Much of the premium cigar industry was in New York City the week before last. They came in for our annual Night to Remember charity cigar dinner, a black-tie event where we raise money for prostate cancer research. I will say that, in my experience, a more urbane cigar party does not exist.
You'd never know it by looking at the bone-dry, rock-solid dirt roads on Litto Gomez's La Canela tobacco farm, but those roads were mud a few months ago. The first part of the planting season rained in the Dominican Republic like a gloomy sign of the apocalypse and most growers had to throw out their crops and start over, including Litto. That was until December. Then things dried out in the Dominican Republic and tobacco farmers were able to get some more-than-decent crops out of the ground.
You probably didn't know that the Camp David Ranch in Santiago, the Dominican Republic, has a basement. Unlike the Alamo, it does. I know because I'm staying in it. This is the first official night of ProCigar and I usually stay at Camp David for the beautiful mountaintop views and the nice, airy terraces each room has—except this one, of course. No matter.
A bowl of pasta. Cuban cigars. U.S. antitrust laws. Those three ideas probably haven't converged in the same conversation since the halcyon days of Santo Trafficante Jr., but they came together over lunch recently at a restaurant called La Pecora Bianca. It's one of Manhattan's million Italian restaurants and it's helmed by a chef named Simone Bonelli. He's from Modena, Italy, and has worked in some of the country's finest restaurants, most notably Osteria Francescana.
As of this summer, I have a dozen IPCPRs under my belt. Well, some of those shows were RTDA's, so technically, that's not correct. Let's say, I've gone to 12 tobacco trade shows so far. This year, the daily diet of lamb chops, rib eye steaks, boudin blanc and pork sausages took some of the pep out my step as I navigated the convention. This often happens at these shows. You sample an untold amount of cigars, both day and night, and consume nothing but meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I consider myself a consummate carnivore, but since I've come back from the show, I've been eating fish.
If I were to say "classic Cuban Churchill" what would you think of? Romeo y Julieta Churchill? Cohiba Esplendido? Probably. These have been the benchmark Cuban Churchills for quite some time. Now if I were to say "Bolivar" what would you think of? The Royal Corona or the Belicoso. Maybe even the Coronas Junior. In either case, you've most likely forgotten all about the Bolivar Corona Gigante. Bolivar is a small brand and the Corona Gigante is part of the dying Churchill format. Because of this, it's often overlooked, but it can also be an absolutely splendid cigar.
I have to admit, I never thought I'd see Avo Uvezian again. Not at a cigar event anyway, but when I saw him last week celebrating his 90th birthday at the Carnegie Club in New York, he was in typical Avo form—white suit, playing the piano, shaking hands and smoking cigars—and it was great to see him. As a jazz pianist and cigar enthusiast, he's made a life of music and cigars.
Green tobacco. Grows glossy and thick. Sprouting through the brick-red soil. That's a haiku, I think. And the best way to describe what I saw in Pinar del Rió's San Juan y Martinez growing region in Cuba on a long car ride from Havana to the farm of Hector Luis Prieto. Freshly tilled soil in this area is as red as bricks, red as rust.
Friday night: Dominican Republic for the closing gala of the ProCigar Festival. Saturday night: South Beach Food & Wine Festival. Sunday night: Havana. This was how I kicked off my triple-decker, back-to-back-to-back festival tour, now in its third leg for the Habanos Festival.
I think I speak for many when I say that I was taken by surprise the first official night of ProCigar. Rather than going straight to the pig roast, like usual, the flock was shepherded into the National Theater in downtown Santiago. At first I thought I was going to the opera, but it turned out the Ministry of Culture decided to put on an awards ceremony of its own, recognizing the achievements of certain people in the tobacco industry and how it promotes and enriches the culture of the Dominican Republic. I think this was the first awards ceremony of its kind. Winners included Carlos Fuente Jr., Eric Newman, Henke Kelner, and lots of behind-the-scenes tobacco men. There was some performance art, a chorus, a dance company, a singer, all very nice and cultural if not a bit long. Dance is great, but I tend to lose patience when I'm waiting to eat roasted pig and smoke cigars. Thankfully, the tent was set up right next door.
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