Villiger’s newest premium release is San’Doro. We got the lowdown on the new brand in this interview with René Castañeda, President of Villiger North America.
Where does this cigar’s name come from and what does it mean?
It comes from the Latin indorum sana sancta, which translates to “the holy healing plant of the Indians.” This is the name that Columbus gave to tobacco and what he put in his records in Latin. They called it san’doro for short.
Tell me a bit about the product. What was the impetus for adding this to the portfolio? Does it fill some void or meet a specific need for Villiger?
The main thing is that we want to make sure Villiger is perceived as a premium cigar maker. People worldwide know Villiger as being the premium manufacturer of machine-made cigars. So we’re trying to come with great cigars from great factories in order to get that perception — for people to also see us that way in the premium segment with great blends and great cigars.
The Villiger San’Doro, we think, is a super premium cigar, but we tried to keep it at a nice price point between $8 and $10.
It comes with three different wrappers. We have the San’Doro Claro, San’Doro Colorado, and San’Doro Maduro. The Maduro is the strongest one. It’s medium- to full-bodied and it’s made in Brazil. We do have a premium cigar factory in Brazil, in Bahia, and it’s called Charutos. So of the three cigars, this is the only one that we make in our own factory and it has a mata fina wrapper with mata norte binder and filler. Because of the mata fina, it’s a very sweet, smooth cigar. You get the aroma of dried fruit with a touch of spice. It’s 100 percent Brazilian tobacco. For Mr. Villiger, after Cuban tobacco, Brazilian is the one he likes and enjoys the most.
The other two are the Colorado and the Claro. They’re both made by Oliva Cigars in Nicaragua. The Colorado has an Ecuador Habano colorado wrapper with Nicaraguan binder and filler. It’s more of a medium-bodied cigar — very smooth, but with rich, intense flavors of espresso and dark chocolate. We’re not talking about strength, but heavy flavor.
The Claro is on the mild to medium side. Also made by Oliva, it has an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper and Nicaraguan filler and binder. This one is more of a mellow, easy-going cigar with woody notes and a bit of spice. It’s a cigar you can have in the morning with your coffee.
You mentioned that part of the goal here is to affect the perception so people see Villiger as a producer of premium handmade cigars. It’s not the first time Villiger has been in that space. Tell me about how the thinking is different with this product than it has been with the comany’s other premium releases.
This time, we’re trying to support the credibility of our products by the partners we’re working with. That’s the reason we chose, with this brand, to go with a great cigar maker like Oliva. In a way, we are giving more credibility to our premium cigars by working with the right partners. We want their expertise and knowledge to help us put the best products out there at the best price possible.
What do the production numbers look like? How many of these are being made and how widely available will they be?
The product is already available in Europe. The production we have is about 60,000 cigars on each one of the three variations for this year. For the rest of the year, we’re going to have about 25,000 of those 60,000 cigars for each blend available in the U.S., with the rest being distributed in Europe.
It’s not like we’re going to be everywhere. We’re going to work with the best stores that have been supporting our products. We want people to try our cigars and take small steps to change the perception of Villiger premium cigars.
How do Europeans perceive the Villiger brand?
It’s very strong there. As you know, Villiger is the fifth-largest cigar company in the world. We also have distribution in some countries that get Habanos products. So the doors are open to Villiger cigars in any premium cigar shop in Europe. We don’t have to work on that credibility; the credibility is already there. We’re well established in the two segments of the market: as a machine-made cigar and as a premium cigar maker.
Most of the production of premium cigars that we have today is sold in Europe and our partners now are people like Oliva, Joya de Nicaragua, and now we’re working on new projects with La Aurora.
From the U.S. market, what has been the reaction of people you’ve had try these cigars so far?
Actually, people are very surprised — in a positive way — about the product. The fact that two of the blends are made by great people like Oliva makes our life easier when we need to get people to give the cigars a real chance. They’re not just telling me out of courtesy, “René, you’re a nice guy. This is a good cigar.” It’s because we have a great cigar maker behind the brand and people are impressed that we’re working with this caliber of factory to make great cigars.
It’s hard to miss when you’re working with Oliva.
Absolutely. That has been a key element in order for us to knock on doors and ask people to smoke and appreciate our products.
Will distribution be concentrated in any particular parts of the United States?
We’re focusing mainly in three areas, and then we’ll work step by step to expand to other areas. We’re talking about Florida, the Northeast — meaning New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania — and California. Those are our main three target markets for the brand right now. From there. We’ll go and open the product to more regions later on in the year. But in the next three months, people will see the product mainly in those three areas.
You’re relatively new at Villiger. What’s your focus there now that you have had time to get acclimated?
The main challenge has been how to present a cohesive message about Villiger and the products to the U.S. market. Unfortunately, there was no identity for the products in this market. People might have heard about Villiger. If they had, they might have thought it was just a european company making some machine made cigars. They don’t know the company was established in 1888, that it’s one of the oldest players in the market, that we have distribution of Habanos, that we’re one of the few companies that buys tobacco from Cuba for some of the selections in Europe for machine-made cigars. There is a long history as a cigar maker at Villiger, and that’s the main challenge — making sure people know this is a serious cigar maker committed to the U.S. market.