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David Savona

A Special Bale of Tobacco

Posted: Jan 13, 2015 11:00am ET

All good cigar companies have them: packages of tobacco wrapped in burlap or palm known as bales. It's the lifeblood of the industry, the raw material that is painstakingly turned into cigars. Without warehouses filled with bales you simply won't last very long in the cigar business.

J.C. Newman knows that adage well, as it has been making cigars in the United States since 1895, first in Cleveland and today in Tampa's Ybor City. It has plenty of tobacco, but one of the bales in its company headquarters is quite unlike the others.

It's a bale of Cuban tobacco, the last one owned by the company.

It's not new, and it's not illegal. When Tampa was the cigar capital of the United States, the deep port of Tampa served as the entry point for ton after ton of rich, dark Cuban tobacco. Tampa made cigars by the millions—more than 500 million in 1929 alone—and most of them were crafted from Cuban leaves. Cigars of that nature were known as Clear Havanas, made entirely of Cuban tobacco in the U.S.

When J.C. Newman moved from Cleveland to Tampa in 1953 it was one of many cigarmakers, but today it's the only cigar company of any size left in the town. The company long stopped making cigars by hand in the U.S. (its partners, the Fuentes, make Diamond Crowns and Cuesta-Reys for them in the Dominican Republic, and other handmade Newman cigar brands such as Brick House are rolled in Nicaragua) but it still makes some bargain-priced cigars in Tampa on old machines.

The Cuban bale sits apart from the regular inventory, on display in the Newman's small tobacco museum. It weighs some 160 pounds, and contains tobacco from Pinar del Río, Cuba, that was harvested in 1958, before the embargo was enacted.

Eric Newman, the president of the company, estimated that the bale contains enough tobacco to make some 10,000 robustos. But he's looking forward to the day when he can use not only that old bale, but when he can once again import Cuban leaf into his hallowed halls.

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Meeting A Churchill

Posted: Dec 10, 2014 12:00pm ET

The man in the suit reached out his hand, a smile spreading across his face.

"Randolph Churchill," he said.

The famous surname was no mere circumstance—Randolph Churchill is the great-grandson of the late, great Sir Winston Churchill, and I had the chance to meet him last night. The celebration was one worthy of his famous ancestor, a party with cigars and fine spirits celebrating the launch of the Davidoff Winston Churchill.

Churchill told me that he enjoys the camaraderie of cigars and especially enjoys a good smoke while hunting. When I told him I imagined it would be hard to have his last name and not enjoy cigars, he gave a hearty laugh.

While the name Churchill resonates with virtually everyone, it rings a particularly strong note with cigar lovers. Churchill is arguably history's most famous lover of cigars, and he smoked abundantly and without apology. A noted author, soldier, statesman and commander, one could speak for days about his accomplishments without running out of stories.

The event, held last night in a hip art gallery turned show-space on the west end of Manhattan, featured a first taste of the cigar and a chance to hear Randolph Churchill speak about his famous great-grandfather from the stage in an interview format between him and Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard, the chief executive officer of Oettinger Davidoff AG.

"People were just captivated by his character," Randolph Churchill told the crowd. "He could understand what it was like as a bricklayer, or a soldier in the trenches. ... He was great fun to be around."

He spoke of a visit Churchill made to the White House, around Christmas time, and his advising the staff of his typical drinking schedule: sherry in the morning, wine with lunch, whiskey and soda after, and Cognac before bed. When put on a plane during the Second World War, he tucked a lit cigar into a compartment before takeoff, and the smoke from the stogie filled part of the cockpit soon thereafter. Nonplussed, Churchill took out the cigar, put it back in his mouth, and began puffing happily as the plane reached altitude.

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Smoking Big In New York City

Posted: Dec 2, 2014 10:00am ET

It seems like only yesterday when I landed on the red-eye from Las Vegas, coming back from the Big Smoke on the Sin City strip. A week from Thanksgiving and we do it all again—this time on the East coast, for the Big Smoke New York.

Call it the holidays, call it fall, call it what you want, but around here, we say it's Big Smoke season.

