After a two hour drive from the airport to Esteli, Nicaragua, we rolled down a bumpy road and noticed Don Pepin Garcia’s home with a My Father gate, Ishmael Fernandez’s next door, and a quaint compound affectionately termed the ‘White House.’ This is where we would be staying for the next several days, and the pictures here just don’t do it justice. The attention to detail here was incredible, down to a custom made plaque with the wi-fi password. I’ve got to up my game when it comes to these kinds of things! I’m going to deviate from trying to get the layout to work with me for this post and just line the pictures up straight down the middle. It’s that good.
Here’s a picture of the White House. Inside this circle is usually parked a Land Cruiser or jacked up Hilux. I was running laps around the compound the first evening when I had my first run-in with AJ. We exchanged brief words as I sped by and made him eat my dust. Well, you know.
Our rooms here were nicer than our hotels in Houston.
This was our view immediately exiting the rooms. Just incredible. Directly beyond the pool is the smoke room, yet the inside of the larger building was also a massive cigar lounge. Whereas the building to the left with the AF initials on it was more outdoorsy, the other was all leather recliners and big screen TV’s. It’s also where we would have breakfast each morning with our incredible staff and bump into AJ a couple more times.
This picture pretty much sums up what happened every morning, afternoon, and evening. Drinks were poured by a talented Manuel, and cigars were rolled out for some leisure time. Flor de Caña, Toña beer, and soft drinks were on tap the entire time. Lots and lots of Toña was consumed to please the cigar gods – cheaper than water in Nicaragua. Much more on that in another piece titled, Nicaragua Trip Part IV: Random Thoughts.
And then, as I eluded to earlier, AJ Fernandez walks into the room. I missed that part as I was stretching after a run, but I was informed and hurried back to grab a cigar and kick back with the man himself.
We talked about so much that it’s a shame a video camera wasn’t rolling the entire time. We even sampled the Bellas Artes that’s coming out later this year. Everyone in the room except me loved it. Had a little too much oomph for my tastes, but if you like to be reminded that you’re smoking a powerhouse – this cigar should be right up your alley! The Last Call is another that hasn’t been released yet, and it was like AJ wrote an Opus directly for me. All finesse and cuddles whereas the Bellas Artes was like a Face Punch. (Full disclosure: everyone else was raving about it. Most likely I’m just a wuss.)
AJ came in fairly late, and he stayed later than I would’ve expected. It must’ve been pushing midnight before we put out our cigars and headed to our rooms. The electricity even went out and we talked by flashlight and iPhones for a very long time. What struck me most was this man’s passion for cigars. Not marketing, not flashy hype, just cigars. He loves what he does.
And then… it’s more than that. I’m sure most folks in the industry love what they do. But AJ has an approachability to him that’s uncanny. I felt like we went to high school together even though his English is worse than my Spanish. When you couple passion with genuine kindness and willingness to share your experience, you come out a winner in the cigar biz.
For instance: his home is being built just a couple blocks from the factory. While we were there he stayed in the top floor and could reach the factory in seconds. He runs a tight ship. And the first thing I noticed when we entered the factory area as the Day Care on site. Just awesome.
So on the one hand you have a man with meticulous attention to detail, firm command of his product from seed to shelf, and an incredibly strong will. And on the other you have the most approachable VIP I’ve encountered with philanthropic sense of pride in his workers and their families. I hear there’s a great medical facility on site for employees. In fact, while we were there a factory worker was staying in the house with AJ because he had chicken pox. Unheard of for any employer I’ve had the pleasure of receiving a W2 from.
Here’s a few questions that I was curious about
When you are sampling cigar blends, are you tapping the ash often or keeping it as long as possible?
AJ keeps the ash until it falls in his lap. Whether he’s sampling new blends or smoking for enjoyment, it’s always with long ash. We saw him several times in his favorite recliner smoking vertically.
We see the trend of more and more limited edition releases lately. What’s in store for us with AJ Fernandez?
AJ plans on releasing a limited edition eventually that will only be available as the crops are available, probably several years apart.
How do you see yourself? Are you part of the establishment, or part of the Boutique movement?
AJ sees himself as both part of the establishment and part of something new. He’s not resting on his laurels and assuming it will carry him into the future, he’s constantly blending and creating to find the next best thing.
And then there’s this! Possibly the coolest part of the night was walking by to grab a Toña and seeing AJ download the Cigar Noise app! @governorscigars brought us all the way to Estelí and to the pocket of AJ himself.
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