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100 years of Canarian tobacco tradition – El Aristócrata
100 years of Canarian tobacco tradition – El Aristócrata
I am an absolute and staunch defender of Canarian tobacco. It is not a question of chauvinism or a closed-mindedness towards the homeland, nor of personal affinity for my mother’s Canarian origins, but a question of justice and faith. In Spain we have premium cigars on a par with the greatest, both in terms of the quality of the leagues and the quality of construction. What we don’t measure up to is marketing, commercial intelligence, and the desire to make ourselves known. I always say that if the Italians had our industry and quality of tobacco, they would be in every corner of the world. And the fact is that the Canarian tobacco industry not only manufactures but also produces raw tobacco on La Palma.
And among that tobacco tradition, today’s ‘guest’ stands out, Dos Santos SAU, which will be 100 years old in 2021, still as a family business (with the fourth generation at the helm and the fifth generation preparing for the future), which is something of a miracle in a country like ours, where countless companies have closed or have been sold to international consortiums.
But let’s go back to the beginning, yours truly has a good relationship with the people of Dos Santos, especially Rubén Arteaga, his Master Blend, whom I consider a friend and vice versa. A few months ago, Javier Blanco Urgoiti (a journalist specialising in tobacco, director for 14 years of La Boutique del Fumador, Spain correspondent for Cigar Journal, creator of the website Burkina The Revist…) and yours truly to spend a few days in Las Palmas with all of them, to get to know the factory and how they work on their 100th birthday.
Well, on 9 September we set off for Las Palmas de Gran Canaria on a four-day trip full of tobacco, tradition, family and affection.
As four days is a long time, and a lot of information, let’s summarise it in four main blocks.
HISTORY OF DOS SANTOS
Like all good stories, everything is born of chance, of the goddess of fortune.
In the early 20th century, a young man Joaquin Jesús Dos Santos, a native of Madeira (Portugal) who was on his way to Brazil, was asked by the port authorities of Gran Canaria to help as a translator in the conflict of a Brazilian timber ship consigned to the island. He ended up finding a solution with the sale of the timber he was transporting, but this experience opened his mind to the potential of the island as a business centre, taking advantage of his contacts in Brazil.
D. Joaquín Jesús Dos Santos, will take a turn towards the world of tobacco when, in 1921, he founds the first tobacco factory in the world. tobacco’s Dos Santos SA, ‘La Regenta’, at number 16 Perojo Street in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The reason for getting into tobacco? Well, another ship consigned, but this time of Cuban tobacco in Brazil, deciding to buy the merchandise and bring it to the Canary Islands for the manufacture of cigarettes and cigarette cuts.
It was in the 1940s that the second generation took over the management of the company, D. Joaquín Roberto Dos Santos, who takes a new step in the tobacco world by including handmade and mechanised cigars in the company’s portfolio.
In 1983 D. Joaquín Robertodied, becoming head of the company Don Juan Barreto, husband of one of Don Joaquín’s daughters, and current President of the group.
THE PRESENT, A FAMILY BUSINESS
From 1983 to the present day it has been maintained D. Juan Barreto, During these years, Gara, Dacil and Javier joined him in different management positions, ensuring the viability of the generation.
D. Juan, President of the Asociación Canaria de Industriales Tabaqueros (ACIT), is an institution in the islands, not only for his management of family businesses but also for his high level of involvement in Canarian society. Trained as a veterinary surgeon, he has combined his profession with tobacco and public administration, as a technician in the Canary Islands Government Health Department. Educated, thoughtful and intelligent, Mr. Juan is admired and loved by all.
Nowadays Dos Santos SAU has one of the largest cigarette factories in Spain and Europe, manufacturing both for itself (with brands such as Mecánicos, Desert Gold, Canary Kingdom…) and for Philip Morris, with whom it has a long-term agreement. In addition to cigarettes, it also manufactures cigarillos (Mecánicos), mechanised cigars (Barlovento, Herencia Palmera…), cigarillos (Clever, Lobo…) and handmade cigars, the reason why we are here.
In numbers, Dos Santos SAU today has 115 employees (24 in the factory, dedicated to mechanised and manual cigars), manufactures more than 1 billion cigarettes, 6 million mechanised cigars, 38 million cigarillos and half a million manual cigars and exports to countries such as Germany, the Czech Republic, Chile, China, Hungary, Angola… although its main market is clearly the local market and the ‘self-export’ of tourism.
SHOWCASE AND FUTURE
We are here to talk about premium tobacco, i.e. only handmade cigars, so we will focus on the three big brands that currently manufacture them: La Regenta, Cónsul and Condal.
But before we talk about brands, let’s talk about ‘canarian’ tobacco. Canarian tobacco is tobacco made in the Canary Islands, which does not necessarily have to contain tobacco from the islands themselves (i.e. tobacco from La Palma, in which case these cigars are called Palmeros). It is characterised by the fact that it maintains the Cuban tradition of twisting: tip of the leaf in the mouth, rolled and not corrugated wrapper, 2.5 twist wrapper, knob-shaped elbow… This way of twisting, together with the strong relationship with Cuba that has allowed them to have Cuban tobacco for their ligas, gives it a very ‘Havana’ flavour and evolution.
