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One family, one passion

The Vandermarliere family has passed on the passion for the good cigars from generation to generation, as if in relay race. More than 90 years ago Maurits Vandermarliere started a small cigar factory in the attic of his shop. Today, the grandson Frederik Vandermarliere runs one of the few Belgian cigar companies with the same determination and dedication as his grandfather.

To enter the J. Cortès cigar factory is to be transported to another universe. The smell of tobacco permeates every corner and every machine of the large building. Although it has been enlarged and modernised, the building itself retains the character of the original factory. In the same way, the family sense of the company is palpable. During the visit, we were accompanied by Mr Frederik Vandermarliere, CEO of the company, together with various department heads of the company, who have been part of it for decades.

After a tour that allowed us to discover step by step the processes carried out in the Handzame factory to manufacture the cigars, we sat down with Mr. Frederik Vandermarliere, Mr. Henry Masquelin, of the Purchasing department, and Mr. Walburg Vandenbroucke, of the Product Development department, who responded to our brief questions.

a. Tell us a little about the company

The company currently employs around 4,000 people worldwide, distributed among its five factories, sales team and administrative team. Our largest operation is in Sri Lanka, where more than 2,000 people work, the second in Nicaragua, and the third in the Dominican Republic, with more than 200 employees.

Our business model is based on the distribution of products through resellers, we do not have our own stores.


b. How do you establish a commercial relationship with Dominican tobacco/tobacconists? How long have you used it in the production of your products?
Our raw material is purchased in different countries. For more than 50 years we have been buying wrappers and fillers for our cigars in the Dominican Republic through two companies that have operations in Santiago de los Caballeros, although if necessary we also turn to local private companies.

Each year we order the material we need for the following year, according to our sales projections. In this way, tobacco growers can plan the harvest and avoid overstocking.

c. Which of your products use Dominican tobacco?
We use Dominican tobacco in almost all of our products, but we can highlight our J. Cortès Dominican range, where we have a Mini, Panatella and Corona-format. Very nice cigars carrying the name of your beautiful country.

d. What qualities did you identify in Dominican tobacco to add to your premium product portfolio?
Each type of tobacco plant has particular qualities. The Dominican tobacco leaves we buy are selected according to the kind of cigar and the blend we want to create.

The quality of Dominican tobacco has improved considerably in recent years. From offering tobacco of good quality but with a neutral flavour, the Dominican tobacco growers have put a lot of effort into developing a product of superior taste. It now has more variety, more character, more complexity and better combustibility, and this only enhances the quality of the cigars we produce. It is no coincidence that the Dominican Republic is one of the biggest producers of handmade cigars in the world.

e. What do you recommend to cigar lovers in order, as the company’s motto says, to achieve the greatest enjoyment of a good cigar?
The recommendation would be to enjoy a cigar that is well made, and that is produced by people who know the trade and who are passionate about their work. To make a good cigar there are twenty to thirty steps in the process where you have to be very careful not to ruin your cigar. From the moment the tobacco is planted, when the leaves are hung to dry, what day to take them out, the time of fermentation of the leaves, how the cigar is rolled, how to create an appropriate mixture of tobacco… there are so many things that can go wrong.

When you smoke a cigar, you can tell if you gave the whole process the time it needed. Tobacco manufacturing can seem very long, but if you don’t allow things to take their time, you get an inferior quality product.

And, of course, you have to take the time to enjoy it. You can have an excellent cigar, but if you rush to smoke it, if you don’t taste it, you won’t appreciate its quality. To enjoy a good cigar, the person must sit down and relax. That’s why our company has adopted the motto “Don’t just smoke, enjoy!” (#dontsmokebutenjoy)


You can also read other interviews in these links:
CINOCO, representatives of Ron Barceló in Belgium, here.
Vinche & Koopmans, representatives of Arturo Fuente cigars, produced in the Dominican Republic, here.
Karina Marte, the first Latina candidate for the post of councillor in Ghent, here.

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