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“Vamma del Sol”: High Quality Organic Cigars Made in Pella, Greece
by Kelly Fanarioti
If you think that you can find excellent quality tobacco products only in Cuba, you are mistaken. And that’s because for some years now a family enterprise situated in Kria Vrisi,Pella County (Northern Greece) has been producing the handmade premium Vamma del Sol cigars that have reached as far as Australia!
The innovation of the family enterprise lies in that it uses unique material, and has the special climate conditions of Greece, in combination with the multidimensional experience in production, says Aristidis Konstantinidis, who with his family create a high-quality product.
When he finished his postgraduate studies in Scotland, Konstantinidis, a third- generation tobacco producer, decided to return to his birthplace and dedicate himself to what he had learned to do since he was a child.
“I grew up in tobacco fields, and during my studies I envisioned returning to my hometown and giving premium value to the product that my family has been producing for decades—and which allowed me the privilege of having very good studies abroad,” he tells NEO.
He first sent tobacco leaves from the varieties he grows to a laboratory in Manhattan that worked with Cubans. There, he says, the first cigars were made from his own tobacco leaves, and the Cubans realized that a different, easy to produce cigar, with a distinct character, was made.
He then traveled to Havana’s cigar factories to see the process and, as he admits, it was the most educational trip of his life.
“I got some tobacco leaves and traveled over there to see how the twisting and wrapping is done. But I also wanted to do a little bit of ‘industrial espionage’. I had the experience of tobacco leaf production as a farmer and could easily understand many things. I observed the ways of production and processing. But I never learned about the aging of tobacco, at what temperatures it takes place. No one talks about it. When I went there, I smoked a certain cigar format that I really liked a lot. I enjoyed it very much! But when I returned to Greece, the same cigars felt rather strong and heavy.”
That’s when he decided to make his own cigars without copying anything from the Cubans. As he says, excellent work is done in Cuba, and there is a centuries-old tradition, but the products made there are pleasantly consumed only in countries with similar climatic conditions.
“Europe has other, milder conditions. So, I adapted my cigar to the European consumer who wants flavors and aromas without much intensity. It may seem strange to you, but our product does not stink, because we process it only with water, and we use biological processes only,” he notes.
As he explains, his primary goal was to make a product that he would consume himself and then give it to others. Thus, he made products organic, without added chemical agents and free from flavor additives. “Because I am also a farmer of other products, my basic principle is that I produce something that I will happily consume and then promote it to the market. Quality is of paramount importance.”
Konstandinidis family enterprise produces Corona, Panatella and Robusto cigars, which are available at various tobacconists throughout Greece. What deeply moves him is the fact that the very tobacconists who have his product on the shelves of their stores, have become Vamma del Sol cigar aficionados. So far, his products have traveled to Germany, France, Italy, China and Australia.
The Greek-American friend
During all these years, a man from Krya Vrιsi, who lives in New York, stood whole-heartedly by his side. As Constantinidis stated with excitement, Giorgos Kemedezidis is a man who helped him without expecting anything in return.
“I have not received so much support even from a relative. Sometimes I think that Greeks abroad are more Greek after all,” he continues.
The family business of Konstantinidis produces about 20,000 cigars a year. His aim, as he says, is not to turn a small enterprise into a large business, but to have satisfied customers who return to him again and again. As he claims, the ‘one man show’ is very difficult.
“There is a chance that any of the Vamma del Sol cigars you will smoke will be entirely produced by my own hand. I participate in everything. I never call myself an entrepreneur. I am a farmer–agro-processor. That’s what I do. This is healthy business.”
For Aristidis Konstantinidis, the country-side production model should combine excellent product quality, small, manageable capacity, and appeal to the international elite of consumers.
“Not because they will be expensive, but because the quantities will be small, and the customers will appreciate the quality,” he says.
For ten years, he has kept the same prices, with the cheapest cigar costing 3 euros a piece, and the most expensive 6.70. Despite the fact that in the last two years the prices of cigars at the international level have increased a lot, he insists on keeping them at the same level.
“Quality and prices at stable levels. This is how trust relationships are built with our customers. We are respected and widely recognized and that is the most important thing. And it is for this reason that our small enterprise is open to visitors. Those who are interested can visit us and discover for themselves the whole process of making cigars and learn about the conditions, the environment, and secrets of cigar-making. Visitors will try for free our cigars and explore which style of tobacco they prefer and why.”
At the end of our discussion, Aristidis Konstantinidis expressed his wish that more similar family businesses are established in Pella, which has a favorable microclimate.
“Take for example nearby Naoussa, where the Xinomavro wine variety is produced. Every December, all the producers who are about 18, gather in one place and sample their wines for us. Imagine my village having 10, 20 factories making cigars and other tobacco products. I would like the place to come to life so we could get our products all over the world. I can’t do this alone. But all together in cooperation we can do it.”
WARNING: Cigar smoking can cause cancers of the mouth and throat, even if you do not inhale. Cigar smoking can cause lung cancer and heart disease. Cigars are not a safe alternative to cigarettes.