Coming of Age: Talking Blending With Royal Agio Cigars’ Francisco Batista

    Royal Agio Cigars’ Francisco Batista discusses the art of blending premium cigars.

    Francisco Batista, Royal Agio Cigars Master Blender

    At 42 years of age, Francisco Batista, the premium cigar master blender and general manager of Royal Agio’s factory in San Pedro de Macoris, has been with Royal Agio for 10 years, and while he has been with the company for a decade, he took a circuitous path to coming to work in the premium cigar industry. Educated as an industrial engineer, Batista first worked in the automotive industry for Sensata Technologies, a division of Texas Instruments.

    “I have always had a passion for making things,” Batista says. “Since I started working, I have always been involved in improving factories and processes, trying to build consistency in production.”

    In 2009, when the automotive industry was experiencing a serious decline, Batista’s company initiated a series of layoffs that drastically reduced its workforce. While Batista kept his job, he sensed that it was time to seek new opportunities. Batista sent out his resume to various job placement companies and headhunters, and he was very quickly contacted by PricewaterhouseCoopers about a potential job with one of their clients; however, they would not tell him any more about the possible position except that it was with a cigar factory owned by a Dutch firm that happened to be the world’s fourth-largest cigar company. A passionate cigar smoker at the time, Batista was intrigued by the idea of working in a cigar factory, and he quickly accepted the offer to be interviewed. Shortly into the interview, it became clear to both the parties that Batista possessed the right skills for the position of operations manager at the San Pedro de Macoris factory in the Dominican Republic.

    “I was very interested to work in something that I liked,” Batista remembers. “During the interview, we didn’t talk at all about tobacco but [instead] about improving processes. They knew tobacco, and they wanted a fresh voice who could learn the factory work and improve the operation. They hired me for efficiencies in the process and improving consistency. If you don’t control all the factors, you won’t have a consistent product. If you keep your processes under controlled conditions, then your quality will get very consistent.”

    Francisco Baptista, Royal Agio CigarsThe Birth of a Tobacco Man
    Batista quickly settled into his position as operations manager and established new protocols that improved the factory’s machine-made cigar production processes. There was also a small handmade premium cigar section inside the factory that the company was beginning to expand due to Wintermans’ desire to increase Royal Agio’s premium cigar portfolio. A hands-on manager, Batista walked the factory floor daily, got to know each of his 120 or so employees by name, and quickly became an expert on all of the production processes and their machinery. While he knew the employees and their jobs, he didn’t think he could properly perform his own duties without unlocking the secrets of the tobaccos that the company used to make all of its cigars.

    After a year at Royal Agio, Batista received a promotion to general manager, and while his main duties were to oversee the factory’s overall production and continue to adopt best practices to improve efficiency and consistency, Batista also became part of Royal Agio’s blending team.

    “When I started, all the blends came from Europe. We made them and then shipped them back to Europe for sampling,” Batista explains. “It was a very slow process, and it was away from the heart of the factory. Boris understood that it was better to have blending done in the factory. It became my passion, and I started working together with the blending team. In a year, I got more responsibilities, and they appointed me as master blender. Blending is primarily sparked by Royal Agio’s own curiosity. We prefer a process of curiosity—start with an idea and see where it takes us.”

    Balmoral Anejo 18 and Balmoral Anejo XO Classic were exclusively the brainchildren of Wintermans. After their release, the subsequent Royal Agio cigars have all been created at the San Pedro de Macoris factory. Batista says that ideas of new cigars come from Europe, the Dominican Republic and from the Royal Agio USA team in Bradenton, Florida. As master blender, Batista is constantly smoking tobaccos and learning their unique characteristics. He uses the knowledge gained from those varietal puros to assemble blends that might work for the particular projects the company wants. Narrowing down the possibilities to approximately 10 different blends, Batista sends samples to the U.S. and the Netherlands for feedback and to narrow down the selection even further. Eventually, everyone agrees on the best blend, Wintermans gives his final approval to move forward with production, and Royal Agio creates a new cigar line.

    Royal Agio Cigars Balmoral Anejo XO Oscuro