A Star is Born

Photos courtesy of Platinum Nova. CEO Leanor Abzaradel and Brand President Aurelio Riego.

A new cigar company burst onto the scene like a supernova at this year’s PCA Annual Convention and Trade Show, which is certainly appropriate for a brand named Platinum Nova Cigars. A first-time exhibitor at the show, Nova capitalized on a prominent location to draw in attendees from all parts of the convention hall, and indeed from all parts of the country.

Clearly the wide-ranging lineup of Platinum Nova cigars and their eye-catching packaging helped attract show-goers to the booth, but what kept them there was the optimism and enthusiasm of CEO Leonor Abzaradel and Brand President Aurelio Riego.

Abzaradel, who goes by the name Leo and the hashtag #cigarblondie, is upbeat and tireless in promoting Nova Cigars. She’s a relentless bundle of energy who speaks in rapid-fire phrases, one sentence piling up  on the next, while extolling the virtues of Nova cigars. 

“We have a lot of aged tobacco, excellent tobacco … our rollers and blenders have a lot of experience … they’ve been doing this for a long time.” 

And she describes her relationship with the owners of the factory as, “like working with family. I feel like they are my family.” That family, who owns the brand and produces the cigars, prefers to remain anonymous, allowing  their cigars (as well as Abzaradel and Riego) to speak for themselves. In fact, their original intention was not to produce a commercial cigar. 

Abzaradel says, “I know the family from Nova Cigars for the last eight years. They’ve been making their cigars for 15 years, but they never put them out into the market so that everybody could try them. They made cigars for their family.” Several years ago, however, at a chance meeting in New York’s Club Macanudo, the cigar maker became acquainted with Abzaradel, who began her cigar industry career in at General Cigar’s posh club. He was impressed by her work ethic and business acumen, and suggested that should the time come to release their cigars to the public, he would contact her. Ten years later, she’s running the company.

But before then, Abzaradel continued to grow within the industry, moving on from Club Macanudo to work at Nat Sherman’s Townhouse, where she met Riego, who was the purchasing agent for the Townhouse club. The two formed a bond, based on their mutual experience in the hospitality industry and their enthusiasm for the cigar business. In 2017, Abzaradel introduced Riego to the makers of Nova cigars, and he began consulting with them. He invited her to join them in 2019 in preparation for introducing the brand at the upcoming PCA show in Las Vegas.

The pair works tirelessly, traveling to retail stores and holding events, while simultaneously manning the office responsibilities, all in service of spreading the Nova “gospel.” Abzaradel is the effervescent face of the brand, mingling with retailers and consumers, answering inquiries about the line and puffing on her ever-present signature cigar, the Leo X. “That is a special cigar, a special edition,” she says. “It’s my personal reserve. We put it in the Premium line because we’re going to continue to produce it.”

Premium Nova Cigar Line of Products

Riego, known as Ari, is the “nuts and bolts” half of the duo. He’ll break down all the various cigars by their components and explain how the tobaccos from different regions impart their own characteristics to the blend. “We use mainly Dominican fillers and binders,” he says. “We also use some Nicaraguan fillers and binders. We blend every shape in the line with different percentages of leaf, there’s a different formula, so every single size has a different flavor profile. Even the Dominican fillers and binders come from different regions in the country, so there’s a different complexity in each blend.” 

While somewhat more restrained in his mode of expression, Riego is nonetheless effusive when discussing the product, the company’s mission, and even the origins of the name Nova. “They were looking for something new. The word nova means ‘new’ in Latin. Nova is also a star; it’s one of the brightest stars in the universe. That was the idea; it’s going to be something new, something bright, something special!”

Abzaradel and Riego handle all of the sales and marketing for Platinum Nova Cigars. The way they approach retailers is more like a tasting than a sales call. “Our work is to visit the retailer, every single retailer that we can,” explains Riego. “We show our faces, explain who we are and what we make. It’s not just about business. We smoke a cigar with them, and we leave samples, but we don’t push or in any way try to sell our cigars. Sometimes we just show up, talk to the retailers and listen to them.”

Abzaradel adds, “We don’t have any reps, we don’t have any brokers. We believe that to put out a new product you have to be able to talk about your product. And I think the best people to talk about our product are Ari and myself, because we worked with it from the beginning. We don’t just want to sell a cigar, we want to put a new experience on the table. 

“Social media helps a lot, but at the same time, we want to be face to face with the retailer-owners, the managers and the customers. We don’t want to be just another new cigar line; we want to have the human touch. We’re not afraid to take a lot of time, because we want to explain what is the difference between our line and all the different lines out there. We’ve explained each and every product thousands of times.”

