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Cigar Family Profile: The Oliva Family

J. Bennett Alexander Alexander's picture

J. Bennett Alexander

It’s a familiar story. Castro comes to power in Cuba. Castro nationalizes businesses, including tobacco. Many of the best cigar people leave Cuba. Gilberto Oliva, Sr., was one of those. Way before there was the 2014 top cigar of the year Oliva Melanio V Figurado, the Oliva family was growing tobacco in Nicaragua and elsewhere. Oliva cigars have appeared on Cigar Aficionado’s list of Top 25 Cigars every year since 2007. The Oliva Cigar Family operation was acquired in 2016 by the Belgian company, J. Cortes Cigars, and most of the Oliva family no longer works there.

These are the members of the Gilberto Oliva cigar family. Theirs is a story of displacement, recovery and triumph.

Gilberto F. Oliva, Sr.

Gilberto Oliva was the patriarch who traced his own history with tobacco in Cuba to his grandfather Melanio Oliva, who began in Pinar del Rio in 1886. Melanio’s son, Hipólito Oliva, took over in the 1920s and later by Hipólito’s son, Gilberto, who continued until 1959. After the Castro Revolution, Gilberto became a tobacco broker until he left for Spain in 1964. He later moved to Nicaragua. There, he began growing tobacco in 1969, finding the Nicaraguan soil to his liking.

‘Nothing compares to Cuba like Nicaragua,’ he would say. ‘Northern Nicaragua enjoys all the natural blessings for great Habano.’

The Sandinista Revolution of 1979 sent Gilberto to Honduras, Mexico, Panama and the Philippines to grow tobacco. He returned to Nicaragua in 1995 and began making cigars under the ‘Gilberto Oliva’ brand. The name was later shortened to ‘Oliva.’ Gilberto Sr. passed away in 2017.

José R. Oliva

José, the youngest child of four, was born in Elizabeth, NJ, a result of his father Gilberto Sr’s desire to have a child born in the United States. José was CEO of the company until 2019. He remains involved with the business as an advisor, but now his role as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives consumes too much of his time.

‘My official title at Oliva is President and Chairman of the Board’ José explained. ‘My role is that of a senior advisor to the team I assembled to lead the company.’

José led the company when it developed the ‘Nub’ and the ultra-powerful ‘Cain’ in 2005.

Gilberto Oliva, Jr.

Gilberto Jr. is the oldest of the Oliva children and ran the Nicaraguan tobacco growing efforts, creating different blends.

Carlos Oliva

Carlos used to oversee tobacco production in Nicaragua and Honduras.

Jeannie Oliva

Jeannie ran the company’s office in Miami Lakes, Florida.

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