Jopito Kelner’s Legacy & Appreciating The Past To Shape The Future

The final week of September ended up being many different things to many different people. What was chaotic for some would for others be a time of great hope, of acknowledging the power of collaboration, and ultimately of celebration. Somewhere between the news of the fire in Santiago and the storms in Cuba, and then Florida, a small window of time existed wherein some of the most prominent figures in all of tobacco gathered in one place for one collective purpose. What could bring all of these legends of Dominican leaf together? Honoring the life and legacy of Jo “Jopito” Kelner!

Jopito is recognized by many as one of the driving forces in Zino Davidoff’s decision to leave Cuba for the Dominican Republic. It is said that Jopito was able to influence many large companies to make the move. According to his brother – Hendrick “Henke” Kelner Sr. – Jopito already controlled half of the Dominican Republic’s entire crop by the time Henke opened Tabacos Dominicanos in the 1980’s. Henke credits his early success with Tabadom, and the relationship with Davidoff that would come about and flourish as a result, to his brother’s unwavering support.

The more one finds out about Jo, the more one realizes that this kind of story is pretty standard. Whether it be through time, resources, relationships, or a combination thereof, Jopito loved to help in any way he was able to. Everyone who speaks of him makes it a point to share that he loved making people happy. The smiles on people’s faces as they talk about him, even over a full decade later, tell a a full and vibrant story entirely on their own.

Johannes Kelner, Jopito’s son, echos this sentiment when sharing that “for me he was an extraordinary man, he had a lot of talents and loved to make people happy.” By all accounts, Jopito was a lover of life and all it held. Dancing, cooking, cigars – not only did he experience true joy from all of it, but the joy of each activity informed and enhanced his appreciation for all the others. 

With that happiness and joy at the heart of the evening, those present at Finca Jopito were among the first have an opportunity to experience a cigar project created in Jopito’s honor. Johannes explains that, “my father and his brothers grew some of the finest tobaccos in the world for European and American markets. In honor of Jopito Kelner, I am releasing JOPITO. This is the cigar they smoked every day. Sourced from the same exact tracts of land and the exact farms, grown by the same families.”

Henke Sr. smiles wide as he describes his favorite part of smoking this cigar. It’s wholesome and heartbreaking at the same time, in the most beautiful way – Henke sees each one of these cigars an opportunity to communicate with Jopito through the smoke, to acknowledge his presence and the memories they made together. Hearing this resonates on an even deeper level with Johannes, since this project is also a way for him to be able to connect with his father and become even closer to the craft he dedicated his life to. 

From L to R: Henke Kelner Jr. at 19, Henke Sr., Zino Davidoff, Dr. Ernst Schneider, and Jopito Kelner.

To authentically re-create a family recipe not experienced since Jopito’s passing, these cigars have been made entirely of tobacco from generational farmers in the Dominican Republic and Cameroon. A special collaboration between the Kelner family and Privada Cigar Club, JOPITO is a Corona wrapped in Meerapfel African Cameroon – the most expensive wrapper leaf in the industry. Within, binder and filler of Dominican grown tobacco from the Kelner Family’s own farms.

While the special packaging and final blend of Johannes’ Jopito are only available to the Kelner’s friends and family at this point, you do have a limited opportunity to try an iteration of this storied cigar – including the Meerapfel family’s renowned Cameroon. Released last year, the Jopito / De La Cruz offering from The Privada Experience is almost completely gone. Only 500 were made under the supervision of the man Jopito and Eladio helped teach, and just over 100 remain at the time of this being published. You can find them here while they last.

The breakdown for this blend is documented as follows – Wrapper: African Cameroon / Binder: Indonesia Sumatra / Filler: 50% Piloto Cubano, 25% Olor Dominicano, 25% Seco San Vicente.

If you’re into all of this so far, there is one more cigar that is still available for you to try that shares a lineage with the final Jopito blend. The Jopito Gallo / Hendrik Kelner cigar, also released as part of The Privada Experience, was actually the first cigar that Johannes asked his cousin Henke Kelner Jr. to make. Henke Jr. is Jopito’s nephew and jumped at the opportunity to express his uncle’s essence through tobacco. Kelner Boutique Factory (KBF) makes some of the most sought after cigars being made right now, don’t expect these to be around long. You can watch a video Privada made where Henke Sr, Henke Jr, and Johannes discuss Jopito and the cigars. .800 cigars were made, less than half remain, they can be found here until they’re gone.

The breakdown for the Jopito Gallo / Hendrik Kelner blend is listed as follows –  Wrapper: Sun Grown COTUI / Binder: Monte Plata / Filler: 30% Piloto Cubano, 30% Habano Vuelta Abajo Dominican, 20% Cameroon, & 20% Connecticut Broadleaf.

One can’t point to many dedicating this much time and these many resources to the preservation and amplification of this industry’s stories. Even if you’re not a Privada fan, you would be doing yourself and the industry a disservice if you let that stop you from absorbing the details of the all of the dynamic journeys they’re sharing.  An Intro to Dominican Tobacco Royalty is the first of two videos that have dropped this week. It is a great primer that will help the uninitiated fully appreciate the significance of the amazing artists featured in the full In Search of Jopito vlog that just went live for free on YouTube. Both are also available for you below and even if watched at a pace of one a day you’ll be ready for Friday’s Privada Live Stream at 8pm EST where founder Brian Desind will be answering questions and sharing what he learned on his recent trips to the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

Were you already familiar with Jopito’s impact on the cigar industry? Do you have a favorite Kelner blend? Please let us know in the comments below!