Oliva: A Brief History
In the year 1886, Melanio Oliva planted his first tobacco seeds within the lush province of Pinar del Rio in Cuba.
It is here that the family’s initial ‘tobacco patriarch’ first cultivated tobacco.
A farm house in the region of Pinar del Rio, 1899
Melanio farmed tobacco until he took up arms in Cuba’s War of Independence against Spain.
After the war, and thirteen years later, he resumed tobacco growing operations up until his son Hippolito would occupy the position at the helm. Hippolito carried on as a tobacco farmer for several decades until his son, Gilberto ultimately took over.
Eventually, Gilberto made the shift to become a tobacco broker.
Around the time of Castro’s Cuban Revolution, the Oliva family had already been perfecting their craft with tobacco for around 75 years in Cuba. As the new political climate was not conducive to the advancement of their business, it became time to find a new home for the family run operation.
Fidel Castro visits Pinar del Rio in 1960
In 1964, Gilberto fled Cuba and would soon visit many different parts of the world in search of a new location to work with tobacco.
He first set out for Spain, and then travelled to other nations, which included Honduras, Panama, Mexico and even the Philippines.
He eventually settled in Central America in the country of Nicaragua. Here, the rich and dense volcanic soil was deemed as ideal for growing tobacco of utmost quality, and effectively recreating that ‘Cuban taste’.
For Gilberto Oliva, much of the late 1960s and early 1970s were spent working with tobacco in Nicaragua.
In 1979, while Nicaragua was fast becoming divided from an uprising by the Sandinista rebels, Gilberto and his wife made the decision to relocate to New Jersey, USA to continue raise their family (eventually, they would have 5 children in total).
In 1980, the Nicaraguan tobacco industry became completely nationalized under the Sandinistas, a situation that was very similar to what had previously transpired in Cuba.
This resulted in a US-imposed embargo with Nicaragua, which greatly impacted the tobacco industry.
Throughout the 1980s, civil war and constant political turmoil greatly hampered the Nicaraguan tobacco industry. Wages dropped off as subpar quality cigars piled up.
Such conditions persisted in Nicaragua until the embargo was eventually lifted by the US and a new government finally replaced the Sandinistas in 1990s.
Eventually, Gilberto returned to Nicaragua in the 1990s.
In 1995, Gilberto Oliva and his son Gilberto Jr. founded Gilberto Oliva Cigar Co., and later shortened the name to simply ‘Oliva Cigar Co.’. They originally began making cigars within Nestor Plasencia’s factory in Nicaragua. In less than a year, their sales enabled them to open their own facility.
Gilberto F. Oliva Sr.
Following their time-honored methods of curing, blending, and rolling, Oliva utilized a small team of rollers to develop a distinguished taste profile that ultimately fell into serious favor with cigar smokers. This became truly evident with the introduction of the Oliva Serie V in 2006 – the company’s first full-bodied release, and their first cigar of great acclaim.
Though success had not come immediately, Oliva would eventually go on to garner great critical acclaim, and receive many of top ratings from industry experts and consumers alike, culminating with Cigar Aficionado Magazine awarding the Oliva Serie V Melanio Figurado Cigar of the Year in 2014.
This cigar was created to honor Melanio Oliva – the man who started it all.
Oliva cigars have made Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 list an astonishing nine years in a row.
Today, they have expanded the original factory (Tabolisa I), opened a second factory (Tabolisa II), and manufacture nearly 40 million cigars per year.
Honorary ribbon cutting to open Tabolisa II, Oliva Cigars’ newest factory in Esteli
Though the brand and its infrastructure have expanded under its new J. Cortès ownership, it remains loyal to the methodology and the people that built a cigar legacy.