The hand-rolled cigars of Dos Santos are:
LA REGENTA: The first, the seed of everything and the reason for our journey. 100 years old. Born in 1921, it has suffered comings and goings, being discontinued for 2 years due to the Second World War (the islands were surrounded by the Nazi army, which made the entry of tobacco from Central America impossible). It is a tobacco of medium strength and intensity, a classic and accessible smoke with a certain evolution where sweet woods, dried fruits, floral touches and light bitter and toasted hints mark the cigar.
CONDAL: One of the great Canarian tobacco brands, which sold millions of units all over the world. It was a CITA (Compañía Insular de Tabacos) brand, which after its purchase by Gallagher and then by Japan Tobacco, was totally discontinued and forgotten until Juan Barreto and his team decided to rescue it. They sat down with Japan Tobacco to close a joint venture that has included not only recovering the brand but all the original tobacco that was in storage, bales and bales of Cuban tobacco from 2008. Low to medium strength, floral flavours, wood and hints of fresh almond and nuts mark the smoke.
CÓNSUL: The ‘newest’ brand of the house, it is characterised by targeting new smoker profiles, those who are looking for darker tobacco flavours and greater intensity and strength. Cocoa, espresso, liquorice, citrus tips and light spices are its main characteristics.
Both La Regenta as Condal can be found on the mainland, Cónsul only in the Canary Islands (for now).
And what do they have in store for the future? Well, Dos Santos sis in the midst of re-ideating its distribution and commercialisation in the Spanish mainland and the international market, with news of new agreements to be made public shortly.
This new strategy is accompanied by a redesigned La Regenta, both in league and image, appearing more premium and tailored to the most demanding smokers.
The strength rises to medium/high, the intensity and complexity follows suit. Wood, toasted notes, caramel and molasses sweets, dried fruits (nuts and peanuts), citrus hints, mineral hints…
In addition to the new bands, there is a completely new ring, a change that was totally necessary and that improves in material, design, size… The cigar had to be dressed up as it deserved, giving it a touch of elegance and distinction.
Three new lines will be launched on the market:
La Regenta 1921: Complete redesign, with a new blend that includes in its filler Habano 2008, Matafina Brasil, Piloto from the Dominican Republic, a capote Negro San Andrés (Mexico) and a Habano Ecuador 2016 cape.
La Regenta 100 Century: A very special cigar as it is a blend composed entirely of Habano tobacco (2008) except for a Habano Ecuador wrapper from 2016 and half a leaf of Matafina Brasil in its filler.
La Regenta Rum Barrel: AThe production of this cigar is still in the pre-production phase, but once the tests have been passed, it will soon be ready for production. This is a cigar aged for 12 months in Canarian rum barrels, Capitán Kidd Reserva 30 años, a work of art with the same 1921 blend tobaccos but with the Habano 2008 and the Matafina Brasil aged for 12 months in the rum barrels.
The new strategy and the new cigars clearly show the Barreto family’s intentions: to bet on the future of the company and its cigars, not to rest on their laurels and to recover Canarian tobacco as one of the sector’s references worldwide. They have a lot of work ahead of them, time will tell, but what is clear is that the changes are well underway.
RUBÉN ARTEAGA, MORE THAN A MASTER BLEND
Let’s talk now about Rubén Arteaga, his Master Blend. I could not leave this article without talking about the alma mater of the Dos Santos handmade cigars, I could not fail to mention my dear friend.
Canarion ‘born’ in a chinchal, he slept as a newborn on bales of tobacco while his parents twisted cigars to sell in the port.
Sons of ‘Periquín’ (an institution in Canarian tobacco), third generation of tobacco growers, the youngest of three brothers and born in 78, he has been with the Barreto family for 21 years now, with 20 as its top manager. Rubén is pure passion and kindness, a man from head to toe, and today he is the orchestra man: he develops the binders, checks the bales, ferments the tobacco himself if he considers it necessary, carries out the quality controls, directs the twisters’ galley, twists some of the tobaccos himself…
Rubén is another example of how poorly we sell ourselves in the world and how little we have taken care of tobacco in Spain. Rubén is on a par with the best Master Blenders in the world, and not only because of his great palate and fine nose for developing blends, but also because of his profound knowledge of tobacco and its processes, his passion and his continuous interest in knowing everything. Even so, he is totally unknown to the general public.
From here I would like to take a stand for our tobacco and our tobacco growers, a product and people who have nothing to envy to what we find on the other side of the Atlantic. Give yourselves the opportunity to discover the very high quality of Canarian tobacco and, in particular, Dos Santos. Once you try them, they will become a permanent fixture in your humidor.
Any activity, but in tobacco in particular, must rely on good raw materials, good workmanship, good quality control and, above all, good people. And at Dos Santos we have all these ingredients.
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