Industry legend Alejandro Robaina. Every industry has legends. Some unsung heroes, some famous names. A few names that will remain in everybody’s memories forever, most will fade away over time. Some that have left us, some still alive. These legends all played their part to make the cigar industry what it is today. And they deserve to be remembered, to be recognized for their achievements. That’s why Ministry of Cigars is creating a series of articles about those legendary figures in the cigar industry.
And if there is a legend who’s not forgotten, its Alejandro Robaina. Sometimes called The Godfather of Cuban Tobacco. Pictures and paintings of him are decorating walls of cigar lounges worldwide. Cigars with the Robaina name are praised by all Habano lovers. He is the only person who, the Cuban government honored by naming a cigar brand after him. That’s the Vegas Robaina line. The man is a legend, and even after his death at age 91 in 2010, he continues to be an ambassador for Cuban tobacco and Cuban cigars. His family, mainly his grandson Hirochi, are watching and protecting the legacy of the Robaina name and heritage.
The early years
Young Alejandro smoked his first cigar in 1929 at age 10. That’s also when he started working on the farm of his family. The Robaina family is growing tobacco in the Vuelta Abajo district of Pinar del Rio since 1845. And still is today. When acclaimed tobacco grower Maruto Robaina, Alejandro’s father, passed away in 1950, Alejandro took over. He handled all the operations on the family farm. In 1959, after the revolution, many farms were absorbed into cooperative organizations, state-run farms. Robaina ensured that the family farm remained independent.
In a conversation with Fidel Castro, Alejandro Robaina that the best way to grow tobacco is with family-owned businesses. Robaina didn’t believe that state-owned cooperatives or state farms could perform as good as a family owned businesses. That the yield and the quality of tobacco from his farm, and from other independent growers, would always outperform state farms and cooperatives. Robaina’s vision is true until today. Family owned and run farms produce a higher yield and better quality tobacco than cooperatives and state-run farms. Something that nobody can deny. In one particularly bad year in the early 2000s, Robaina had a 36% yield for wrappers. The second best independent grower came in at 16 percent. The state-run farms reached an average of below 1% that year.
Since the start of the Robaina legacy, the family always plants around 16 hectares (40 acres) of tobacco. In an interview with Cigar Aficionado says that there is three times more soil available than the Cuban tobacco growers are using. He could have grown more tobacco but never wanted. Robaina also disliked new tobacco varieties with a higher yield. According to The Godfather of Cuban tobacco, higher yield cannibalizes on the flavor of the tobacco.
It’s that small farm that is a tourist attraction. For years, Robaina was a traveling ambassador for the Cuban cigar industry. When his climbing age started to prohibit extensive traveling, thousands of people from over the world started visiting the Robaina farm to meet Alejandro. The man is a legend in the cigar community. A legend while he was alive, and a legend ten years after his death. If you visit the Robaina farm, you’ll see a statue of the man in his classic pose.
Since 1997, Habanos pays tribute to the legend. Habanos sells a series of cigars under the Vegas Robaina name. The line gets the name from Alejandro Robaina. Six different vitolas, but since 2012 the line saw two sizes chopped. And in 2017, Habanos discontinued the masterpiece of the series, Don Alejandro. The 7⅝x49 Double Corona is still the Opus Magnum of the Vegas Robaina marca, even though it is no longer produced.
Hirochi, the grandson of industry legend Alejandro Robaina, is handling the family’s day-to-day operations. With the extensive training from his grandfather, he’s maintaining the legacy of Don Alejandro Robaina, the Robaina family, and the Robaina farm. Someday Hirochi might be considered an industry legend as well.