Henderson Ventura is co-master blender at Tabacalera William Ventura, a boutique-style factory located in Tamboril, Dominican Republic. He treats cigar blending like a professional sport. In order to become a pro, he has trained every day and has surrounded himself with tobacco every day to help him better understand the plant and how to adapt to all of the curveballs that nature may throw its way. He believes that, like any good thing in life, if you take care, pay attention, nurture, evolve and stay interested, the end result will be worth all the work. When it comes to blending a cigar, he has learned that the blend must be adjusted based on each tobacco crop’s unique characteristics. That’s the only way for a blender to achieve some resemblance of consistency in his or her work. He also works with a boutique mentality in mind when blending, knowing that his cigars must appeal to many different cigar smokers and their palates.
“We keep a pretty simple formula: create such a unique blend with balance, complexity and strength that supports a brand’s vision. It doesn’t just grab the attention of smokers but maintains it so it becomes a memorable cigar,” he explains.
Creativity plays a big part in his blending process, and Ventura’s creativity is inspired by curiosity. Throughout the blending process, he plays what he calls the “what if” game, which often leads to a two-fold blending process. The first part of the process is identifying a single puro and the flavors each tobacco has. Similar to a chef or a wine maker, he then begins to add to the blend to achieve a particular outcome. Sometimes it’s to support an existing flavor; other times it could be to create balance or add layers of complexity to the smoke.
“The beautiful thing about the tobacco is that it sort of steers me in the direction needed,” says Ventura. “The strength can also be controlled by flavor. It really is such an experiential process that I strive to pass along to the smoker with the complexity and flavors I create.”
Ventura finds inspiration in the opinions and ideas of others, which has opened the door for him to work with other brands and partners. One of these partners is Robert Caldwell, who he met in 2012. Ventura latched on to Caldwell’s eye for trends and his entrepreneurial pursuits. When they met, Caldwell was in the midst of creating Hotel Humidor, a business aimed at providing customized cigar recommendations to hotels. Caldwell was advised to visit Tabacalera William Ventura, where he met Henderson. The two found common ground when it came to their ideals and love of cigars, though their different palates led to the eventual Caldwell Cigar blends.
“I met Henderson about eight years ago. He was a lot more shy and quiet than he is now. He was a sponge, soaking up everything he could from everyone around him,” Caldwell recalls. “I originally went to meet with his father in Santiago, and Henderson and I ended up spending a lot of time together. He was curious about everything: my history, my passion for cigars, the U.S. market. He must have asked me a thousand questions in two days.”
“Henderson and I have very different palates,” Caldwell continues. “His father and I have identical ones. What Henderson builds I don’t immediately like. And what his father or I build he doesn’t immediately like. But then we come to love and appreciate the others’ creations.”
As Ventura and Caldwell built their working relationship, Ventura was soon introduced to other cigar brand owners. Ventura and La Barba Cigars’ Tony Bellatto met during the 2014 International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) trade show and convention. Introduced by Caldwell, Bellatto and Henderson became friends and soon collaborators, brought together by their passion for the craft surrounding cigars.
“Henderson and I share a very similar palate,” reveals Bellatto. “He is also very skilled at translating the flavors and experiences I want in a cigar into a workable blend. He is also open to suggestion and is always trying to improve upon previous things he has done. He is always pushing the limits on fermentation techniques and developing key relationships with the farmers and growers of tobacco.”
As the common saying goes, everything happens in threes. Room 101’s Matt Booth was the second introduction Caldwell made. By the time Ventura met Booth, he was well-established in the cigar industry, having built his cigar brand with Camacho in previous years. Ventura saw this as a chance to show Booth what he and Tabacalera William Ventura were capable of. Together, they created Room 101 and Caldwell’s collaborative Hit and Run cigar line. The success of that collaboration opened the door to future collaborations between Booth and Ventura after the Room 101 brand left Camacho.
“I am a huge fan of the blending style that is intrinsically the house of William Ventura,” says Booth. “It is suave, sophisticated and offers depth in personality through transition. Working with William and Henderson has challenged me, and ultimately the match has produced some of our finest blends to date. I believe that we challenge each other when appropriate for the process. We are all vested in the correct end result for every project, and in the realm of creative partnership I think those that push each other to venture outside their own comfort zones can produce amazing results. This is, through my lens, the nature of our relationship and why we are able to produce what we do together.”
While he continues to work with Caldwell and other brand owners, Ventura has taken what he’s learned from his collaborative work and applied it to his own brand: ADVentura Cigars. In 2015, Ventura met Marcel Knobel, a cigar retailer and a cigar lounge owner from Switzerland. Knobel visited Ventura’s factory with the dream of creating a cigar for his store. Ventura gave him several blends to try, and they settled on one, calling it ADVentura The Explorer. Knobel didn’t want just one line—he was already coming up with concepts for multiple cigar lines, each with its own story that expanded on the ADVentura brand concept.
“I was really excited about this concept,” Ventura shares. “Funny that I also had this brand name saved in my notebook for a future project of mine. Working together with him was just like being in a flow, so it was clear for me to partner up with him.”
ADVentura is centered around exploration. It’s all about 1492, navigation and the explorations of Christopher Columbus. Knobel came up with the logo while Ventura focused on the blend. Each line within the ADVentura brand is blended from scratch, and each has a different flavor profile that seamlessly transitions as the cigar is smoked. Multiple tobaccos are layered to develop different levels of strength, offering the cigar smoker a delicately balanced but complex smoke. Each blend for ADVentura has taken up to a year to fully develop because of the new tobaccos used and experimented with. Ventura and Knobel’s goal for each blend has been to achieve an “al dente” point—meaning the layers of different tobaccos complement each other rather than compete with one another to help achieve balance and complexity.
“With ADVentura I have the freedom of using new tobaccos and new processes that we [have] never used and done before in the factory,” says Ventura. “We take our time to release a new line or start very early when we want to drop something new.”
To create an experience for the smoker, each of the three lines are packaged in a cigar box with a unique theme that helps each line stand out within a retail store. For ADVentura The Explorer, Ventura and Knobel designed a treasure box. For ADVentura The Navigator, they wanted to create a box with a scene that includes a compass. ADVentura The Conqueror features a pirate ship. Every line has an insert within the cigar box with one chapter from a story about ADVentura and McKay, two fictional explorers finding their way in the New World while discovering new tobaccos to take back with them to the Old World. All of the chapters from the different lines fit together to tell one complete story and bring the ADVentura cigar brand together in a fun, unique way for consumers. ADVentura Cigars were introduced in Europe in 2017 and can be found in Switzerland, Germany, Macedonia, Serbia, Italy and the Dominican Republic. The brand had its official launch in the U.S. during IPCPR 2019 in Las Vegas.
This story first appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.
– Story by Antoine Reid, senior editor and digital content director for Tobacco Business Magazine. You can follow him on Instagram @editor.reid.