“We use mainly Dominican fillers and binders,” he says. “We also use some Nicaraguan fillers and binders. We blend every shape in the line with different percentages of leaf, there’s a different formula, so every single size has a different flavor profile. Even the Dominican fillers and binders come from different regions in the country, so there’s a different complexity in each blend.”

While their sales efforts have been focused largely on the East Coast, from Florida to New York, Nova recently participated in the Rocky Mountain Cigar Festival, which took place in Colorado. Having heard about the festival, and the opportunity to tell their story directly to cigar consumers, Abzaradel and Riego traveled the 2,000 miles to talk up Nova Cigars. “The Rocky Mountain Festival worked great for us,” says Riego. “We had the opportunity to give about 1,200 cigars directly to every single consumer at the festival. It gave us the time to explain who we were to everyone who showed up at the table. We listened to them, to find out what they smoke, and directed them to the cigar we had for them, because we have a cigar for every palate.”

Indeed, what sets Nova apart is the product line itself. The brand is comprises 17 cigars presented in three series and two special editions. What is remarkable, and unique to Nova, is that each cigar is its own distinctive blend. There is no repetition of wrapper/binder/filler combinations in any of the cigars. Every cigar has its own unique strength and flavor profile, affording the adventurous smoker a wide range of experiences within one brand.

Nova’s initial launch was a six-shape limited-edition series, a bold move for a new company. Generally a new brand will launch a core line and eventually produce a limited edition once the line has gained traction. But Nova wanted to make a splash right out of the gate, and the lineup is impressive. The Limited Edition shapes vary from the 5 x 43 ring gauge, pig-tailed Corona, draped in an Ecuador 2000 wrapper, to the short and stout  4 1/2 x 56 Perfecto with a rare Nicaraguan Rojiza wrapper. The series is rounded out with a 6 x 50 San Andrés-wrapped Toro; the 6 1/4 x 54 Park Avenue in a Dominican wrapper; the Legacy, a 5 1/2 x 52, box-pressed Robusto and a 5 1/2 x 55 Habano 2000-clad Torpedo. The binders and fillers vary as much as do the wrappers. 

The profiles range from smooth and creamy to bold and spicy. Each shape in the series has its own blend, crafted to complement the proportions of the vitola. Nova Limited Edition cigars are packaged in elegant 12-count boxes or in a luxurious six-cigar sampler. 

The Nova Premium Selection is its core line. It is available in six shapes: the 7 x 43 Congress; 5 1/2 x 50 Classic; 6 x 50 Club Edition; 6 x 60 Mirage; the Sultan; a 6 1/4 x 55 box-pressed torpedo, featuring a San  Andres wrapper; and the Personal Reserve Leo X, a 5 3/4 x 5o Robusto described as “perfectly proportioned and aged Dominican tobacco, rolled with an Ecuador Habano 2000 wrapper.”

Finally, there is the Platinum Batch, a series of three vitolas: Robusto, 5 x 54; Toro, 6 x 54 and a 6 x 54 Torpedo. The savings come in the form of the packaging—bundles of 20 cigars, packed in an attractive, full-color bundle/box. The tobaccos are of the same quality as the boxed series, and each shape is a distinct blend, adding to the variety and complexity of the Platinum Nova offerings.

The brand is augmented by a special edition, 5 x 70  football-shaped cigar, complete with “laces,” dubbed “The Champion,” offered in an 11-count box, and the 88 Series Year of the Rat, a 6 x 50 shape of undisclosed tobaccos, limited to 100 boxes of eight cigars.

Adding to the flavor profiles is Platinum Nova’s striking packaging, conceived by Abzaradel and Riego in collaboration with the manufacturer. It features a distinctive aqua-blue background, with platinum-colored lettering and trim, and an orange world-map background design. It’s a retro look that’s unusual in color scheme, yet traditional in style. The cedar wood boxes are adorned with the colorful graphics, resulting in a presentation that exudes luxury. “It took us a long time, because the cigars we have are great, and we wanted to put them in the best presentation possible,” says Riego.

The ambitious launch was enthusiastically received at this year’s show. As to why so many retailers were drawn to the Nova booth, Abzaradel immediately declares, “We have fun! We enjoy our work, we enjoyed being there. And when you’re having fun, and people see you’re enjoying yourself, everybody wants to be around you. We love what we’re doing!”

With that attitude, and with the quality and variety of their cigars, Nova indeed seems to be a star on the rise.