This past Thursday I had the pleasure of attending a CAO Cigars event at my local lounge – Executive Cigars Shop and Lounge in Melbourne, FL. The event was part of the shop’s monthly cigar meeting but featured CAO Master Blender, Ricky Rodriguez.
Normally when I visit shops for events I tend to talk about the event and include photos of the patrons and festivities, but this time I spent a couple of hours talking with and learning about Ricky Rodriguez.
Ricky Rodriguez has been working for the General Cigar Co. since the turn of the century in 2000. He started as territory sales manager for North and Central Florida and after about four years he was offered a lifetime opportunity when Edgar Cullman, the owner of General Cigars, asked him if he would like be a blender for the General Cigar Company. His life changed on the spot as he was thrust into the most intensive learning experience of his career. He was a quick learner and when CAO Cigars was merged in with General Cigar he was given the responsibility to develop new blends for CAO and the rest is history.
For those that don’t know this man you should know he is first and foremost a family man who loves his family and will spend plenty of conversation about it. Of course the conversation and details I had with Ricky about his family are private, but based on the discussion I can attest to his sincerity. It may be a cliché, Family First, but Ricky truly lives his life that way.
Ricky’s love of family is embolden in his cigar world too. He is fiercely loyal and respectful to those around him. Ricky humbles himself when discussing some of his mentors which include:
- Edgar Cullman Sr., the owner of General Cigar
- Edwin Guevara, the General Manager of General’s Honduran factory
- Angel Daniel Núñez, Chief Operating Officer of General Cigar Co.
- Benji Menendez, Master Blender and Creator of Macanudo, Partagas, La Gloria Cubana brands of General Cigars
Each of these men, and many others, have taught Ricky the true craft of cigars and tobacco over the years. It is an education that shines in each blend he has put his fingerprint on.
Ricky gets a little teary eyed when he talks about Benji Menendez, who was like a father to him, took him under his wing, and taught him the art and craft of fermenting and blending first and foremost.
When talking about Edgar Cullman Sr., he explained how this man taught him to respect everyone in the life-cycle of creating cigars. Everybody in the business has something to offer and you can learn from each and everyone.
Edwin Guevara, taught him about different cultures when it comes to working in a factory. Each country factory does things a little different but still create fine cigars. Don’t act like you know everything, there is always more to learn and allow the process to work.
Angel Daniel Núñez taught him everything about the agriculture part of the business. From Daniel he learned about seed, soil, planting, priming, and curing. He has walked the fields and gotten his hands deep in the soil and plants. He learned the aromas and the time it tales to do things right.
Just watch this video we took as Ricky explains in the simplest terms what it takes to make a premium cigar and you will understand he is a man who took every lesson to heart.
As part of the event, CAO was featuring Ricky’s latest blend, the CAO Zócalo, a magnificent limited production 6 x 60 Mexican Andres wrapped cigar that includes a Cameroon binder. If you talk to Ricky he would describe himself like a master chef, that is surrounded with amazing ingredients and his job is to select and blend those ingredients into a delectable dish. After smoking the CAO Zócalo, I have to say this man knows what he is doing, making the sum of the parts greater than the whole.
We will have a review of the CAO Zócalo up in the coming days and you will see what a master he is at his craft.
I would like to thank Ricky for taking the time to chat with me and others at the event, and like he said, there is a never-ending learning in cigar business so educate yourself and learn, it will not only make you a better consumer but also help you enjoy that cigar your smoking.