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Cigar Culture

Carlos Fuente Jr: Master Cigar Maker

J. Bennett Alexander Alexander's picture

J. Bennett Alexander

At the “God of Fire” charity dinner in 2009, at the Bel Air Hotel in Los Angeles, Andy Garcia, actor and cigar lover, was the honoree. He spoke about his Cuban heritage, his family, his love of cigars and his experiences in getting his movie, The Lost City, finished. That film took Garcia to the Dominican Republic where he enlisted the help of his friend, Carlos “Carlito” Fuente, Jr. Garcia stayed at Fuente’s home and learned more than he wanted about his host’s “hobbies.” It turns out Carlito Fuente loves to iron. As in pressing his guayabera shirts until there is no wrinkle visible. Garcia explained that Fuente was so fanatic about ironing that before the two drove to visit the president of the Dominican Republic to ask for permission to shoot a scene at the presidential palace, Fuente placed the shirt he was going to wear in the back seat so that the seat belt would not crease it.

Garcia shared that, despite his own protests, Fuente even ironed his guest’s shirt for the presidential visit. That’s how much of a stickler Carlito Fuente can be. And we should all be thankful that this obsessiveness carries over to Fuente’s creation of some of the world’s best cigars. The Arturo Fuente brand spans generations and can be found in fine cigar retailers around the globe.

HIS FATHER’S SON

Carlito’s father, Carlos Fuente, Senior – everyone in the business called him “Senior” – passed away in 2016. Father and son were close. Today, everything Carlito does is informed by his relationship with his father.

“Every day I ask myself what my father would say if he was still alive,” Carlito told Cigar Aficionado. “And I know what the answer would be. He’d say, ‘You’re crazy,’ but he’d back me up on everything.”

If Carlito is a showman, and he is, Senior was the focused perfectionist who never sacrificed quality, never sped up the process, and never held back his son’s creativity. That’s what led to the creation, mainly propelled by Carlito, of the Fuente Fuente Opus X, the first Dominican Puro blended from a Shade Grown wrapper and the Fuente family’s finest Dominican binder and filler tobaccos.  

It’s quite clear from spending time with Carlito one on one that everything he does is driven by the desire to pay tribute to his father and to the Fuente family’s history of more than 100 years in the cigar business.

FORCE OF NATURE

Carlito Fuente is a force of nature. He is a master blender, one of the most respected in the cigar industry, and a tireless champion of his family’s legacy as cigar-makers and as philanthropists. At dinners for the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation, which helps needy children in the Dominican Republic through a community that assists 5,000 local families around the Chateau de la Fuente farm with education, health care, and other necessities. The United Nations has recognized the effort as a model of social responsibility.

Carlito Fuente is fully on display at the charity event. He arrives late (a well-known tendency) after the cigar and cocktail hour, just in time for dinner and a long night of schmoozing. There’s an auction of rare Fuente cigars, some unique to the dinner. Carlito Fuente is focused on the cause, reminding those in attendance that in addition to being pieces of art, the cigars up for auction are very smokable.

“But really,” he said at the 2019 dinner held at New York City’s Grand Havana Room, “it’s more about helping others less fortunate than you. I always say, in the end, it’s not about the cigars. It’s about the people.”

Carlito himself has been known to be the highest bidder at the auctions for humidors that bear his father’s signature.

THE PERSONAL TOUCH

If you attend a cigar event like Cigar Aficionado’s “Big Smoke” in Las Vegas, the Arturo Fuente booth always has a long, slow-moving line. If Carlito is there – remember, he’s often late, maybe because he’s ironing his shirt – the line grinds to a halt as fans clamor to get a photo with him, often in a red or a black guayabera and a trademark Panama hat. Carlito is a bona fide cigar star. He signs autographs and gives big hugs to friends.

THE PERSONAL CIGAR

The personal touch can extend to Carlito reaching into his pocket and handing you a cigar, but not just any old Fuente. This is a cigar that Carlito has rolled just for him, and he wants you to try it. You are honored and full of expectations. After you take the first puff, you realize that your palate is not like Carlito’s. You’re not even in the same league. This cigar might have a Fuente Fuente Opus X label on it, but it is not sold to the public and IT IS STRONG. Nuclear even for the first minute or so. Then you start to distinguish the different flavor notes that lurk underneath the power. By the end, you feel doubly proud that you were given the opportunity and that you have survived smoking the entire cigar.

HIS BUSY LIFE

Today, Carlito is the president of A. Fuente & Co. and lives mostly in Santiago, Dominican Republic. He has also worked hard to establish his company’s brands in Europe and Asia, particularly in China.

“I haven’t slept in a year,” Carlito told Cigar Aficionado recently. “Maybe two. I just got back from China. I’ve been spending a lot of time there.”

Carlito has also been overseeing the reinvention of the company’s factory, Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia., in the Dominican Republic. It opened in 1980, when the family relocated operations after the factories in Nicaragua and Honduras burned to the ground. It was a modest presence in the country’s first free-trade zone.

In 2015, the factory footprint began to grow and now it’s comprised of four separate facilities producing more than 30 million cigars each year, all by hand. Some are made under contract for brands like Ashton and Diamond Crown, with only a little more than two percent of the production being Fuente Fuente Opus X.

THE EMOTIONAL CONNECTION TO CIGARS

When Carlito Fuente talks about cigars, especially to a crowd gathered to raise money or just enjoy a night out, he invariably becomes emotional, often unable to hold back tears. He talks about his grandfather and his father and what they meant to him. But Carlito can also become quite romantic about cigars when he shares his feelings.

“I light a cigar very slowly,” Carlito says. “I don’t like the flame to actually touch the wrapper. I think it’s the foreplay. The slower you go, the more the excitement.”

That might be the only time Carlito Fuente ever slows down. Browse our full collection of the renowned Arturo Fuente cigars blended by this force of nature today. 

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