, A.J. moved to Nicaragua to begin his own operation. He purchased a rundown facility in Esteli and began with just 6 rollers. Rather than try to make his own line right away, A.J. decided to make a name for himself by blending for other manufacturers. He was responsible for some of the best blends of the early to mid 2000s. He blended for Rocky Patel, Gurkha, Graycliff and others. He also began producing private label cigars for some of the larger American retailers.
With his name now firmly established, A.J. set off to create his first national brand. He chose to call it San Lotano, after the brand first crafted by his grandfather in Cuba. The brand became an overnight success. The San Lotano comes in a wide range of sizes and wrappers. The unique Oval, a rounded box press if you will, received critical acclaim and was ranked as one of the best cigars of the year by Cigar Aficionado Magazine. San Lotano showed A.J.s talents for blending and his versatility with different strains of tobacco.
Following its success, A.J. opened up a new facility, named Tabacalera AJ Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua. This has become one of the biggest factories in Nicaragua, and their reputation of quality control is unparalleled. He now produces over 9 million cigars a year, and distributes all over the world.
A.J.s next big project was the widely popular New World line. Available in two wrappers, this cigar was crafted in honor of the European explorers who first came to North America. A medium to full smoke, it displayed unrivaled complexity and came in as a remarkable price point. The New World was named to Cigar Aficionados Best Bargain list two years in a row.
A.J. was now one of the biggest names in the business and kept releasing outstanding blends, including the Enclave and the brand new Bellas Artes. However, he also keeps busy by blending for other manufacturers. He is responsible for the Southern Draw line as well as working with Foundation cigars founder Nick Mellilo on the highly rated Tabernacle.
This past year saw A.J. working closely with the two largest cigar manufacturers in the world. He blended a brand new cigar for General, the Hoyo La Amistad. He also worked with cigar giant Altadis USA on crafting a brand new Montecristo, which AJ called a dream come true.
Everyone from the smallest boutique companies to the largest premium factories are attempting to work on a project with A.J. Fernandez. This is a testament to his ingenuity, versatility, and his personality. He is one of the most welcoming guys you will ever meet and even built a special section of his facility, known as the White House, as a hotel to accommodate victors. The industry is changing in many ways, but with people like A.J. leading the charge into the future, I think we are looking at one of the finest eras for cigars.