by Jerry Ison

A Fine Eye for a Smoke

When Yaniv Erez was growing up, he never even thought about cigars. When he joined the military service, however, spending five years aboard ships in the Mediterranean, Yaniv developed a love of the camaraderie enjoyed when smoking with friends.

After the military, Yaniv enrolled in university and graduated with a degree in finance. He became involved with several businesses as financial officer, ultimately became a chief financial officer, and his increasing wealth allowed him to enjoy the finest cigars in the world. In 1999 he married, and eventually became the father of three children. Not satisfied with his success as an astute businessman in Israel, Yaniv emigrated to New York and began investing in real estate. His timing was perfect, and the success he enjoyed beginning in 2000 allowed him to retire in 2005 to Miami, Florida at the young age of 34.

Only his retirement didn’t last long. As Yaniv describes it:

"As much as I enjoy a good cigar, and I do indeed love a good smoke. Sitting around and smoking all day was quite boring!"

What to do? Yaniv had a good friend who was the head of security on a cruise liner. Yaniv accepted an invitation to take a Caribbean trip and, while on the cruise, he visited the ship’s smoking lounge frequently. And there he discovered something very interesting.

Although many of the people in the lounge were smoking expensive thirty and forty dollar cigars, few of them were adept at choosing the right cigar, and fewer still were schooled in how to smoke for the greatest enjoyment.

Yaniv’s post-retirement problem was solved as he resolved to not only teach people how to really enjoy smoking a cigar, but to also provide them with a truly premium smoke at an affordable price.

Like so many cigar aficionados, Yaniv knew the Dominican Republic was long renowned as a producer of many of the world's finest tobaccos and cigars. Determined to find the best, he traveled to the island and, through a friend, was introduced to Augusto Reyes. A fifth generation involved in the business, Augusto explained that his family has been growing tobacco for 150 years and making cigars for more than 20 years.. He and Yaniv quickly became good friends and Yaniv soon revealed that he had decided that it was the time and place to begin his newest business venture - Erez Premium Cigars.

Yaniv did not, however, jump into the manufacturing of cigars without a clear idea of how to proceed. He thought about his times spent in cigar lounges and other comfortable places where he and friends enjoyed their smokes. He thought of how some preferred a light or moderately flavored cigar, while others enjoyed one of more fullness. He and Augusto discussed how these differences in flavor usually meant a difference in cigar size, meaning some smokers would finish in twenty minutes while others smoking larger cigars might take nearly an hour. Yaniv proposed the idea that socializing while enjoying a fine cigar would be enhanced if all the smokers were to finish at roughly the same time, and Augusto agreed.

Yaniv knew that being successful in business included the ability to choose a path that would lead to making the business prosper. Even though he loved cigars and wished to create a truly fine smoke, he took his time in formulating his plan, It took almost two months to settle on what kind of cigar he wished to make.

All too many cigar lovers do not realize that up to sixty percent of a cigar's strength comes from the wrapper, and that the wrapper can be a major factor in a cigar's strength. Yaniv realized that a cigar maker could offer a choice of cigars in the world's most popular sizes, but with different wrappers. Using that approach, characteristics ranging from a mild Connecticut wrapper to a robust Habano or sweet Maduro could be appreciated in cigars with the same burn time. This would realize Yaniv’s dream of having friends with different palates enjoy relatively similar smoking times.

He decided on the eight most popular sizes: Perla 5x30, Gorda 6X58, Double Corona 6 ¼ x54, Belicoso 6 ½ x54 , Lonsdale 6x46, Churchill 7 ½ x50, Toro 6x50 and Robusto 5x50. The wrappers chosen were Connecticut-Ecuador, Habano (Criollo 98 hybrid) and Brazilian Bahia. The binders picked were Olor Dominica and Criollo 98, and the fillers were comprised of three great types of tobacco: Cubano San Vicente, Olor Dominicano, and Criollo 98.

As Yaniv and Augusto designed the labels, chose the blends, and set the factory layout and production lines, they also decided on where and how they would market the cigars, at what level, and most importantly, how their products would be made. Naturally, a handmade cigar being the best of the finest cigars, they chose their torcedores carefully.

The company now employs more than one hundred fifty persons, and Erez Premium Cigars is very proud of the fact that most of the tobaccos used to make their cigars are grown in the Dominican Republic by the Reyes family. As quoted on their website:

"Each hand-rolled cigar is approved as supreme quality by our experts after the proper 45-day maturation period in our humidity-controlled aging room, then packed and shipped directly to each customer."

Erez Premium Cigars does not use wholesalers or middlemen, so orders are shipped directly from the factory in the Dominican Republic to its Florida headquarters where they are then sent immediately to customers and stores. The cigars are double-banded, with the top label positioned along the length of the cigar, rather than around the body. This not only has eye appeal due to the uniqueness of the design, but it has practical marketing value as well. Fellow smokers can readily see that an Erez Premium Cigar is being enjoyed. The cigars are packed in cedar boxes horizontally instead of the common vertical arrangement. This is more than just good cigar science: Yaniv's surname, Erez, is Hebrew for cedar.

When President Obama was elected and Democrats took over Congress, Yaniv believed that the trade embargo against Cuba might be changed or perhaps modified in the relatively near future to allow some Cuban exports, including cigars, to be shipped to America. He also believed the Cuban cigar makers would not be able to meet the demand, especially in Europe. To get ahead of the curve, his company initially marketed cigars only on the Continent. In 2011, an emphasis was placed on entering the American market, which proved to be the right thing to do at the right time. Although Yaniv has mostly retired from his previous business, he maintains real estate holdings in New York City and had involvement in various businesses in Europe, so it was not hard to keep his finger on the pulse of social and economic trends.

The cigar business is something Yaniv immersed himself in because of a passion for fine premium cigars. Quality is of such importance to him, he guarantees the quality of every cigar sold by Erez Premium Cigars. He is so dedicated to that end that if someone doesn't like an Erez cigar, it can be returned to the place of purchase for a full refund or replacement. Yaniv says:

"We don't care even if you left it in your car and allowed it to dry out. We'll replace them no matter what, when, or how it happened. We do not want anyone to smoke anything but the best!"

The Erez Premium Cigar company website is www.erezcigars.com. The company approach to Internet publishing and marketing is revealed there to be a bit unique. You can view the many fine cigars and order them directly from the factory, as well as cases, punches, ashtrays, cutters, humidors, even an Erez Premium Cigar T-shirt, but you will also find accessories such as lighters designed specifically for toasting the foot of a cigar. One very cool feature is the "Cigar Tips” section, offering advice on smoking etiquette, how to determine quality by feel, and yes, how to smoke a cigar. As Yaniv realized long ago, there is more to a smoke than just puffing!

Yaniv Erez is a cigar maker, but he is also first and foremost a cigar smoker. His cigar-making venture was approached with the eye of a person who appreciates a fine cigar. This is one of the very practical reasons Erez Premium Cigars has enjoyed a rapid ascendancy in a very competitive and select business. They offer a good product, a keen eye for quality, and a timing for every smoker that usually works out to be just right.