Raúl Valladares Díaz,The 2009 Habano Man of the Year (Production)


Since the age of 15 when he became a roller, Raul Valladares Diaz strived to unravel all the secrets of the Cuban tobacco, those that have won the habano the international recognition as the most unique, matchless and finest product of the world.

His original endeavor to the selection of the most convenient leaves required to whip a cigar into shape –one that meet the highest standards in terms of aroma and elegant looks in the hands of smokers- earned him the right to hold up the trophy of the Habano Man in the Production category in a justified gesture of triumph tinged with tears of emotion.

Valladares Diaz, 74, has dedicated more than 50 restless years of his life to the cigar industry. He has the sturdy looks of a farmer and yet the intelligent gaze of a researcher, an intellectual different from the others, whose learning comes from experience, the theory emerged from the practical work and tobacco leaves in his hands.

Being an interviewee of quick and precise answers, he masterly unveils his career, his overcome challenges and achievements.

Where did you learn the cigar-making trade? “In El Coloso cigar factory, in today’s province of Cienfuegos where I was born and lived until 1957 when I moved to Havana,” he answered.  

And here, did you keep working in the cigar field? Yes, I worked in a few export cigar factories until 1960.

The conversation went on smoothly. In 1964, he was handpicked to take a course on cigar production technology. He was promoted to analyst technician and in 1967 he started to be in charge of quality control and of everything related with wrapper leaves. Ever since then, he never abandoned that specialty. Until now, he has devoted 43 years in a row to the wrapper that dresses and gives the habano the finishing touch; a whole professional skill.

What is the secret to habano’s unique, matchless quality? Look, the habano cigar is the best one of the world, and we are not the ones responsible for that, but our forefathers and the qualities provided by the natural characteristics of the soil and the weather.

The only thing we have done —he stresses— is to enhance the quality principles through a variety of ways. Firstly, we choose the production methods that guarantee the highest quality. Secondly, professors train cigar makers under the same principles for the foreigner to make hand-made cigars; and thirdly, because Cuba doesn’t sell cured tobacco to foreigners, so that they make handmade cigars. The habano’s tobacco is only used to make pure habanos. These actions have made it possible to avoid a drop in quality. The blends have been the same for years, without alterations, maintaining the hallmark of each brand. This is our knowhow.

Aware of the fact that Valladares is the creator of some of the fanciest blends of the world, we asked the expert what his greatest challenges and achievements have been.

The most recent challenge —he said with justified pride— was the development of the blend for the Cohiba Behike and its three vitolas. But earlier —he recalled— I participated in the development of the Trinidad, Cohiba Maduro 5 and its three vitolas, the Cohiba Gran Reserva.

How did you come up with the Cohiba Behike? we asked.

The Behike blend is the result of a teamwork that engaged the Tobacco Institute, Habanos S.A. and the Industry. I was asked to make three formats: one of large size, one of medium size and a small one, and to try to achieve a balance between the aroma and the strength. So, I had the responsibility of putting the desired blend into practice with the addition of a stronger leaf: the medio tiempo. Medio tiempo comes from the two upper leaves of the plant, taken from the top foliage layer, to give greater smoking strength to the cigar. We not always have the two medio tiempo leaves in the same plant, so that’s why the production is limited, exclusive and in turn the most expensive one of Habanos S.A.

An interview with Raul Valladares can last for hours, driven by the pleasure of discovering in each and every one of his answers some new revealing details that contribute to the quality of habano. Wrapping things up, with absolute humbleness in the face of so many questions, he revealed that he is the author of a book that explains and systematizes everything related to the habano wrapper leaf. The book is entitled Instructions for the Storage and Development of Shadowed-grown Black Tobacco, he said. It explains, step by step, what the subject of his work throughout the past 43 years has actually been: the wrapper leaf on its way from the curing process to the factory. It is because of that dedication and his valuable contribution to the habano that he won the beautiful trophy crediting him as the 2009 Habano Man of the Year in the Production category, presented to him during the 12th Habano Festival held in February this year.