The Big Smoke New York this Thursday, December 4, will be a gathering of some of the biggest stars in the world of premium cigars. Despite a decidely anti-smoking atmosphere in the City that Never Sleeps, the Big Smoke is cigar friendly. Many of you never get a chance to smoke indoors due to smoking laws—which is a shame. I enjoy smoking cigars outside on occasion, but not when the mercury begins to dip south. When it's cold, you'll find me smoking inside.

For those of you joining me and the rest of the Cigar Aficionado staff, we'll be at Pier 92 to say hello. Come join us for a smoke (you'll get plenty in your bag, there's 30 brands on the Big Smoke web page), a drink (we pour the good stuff at Big Smokes) and most of all, enjoy the spirit of being among like-minded aficionados smoking in peace.

See you in New York.

For more information and tickets, click here.

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See You in Vegas

Posted: Nov 5, 2014 4:00pm ET

Tomorrow the Cigar Aficionado team heads out to Las Vegas on the eve of our busiest weekend—the Big Smoke Las Vegas. We're making the final preparations, sending out the bagged cigars for our Saturday and Sunday seminars, going over the final details of who is covering what and what needs to be said, and looking forward to reconnecting with our friends in the cigar industry and shaking hands with a few thousand of our many readers.

It's hard to believe that this will be year 19 for the Big Smoke Las Vegas. Each year the event seems to get better, and for me there's no better way to connect with our readers from around the world, for Las Vegas draws them in.

I've met readers from all over the United States who have come to the show, many on more than one occasion and a good number who rarely miss an event. I've spoken to fathers who are there with their sons, sisters who are there with brothers, friends who live far from one another who reconnect in Vegas for a combination buddy's trip and Big Smoke. As much as I enjoy saying hello, I also enjoy seeing the smile and camaraderie as they puff cigars, sip fine spirits and enjoy the event.

This year we have something new: an app. It's free, and you can download it in the Apple or Android store so that you can see precisely what's going on at the event, find your favorite cigar with our interactive map, connect with others who are heading to Vegas for the smoke and even answer a poll or two. Check out all the details in this story.

If you're coming out there, I look forward to seeing you. Be sure to say hello. Get ready for a weekend of great cigars.

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Tobacco Sheds

Posted: Oct 20, 2014 1:00pm ET

Growing up I remember riding in the back seat of my parents' car on trips that took us through the northern half of Connecticut. I would look left and right from my window on the world and gaze at fields covered in white, like Christmas gifts waiting to be unwrapped. Every so often, in between the "presents," stood grand, wooden barns. Some were painted red, others were simply the color of wood that had been weathered by rain, snow, ice and wind, and many had long, narrow vents standing open to let in the air. The big, wooden structures sat sentry, as if they were standing guard watching over the fields.

I wasn't sure what those covered fields were, and I never got around to asking—too much time spent elbowing my younger brother in a fight for elbow room, no doubt—but later in life I discovered they were the tobacco fields of the Connecticut River Valley. Little known to me at the time, but beneath those white canopies were beautiful tobacco leaves, leaves that would someday wrap premium, handmade cigars.

The new book Tobacco Sheds, Vanishing Treasures of the Connecticut River Valley, takes the reader on a journey through the Connecticut River Valley and goes behind-the-scenes to show what these majestic barns really are. Authors Dale and Darcy Cahill, who have made these barns their passion for many years now, traveled the length of the 400-mile valley, which touches four U.S. states. More than 1,000 have been lost to time, disrepair and changing fortunes over recent years, but they found sheds remaining in Vermont, Massachusetts and (of course) Connecticut. None remain, they said, in New Hampshire.

The book is heavy on photographs of these beautiful, time-weathered barns, each of which has its own character. For me, the mere sight of a time-stained tobacco barn, yankee vents standing open to let in the air for the leaves curing inside, is enough to bring a smile to my face, and memories of my youth.

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A Conversation With Ken Burns

Posted: Sep 11, 2014 1:00pm ET

This morning I chatted with Ken Burns, the maestro behind the landmark documentaries "The Civil War," "Baseball" and "Jazz." His latest project, "The Roosevelts," debuts this weekend.

Burns, who no longer smokes cigars but enjoyed them in his younger days (he told me his greatest meal ever, in Paris, ended with a fine smoke) has worked for the past seven years on this project, a seven-part series that looks deeply into the lives of Presidents Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

"They are intertwined," he said. "No Theodore, no Franklin."

