The following is the reprint of Chapter 7: 1982 - 1995 Carlito's Creative OpusX from The Fuente Story: Passion Behind the Tradition and Legacy (the biography of Carlos Fuente Sr.). This chapter details the history of the world's most sought-after cigar brand, Fuente Fuente OpusX.

   
Carlito's influence on the family business had already shown in the revival of many traditional cigar shapes, and in the determination he shared with Carlos to re-introduce the full-flavored cigars of classic Cuban tradition. Talking about the many additions to the Fuente product line of the past few years, Carlos gives his son ultimate credit. “Mostly,” he says, “it's been done by my son. He's a master blender.” 

Nearly every day in the 1980's, following work, Carlos and Carlito would unwind at La Pista, a cafe with a beautiful shaded patio with a full view of El Monumento, a favorite relaxation spot of local business people. They each savored a cigar and a bottle of El Presidente beer while they talked about the future of the business – including the project of creating a 100% Dominican Republic-grown cigar that would be as great as the classic cigars of old Cuba. 
    
    

Once, back in 1982, when Carlos was away on business for several days, Carlito was fired up by a conversation with Jim Steinbock, the owner of Uhle's Pipe and Tobacco in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“Carlito,” Steinbock said, “I want you to make me some of those really flavorful cigars like the ones you guys used to make in Nicaragua. Can you do that?”

Carlito took up the challenge, heading out to the warehouses to find leaves of potent flavor, then ordering a batch of cigars to be made that would be considerably more full-flavored than anything then on the market. They were so strong, in fact, that a Cuban gentleman who was a factory manager cautioned Carlito, “These are unsmokable!”

The cigars were finished and shipped just before Carlos returned. The manager gave him a sample, and Carlos drew in the flavors. They were so far afield from what he believed customers wanted that he immediately insisted Carlito call the customers and buy back all the cigars. 

Carlito dreaded making the calls. The first customer he called was Jim Steinbock. He had to wait an unusually long time before Steinbock picked up his phone. 

“What can I do for you, Carlito? Sorry I didn't hear the phone earlier. I was outside with my snow shovel. We've got drifts four feet deep on the sidewalk, and my customers couldn't get in the store.”

“Jim, I want you to return all those cigars I just shipped you.”

“I can't,” Steinbock replied. “I've already sold them all! People love them. In this weather, they're like heaters.” 

By today's standards, Carlito's bold blend, Arturo Fuente Chateau Rothschild, would be called a medium-bodied cigar. But in 1982, it was a predictor of things to come. 

Carlito's love for strong yet flavorful cigars came about in his late teens. In those years, fulfilling his father's idea that he would learn all aspects of the business, he spent many summer months in the Dominican Republic, working for Jose Mendez & Company, a family-run business with Cuban heritage. Carlito shocked his co-workers by reaching for the thickest, most powerful leaves, coronas and medio tiempos, which grew highest on the plant and were the most sun-drenched. The cigars he made for his own smoking pleasure reminded him of ones his grandfather made in the old days. 

“I really believe in flavor, balance, and richness,” Carlito says of his blending philosophy. “I want the cigars to be powerful, but with a silent power that is complex, perhaps as many as five, six, or seven different flavors coming together.”

The fantastic tobacco being shade-grown at Chateau de la Fuente had finally made such a cigar possible. Millions of customers, though, were going to need to be convinced. But millions were already paying attention: The Fuente operation produced some 30 million cigars in 1995, a number that shot up to 40 million by 1997. The Fuentes had to prove that an all-Dominican cigar could be as great as a classic, pre-embargo Cuban cigar, and that the market was ready for really bold flavors – if they were blended with complexity, balance and finesse.  

   
   

Furthermore, the elite group of cigar rollers at Tabacalera A. Fuente Compania were ready to put their abilities to work on a project that would be one of the crowning achievements in the entire Fuente legacy, and a trend setter for the entire industry – a dramatically full-flavored, yet well-balanced, complex cigar made in the Cuban tradition and adhering to the highest standards of quality, yet without a trace of Cuban tobacco.  

For the Hemingway Short Story project, a single master cigar maker was assigned to make the revived shape and produced 70 or so cigars per day. Eventually, some of the most promising workers from Operation Blank Slate joined him. Luckily, the need to train more artisans for the revived figurado shapes of the Hemingway line had increased the size of the Fuentes' talent pool.

Since father and son were a team, it was quickly decided that their last name should be represented twice on the new cigar – FUENTE FUENTE. The rest of the name came much later. OPUS, the Latin translation of obra, Spanish for work of art, was chosen to symbolize the cigar's superior quality. The “X” came from “Project X,” the title under which they had begun growing tobacco on Dominican soil from Cuban seed, using Cuban methods.

   
   

As people in the cigar industry learned about this project, many were convinced that it was bound to fail. Carlos recalls being told, “Your son is taking a big risk. You have no need for this.” Both statements held truth. It was an enormous risk of time and capital, a multi-million dollar project, and a risk of the family's reputation as well. The marketplace was already eagerly buying every cigar the Fuentes could make. Why take on such a risk?

These parcels of advice ended up giving Carlos more psychological incentive to back his son's dream.

