I view my journey into the tabacco world as a pilgrimage of sorts.
A passionate cigar smoker from the age of 16, I was blessed by growing up in Europe where Cuban cigars were the only hand made cigars available. I have fond memories of going to the Davidoff shop in Geneva and Zino himself would put down his cigarette and come out and help me choose a cigar for my limited budget.
After graduating from college and working a number of years in the Middle East selling helicopters, I decided to start my own cigar business in 1988, the haunting flavors of all the Cuban cigars I smoked in my youth still were vivid in my palate.
I went to Honduras were, through a classmate of mine, I was introduced to Don Jorge Buesos, who had the kindness to take me under his wing and teach me all he knew about tobacco and cigars. I then realized that this was a mystical world, where man constantly struggled to harness the secrets of nature. Being a cigar man is a never-ending learning process, and until this day I find myself listening and learning.
Don Jorge stressed to me the importance of growing tobacco and learning the variances in seed, soils, climate altitude and culture. My first cigar line, Petrus, was born in Santa Rosa de Copan at La Flor de Copan. The Mayan heritage had served me well and my cigars started selling well in Europe and the Middle East.
However, I still could not match the flavors I so wanted to emulate. So, hat in hand, I continued my quest and went to Don Julio Eiroa—another legendary tobacco grower and cigar maker. Eiroa had the benefit of pure Cuban DNA transplanted to Honduras. He eats, breaths, and lives Cuban even though he left Cuba years ago with Castro’s takeover of the Island. Again, I listened, watched and learned. My second brand and namesake Felipe Gregorio was born. Eiroa, like Buesos before him, also stressed the growing process.
When Consolidated Cigars decided to buy La Flor de Copan and Eiroa decided to expand his operations in Danly, I figured it was time to start walking on my own.
I went to Nicaragua and founded a factory in Condega in partnership with one of the largest tobacco growing cooperatives there under the guidance of Omar Ortez. Omar brought to me his years of experience of growing tobacco and together we created the new blends that are found in my cigars. In Nicaragua, we presently grow all our wrapper, binder and filler. Thus we can consistently control all steps of the manufacturing process.
What led me to the Dominican Republic was none other than Frank Sinatra. Mr. Harvey Chaplin, the owner of Southern Wine & Spirits, contacted me and told me that they had chosen me to make Frank Sinatra’s cigar. I was doubly honored. Not only was I to make the cigar, but Sinatra insisted that the box read Sinatra by Felipe Gregorio. Being half-Italian this gesture meant the world to me! They had only one request—that the cigar be made by me in the Dominican Republic. I explained to them that I had no factory there and they simply told me to build one. This I did and Tabacalera Real de Felipe Gregorio was born.
Here again I partnered with a leaf grower Rhadames Perez; Rhadamez has proved to be the best of partners, constantly dedicated to bettering our cigars.
So, as you can see my success lies in the fact that extraordinary men have befriended me. Don Jorge Buesos, Don Julio Eiroa, Frank Sinatra, Don Orlando Padron, who always takes the time to have a coffee with me and share his wisdom, and Nestor Placensia, who has always given me his support. Bob Frantzblau of Thompson & Company, who held out his hand to me when I needed it the most. Lito Gomez of La Flor Domincana who’s friendship is dear to me. And a list of many more.
Like the cigars I make, I am only a part of the many pieces this great industry brings to us.
Por l’amor de humo,
Philip Gregory Wynne