Asked what linked the men besides their famous names, he called each of them "champions of the working man." He spoke of the challenges each of them (and FDR's famous first lady, Eleanor, who also is a major part of this series) faced in life. Theodore lost his wife and mother on the same day, February 14, 1884, writing "the light has gone out of my life" in his diary. FDR overcame polio as a young boy. Eleanor was orphaned at the age of 10.

"They're all wounded people," Burns said. "We often find that greatness comes in the crucible of loss."

Ironically, Burns feels that these standout presidents would not have made it in today's world, under the glare of a 24-hour news cycle and constant media attention. Theodore Roosevelt would have had "10 Howard Dean moments a day," he said, while he believed FDR's physical struggles would have been exploited as a weakness by his political opponents.

"The sad thing is these are two of the greatest presidents we ever had," he said, "and I'm not sure they would make it out of the Iowa caucuses today."

"The Roosevelts, An Intimate History," begins Sunday night at 8 p.m. on PBS.

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50 Years Of Padrón Cigars

Posted: Sep 8, 2014 1:00pm ET

The air was thick and humid, as it always seems to be this time of year in southern Florida. The visitors came in droves, dressed in suits, guayaberas and elegant dresses for this special occasion. There were more than 800 in total: Cigar retailers, cigarmakers, brokers of tobacco leaf, friends and family, competitors and colleagues, all united on Saturday night to celebrate a milestone and pay tribute to the work of a great man.

Fifty years ago today, on September 8, 1964, a Cuban émigré named Jose Orlando Padrón opened a six-foot-wide storefront in Little Havana, only three miles from where the grand party was held. He put his own name on cigars made by one roller, sold them for a quarter apiece, and took the baby steps to make a living in his new home. He never dreamed he would end up here, five decades later, running a cigar company that makes 6.5 million handmade cigars a year, one of the cigar world's most impressive success stories.

Those early days were lean, and the future was quite uncertain, and the road to success was long and hard. His legacy was on display Saturday night in Miami, with his wife, children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces and cousins surrounding him in a festive evening filled with plumes of rich, Nicaraguan cigars, sweet Bacardi rum and succulent Caymus wines.

The party featured the debut of the Padrón 50 cigar, an anniversary smoke coming to market later in the year. There will be two varieties, a robusto (available in maduro and natural wrappers) sold in traditional wooden boxes, and a larger, limited-edition smoke presented in a stunning white humidor. Both were on display, and the robusto version was passed out to each guest.

The guests included many of the cigar world's most prominent names, competitors who came out to tip their hats to the five decades of work of Padrón, who turned 88 this year: Carlos Fuente Sr. and Carlos Fuente Jr. of Arturo Fuente cigars; Robert Levin of Ashton; Rocky Patel, Nish Patel and Nimish Desai of Rocky Patel Cigars; Litto Gomez and Ines Lorenzo-Gomez of La Flor Dominicana; Eric Newman of J.C. Newman; Javier Estades of Altadis U.S.A.; Bill Sherman and Michael Herklots of Nat Sherman; Nestor Miranda of Miami Cigar & Co. and Eduardo Fernandez of Aganorsa.

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Saying Yes To Cigars

Posted: Aug 21, 2014 12:00pm ET

I'm back in the office after a week on Cape Cod with my family, a trip that has turned into a summer tradition in my household. Each summer we head to the ocean dunes of eastern Massachusetts to put our feet in the sand and take a break from the working world. During the day we look for a beach with waves, or a quiet bayside cove where swarms of minnows dart away from your legs. At night we sit down to clam chowder, fried clams or succulent lobster rolls, and all is right with the world.

I smoke for work, so I often take a little break from smoking when I'm away, but I seldom travel without cigars. I had a nice selection with me when we checked in at the Wequassett Resort in Harwich, a hotel that has turned into a family favorite.

What brings the Wequassett to this blog is a new area the resort opened this season, a sprawling outdoor space featuring comfortable, curved couches set around fire pits and rows of bright white Adirondack chairs. All of it is cigar friendly and puts a traveler in a comfortable seat overlooking a quiet body of water dubbed Pleasant Bay.