“My father,” Carlito says, “the more people would tell him that it wouldn't work, the more he told me that we had to do it. The word 'impossible' doesn't exist for him.” 

While development of the blend for Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars went on, plans also went forward for an equally exceptional box label and cigar band to represent the family's multi-generational love affair with tobacco, and the boldness of their new, revolutionary cigar. Elaborately attractive packaging was already a Fuente hallmark, but this design job had to be as spectacular, and just as assertive a statement of quality as the radical all-Dominican cigar itself. Years were spent finalizing the concept.

During the golden era of advertising art, in the early 19th century, skilled lithographic artists blended as many as 12 colors with 12 lithographic stones. They created artistic masterpieces in printing, complete with embossing and additional gold leaf details. This long-lost traditional printing technique was the Fuente standard for perfection.

“The old labels always meant so much to me,” Carlito says. “I always knew that some day, when we could financially afford it, I was going to create one of those beautiful labels. That was always my dream.”

After years of design changes, and many thousands of dollars spent on prototypes, Carlito finally had a new cigar band and box label that were worthy of the company's most regal cigar. The Fuente Fuente OpusX cigar was wrapped with an embossed band and printed with 22-karat gold leaf appliqué.  

The Dominican-grown wrapper leaf possessed a rich red-brown color, remarkable elasticity, with an almost oily texture to the touch. The cigars looked perfect and inviting, especially when they were christened with the elaborate red and gold band. When the first batch had finished aging, Carlos, Carlito, and Cynthia all lit up in unison. They lightly inhaled their first puffs of smoke, tasting the richness of the tobacco blends, describing to each other the rich, deep flavors. Each time they drew, there were different flavor nuances. It was a veritable cornucopia, and the three Fuentes were so happy that tears came to their eyes. 

A writer from Marvin Shanken's magazine, Cigar Aficionado, paid a call at Chateau de la Fuente soon after the prototypes were ready. Overwhelmed at what he saw, and by what he smoked, he wrote “Seeds of Hope,” a detailed story of the incredibly beautiful Chateau de La Fuente and its new offspring, the soon-to-be-released Fuente Fuente OpusX cigar. His article came out in the spring of 1994, prior to the release date, November 1995, and created a sensation.  Furthermore, the winter 1995 edition of Cigar Aficionado gave the Fuente Fuente OpusX Torpedo cigar the highest rating that any new cigar had ever received, 92 points on a scale of 100.

Expectations in the cigar world were already high. Now, with early confirmation from an independent expert, the stage was set. The first shipment of Fuente Fuente OpusX cigar went out on November 18, 1995, the anniversary of the birth of Arturo Fuente.

Just as Carlos' brilliant and timely buying of pre-embargo Cuban tobacco marked his growing mastery of the business, instilling the confidence that helped him bring the company into the Dominican Republic, the Fuente Fuente OpusX project signaled the vital importance of Carlito's creative role in shaping the company's fortunes.

   
   

Carlito happened to be in Manhattan on business during Thanksgiving week of 1995. The city's top tobacco retailers called him to say that customers were lined up around the block. In every store, Fuente Fuente OpusX disappeared from shelves in a single day. Publications raved. Tobacco International magazine recast its “Tobacco Person of the Year” award as “Tobacco People of the Year,” and gave the honor to the Fuente family.

The Fuente Fuente OpusX cigar not only increased the family's fame but also made the team of Carlos and Carlito an even tighter unit. “The more people said it couldn't be done, the more we wanted to do it,” says Carlito. 

Adds Carlos, “The more they said it couldn't be done, the harder we worked.”

The Fuente Fuente OpusX cigar began the industry trend for rich, flavorful cigars. By 1998, production had almost reached one million per year. In 2005, 10 years after its first release, the December 2005 edition of Cigar Aficionado honored the Fuente Fuente OpusX Double Corona as “Cigar of the Year.”

Thanks to this and other successful new products, Tabacalera A. Fuente y Compania now makes more handmade cigars than any other family-owned company, currently some 35 million per year, an amount that rivals the industry's corporate giants. The family business enjoys the luxury of not explaining its decisions to shareholders. The cigar blends are secret, held only in the minds of Carlos and Carlito, and are never written down. The company keeps between six and eight years worth of tobacco in inventory. “It doesn't make business sense,” says Carlito. “But my father has always told me, you must run the cigar business with your heart, not with a pencil and paper.”

This way of life goes all the way back to Arturo Fuente. The walls of Fuente factories today are covered with colorful artwork depicting the old days of Cuban cigar production, and Cuban music is piped into the workrooms. “He always had the music and the people and the guitars – the folklore of Cuba,” Carlito says of his grandfather. “All these stories really stayed inside me, and I always thought that this was the way to love, respect, and pay tribute to my grandfather. I want to recapture the heritage, the feel, all the inspiration my grandfather gave us. All he wanted was to be known as the best cigar maker in the world. When I savor one of our cigars, it's a bridge to my grandfather; it's our heritage, it's part of me."

 
Cigars
   
Don Carlos
Edicion de Aniversario
   
   
FFOX 6 for CFCF
   
FFOX 22 for CFCF