Gilberto Oliva Sr., the founder of the Oliva Cigar Co., has passed away at 86.
Like many, Oliva Sr. and his family’s roots in tobacco started in Cuba, in 1886. He fled the country during the Cuban revolution in the mid-20th century and began working as a tobacco broker in Nicaragua, a country he fled in the late 1970s because of its own revolution.
In 1995, he returned to Nicaragua and started his own brand of cigars, Gilberto Oliva before shortening the name to just Oliva. After the cigar boom ended, he focused largely on the growing operation before launching cigars such as Bold and Ovation, noted for their cloth bands.
Oliva’s path as a cigar maker changed dramatically in 2006 when the company launched the Oliva Serie V, a premium cigar that has become a staple of humidors worldwide. Shortly after, it launched the NUb and Cain cigars, a dramatic departure for the company which had largely focused on traditional cigars.
In a little more than two decades, the company grew to one of the largest in the world of cigars with a cigar factory and box factory in Estelí, one of the larger U.S. salesforces and a defined presence in Europe.
Last year, the family sold the cigar operation to J. Cortès.
“This is a very difficult time for the Oliva family. Gilberto Oliva Sr. is the patriarch of our company and his legacy will never end,” said Cory Bappert, vp of sales for Oliva Cigar Co., in a text message to halfwheel. “Please keep the Oliva family in your thoughts and prayers.”
While most consumers know Oliva for its cigarmaking, Gilberto Sr. was a prolific tobacco grower. The family retained its growing operations when it sold to J.Cortès. (There is another company, Oliva Tobacco Co., that is unrelated to Gilberto Sr.’s family.)
In early 2016, he was honored by the Asociación Nicaragüense de Tabacaleros, the Nicaraguan Tobacco Association, with a lifetime achievement award.
Earlier this year, Oliva launched two cigar lines named after Gilberto Sr.
Gilberto Sr. is survived by his wife, five children and 14 grandchildren.