Most places in the United States and elsewhere seem to be removing cigar-friendly spots, so when a place moves in the opposite direction and makes itself more accessible to cigar smokers, it makes me happy. The big outdoor area is gorgeous, offering views of Pleasant Bay. The waters seldom see a wave larger than an inch or two, so it's perfect for taking out a paddleboard or just getting your toes wet. Sitting in one of those chairs, cigar in hand, overlooking the tranquil waters, seems to be pretty close to perfection.

At the Wequassett, if you forget to bring your cigars (tip: you should always travel with a few) you're not out of luck. You're far from a cigar shop, but the resort has a good cigar menu (yes, a cigar menu) at its restaurant Thoreau's, a small dining spot with a pub feel located only a few steps away from that grand outdoor area. The menu has a variety of choices, arranged by strength, with a cigar for just about any palate. The list includes cigars from Fonseca, Macanudo, NUb, Rocky Patel, Arturo Fuente, Ashton and more. Want a libation to watch that sunset? Waiters will bring you anything from a glass of wine to a Cognac or Port.

Wequassett Hotel cigar area.
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Twenty Years Of Trade Shows

Posted: Jul 21, 2014 9:00am ET

I'm writing this blog as I'm packing for the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers trade show, better known as the IPCPR. Amazing as it seems, this will be my 20th show. I joined Cigar Aficionado magazine in the summer of 1995, one week before what would become my first trade show. I was as green as a field on a summer day, with a head full of black hair and about 400 freshly printed business cards stuffed in my pockets. It was a perfect way to get immersed in the world of premium handmade cigars.

While there's no denying that this trade show is a lot of work (my days will start around 8 a.m. with a breakfast meeting, with nary a break until midnight or so when the last function is over) it's enjoyable work for certain. Over the years I've made a lot of friends in the cigar business, and the trade show (which I still sometimes refer to by it's old name, the RTDA) is a great way to reconnect, catch up and share stories about the cigar industry and life in general.

Cigar Aficionado uses the trade show as a way to showcase our magazine and our newest projects (this year it's Where To Smoke) but we also use it to find out what's new in the world of premium, handmade cigars. If you're a subscriber to Cigar Insider (our twice a month Internet newsletter about the cigar business) you may already know about some of these new smokes. Our team from Cigar Aficionado—Gordon Mott, Greg Mottola, Andrew Nagy and myself—will be in Las Vegas meeting with all the your favorite cigarmakers, getting all the news about what's new, and reporting on it back to you via Cigar Insider, our social media, this website and the magazine itself.

So keep an eye on this website and our Twitter feeds and see what's going on in the world of premium cigars. There's always something good and new at the trade show. I haven't been disappointed yet.

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Fighting Fakes

Posted: Jun 10, 2014 1:00pm ET

Fake cigars are a persistent problem for cigar lovers, particularly cigar aficionados who smoke Cuban cigars. And while most of the blame lies on those who prey on consumers by peddling the fake product, some consumers are also guilty of ignorance.

I was reminded of this today by Greg Mottola’s fine article on the new and improved Cohiba Behike bands (read it by clicking here). Behikes, being among the most pricey and desired of Cuban cigars, are alluring targets for counterfeiters, so since their debut in 2010 Habanos S.A. has incorporated anti-counterfeiting devices into the cigar bands. They have just added more. But the world’s best anti-counterfeiting devices are rendered useless if consumers ignore them.

A few years ago I received a phone call from a friend, who was extremely excited. He had recently acquired a box of Cohiba Behike BHK 54 cigars. I asked him about the outer box and the code, which he didn’t have. I asked him about the price: $300 for the box. Then I asked him how many cigars were in the box, and he said 25. Red flags, anyone? 

I told him the cigars were fake. He insisted on showing me in person. We sat down a few days later, and I went over, in detail, point-by-point, all the things that were wrong with the packaging and the cigar bands. You can see the detailed photos in this story I wrote at the time. 

My point is this: if you are in the market for a Cohiba Behike BHK cigar, you really ought to know how the genuine product looks. You should know they come in boxes of 10, have holograms on the bands, have pigtails, and you should have a general idea of what they cost. I can’t tell you the number of times people have come to me with stories about buying cigars from an inside source who has a friend here or an uncle there, explaining the $100 price-tag on a box of Esplendidos or Serie D No. 4s, or the missing or improper stamps on the bottoms of their cigar boxes, or the missing row of dots on the Cohiba band. 

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