In boxing, some won’t consider you a true champion until you defend the belt. It’s a belief that winning your first is significantly easier than defending it—something the sports world saw on display again Monday night.

Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A. has defended its belt. The factory more commonly known as TABSA is once again halfwheel’s Factory of the Year, the second consecutive year it has achieved such an honor.

Last year, I summarized the factory’s history:

In 2012, Illusione took a gamble. It moved production of Singularé, its limited edition series that was barely a series at the time, to a relatively new factory in Estelí, Nicaragua called Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A. (TABSA). The cigars were not great, as we noted at the time; not bad, but not up to the standards we expected from Illusione. And that’s because standards were exactly what TABSA needed.

The factory is owned by Eduardo Fernández Pujals, the same man who owns the Casa Fernández brand and the large Nicaraguan tobacco operation, AGANORSA. While TABSA had good tobacco, it had work to do when it came to making premium cigars consistently. Thankfully, it found Dion Giolito of Illusione. Giolito is not an easy client for any factory to have: he’s obsessive, demanding, firm and perhaps most importantly, he likes to be in a factory a lot more than your typical client.

Looking back on it, the Singularés of 2012, probably this site’s least favorite of Illusione’s creations, might have been the most important in the company’s history. It was most certainly the most important for TABSA; it started the process that made TABSA what it is today, a world class factory.

Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A. has never been short on talent from Cuba: Arsenio Ramos, Jacinto Iglesias and Chandio headline the list. (In 2015), it got a noted boost from stateside with Nicholas Melillo, the former tobacco czar at Drew Estate and current head of Foundation Cigar Co., who had his debut line, El Güegüense, produced at TABSA.

Once again, it benefited from strong showings from a variety of brands it produces: Casa Fernández, HVC, Illusione and Warped. TABSA was one of three factories that produced four new cigars that scored 91 points or higher in 2016. When it came time to vote, it managed to win quite easily, appearing as the first or second place factory on three of four ballots.

Honorable Mentions: Cigars Davidoff, Fabrica de Tabacos NicaSueño S.A. and Tabacalera AJ Fernández Cigars de Nicaragua S.A. 

Charlie Minato

I am an editor and co-founder of Media, LLC. I previously co-founded and published TheCigarFeed, one of the two predecessors of halfwheel. I handle the editing of our written content, the majority of the technical aspects of the site and work with the rest of our staff on content management, business development and more. I’ve lived in most corners of the country and now entering my second stint in Dallas, Texas. I enjoy boxing, headphones, the Le Mans 24-hour, wearing sweatshirts year-round and gyros. echte liebe.