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David Savona

Cigars and Weather

Posted: Oct 28, 2013 4:30pm ET

I stepped out my door this morning and was greeted by the dark cold. The air was chilly enough to make my breath visible—it looked like I was having a Cohiba before breakfast. Fall is here in the northeast.

I think about the weather on occasion, but it's always on the mind of cigar guys like Eric Newman, the president of Tampa's J.C. Newman Cigar Co. When he asked "How's the weather?" over the phone last week, he wasn't making idle conversation, but looking for business insight.

You probably know that severe weather can wreak havoc on cigarmakers and tobacco growers, whether it be hurricanes, tornadoes or floods. But even something as seemingly innocent as an extra cold winter or a very late spring can have a negative impact on premium cigar sales.

Eric described how the United States cigar business has become quite subject to weather in recent years. Warmer temperatures, no snow in months that typically have snow, a lack of rain on weekends—that type of weather is good for the cigar business. When it gets very cold, when it snows quite a bit, that slows business down.

The reason? The great outdoors. More and more people in the U.S. now have their regular cigar—whether it's daily, weekly or monthly—in some outdoor spot, such as a golf course.

"The business is so dependent on the weather," said Eric, a longtime cigar industry veteran. His company owns the Diamond Crown and Brick House brands, among others, and J.C. Newman has been selling cigars for well over 100 years.

"With all the smoking ban legislation, we're so dependent upon good weather," he said. "If you talk to a manufacturer everyone tells you the same story."

Cigar smokers are quite unlike cigarette smokers. The typical cigar aficionado smokes when he or she relaxes, not out of habit. With many indoor smoking spots gone, that spot of relaxation is often an outdoor spot such as the golf course or on a beach. If your regular golf game is rained out, maybe you don't smoke that Fuente you had saved for the 10th hole. If a cigar lover doesn't have his regular cigar on Friday, said Newman, "that doesn't mean he smokes two on Saturday to make it up."

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25 Years of Davidoff Madison

Posted: Oct 11, 2013 12:30pm ET

Twenty-five years of anything calls for celebration, for a quarter century is a major milestone. In the world of weddings, tradition dictates that it be honored with a gift of silver. For Davidoff, that benchmark was celebrated with cigars.

On Wednesday, I joined Davidoff in honoring 25 years of their flagship store in New York City, the Davidoff shop on Madison Avenue. The store has gone through relocation and redesign over the past quarter century. Today, it's a beautiful cigar-smoker haven with a comfortable smoking lounge and a large variety of handmade cigars for sale, not only from the Davidoff group but a host of other companies. It's a fitting testament to the Davidoff name.

The dinner was a grand four-course affair and cigar smoking was allowed and encouraged. I made my way through a Davidoff Nicaragua Toro (93 points, Cigar Insider) and Davidoff Nicaragua Robusto (91 points). I enjoyed them both.

Luis Torres, who manages the Davidoff Madison shop, spoke about the first visitor to sign the guest book—Zino Davidoff himself. If you have smoked cigars for some time, you no doubt know the name. Zino Davidoff (1906-1994), the son of a tobacco merchant, traveled to Cuba as a young man to learn about cigars and tobacco. He opened a shop in Geneva in 1929 under his own name, and created the Davidoff cigar brand in 1969, which was acquired by Oettinger Imex AG in 1970. Davidoff today is a global brand, with a considerable cigar portfolio including Davidoff, Camacho, Avo, Room 101 and Cusano cigars, among others.

Zino Davidoff note.
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Do You Smoke?

Posted: Sep 19, 2013 1:30pm ET

I was filling out paperwork for a doctor's visit and I came to the question about smoking. This is typically a complicated answer on my part, and I bet, on yours as well.

The usual boilerplate is written something like this:

Q: Do you smoke? Check yes or no.
Q: If you checked ‘yes,' how many cigarettes do you smoke?

When this happens, I take out my pen and give a detailed answer.

Yes, I smoke, but I only smoke cigars—and I smoke them often. Aside from a couple of ill-fated experiments in my long-ago youth, I have never smoked cigarettes.

Cigars and cigarettes are quite different from one another. Cigars, at least the type of cigars you and I smoke, are made entirely from tobacco (almost always dark, air-cured tobacco), rolled by hand and are not inhaled. Cigarettes are cranked out on machines using a host of products, including flue-cured tobacco, and they are sucked deep into the lungs.

Cigarette smokers puff out of addiction. Most cigar smokers, myself included, do not. You don't see cigar smokers huddled in office doorways in the middle of winter, rushing to get a bit of smoking time during a break. I smoke cigars often, but I don't wake up with a burning desire to smoke, nor do I try to rush a last-minute cigar before a long flight, or fire one up the moment I get off a plane. I take breaks from cigar smoking, typically when I go on family vacations, as cigar smoking is a part of my work.

Cigars and cigarettes are quite different, but that difference tends to be lost by most in the medical community, as well as by lawmakers. Smoking, many erroneously believe, is smoking. Some see no difference between a Marlboro and a Macanudo, or a Parliament and a Padrón. But some do.

It brought a much-needed smile to my face when I came to the question in this doctor's office:

Q: Do you smoke cigarettes?
My short answer—no.

There were no questions about cigars.

Cigars are cigars. They are not cigarettes. And it made me happy to see at least one medical professional who clearly knows the difference.

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Trade Show Report

Posted: Jul 16, 2013 1:30pm ET

Team Cigar Aficionado is here in hot Las Vegas at the annual IPCPR trade show, where cigar companies unveil their latest creations for the retailers in attendance. For us at the magazine, we get a chance to meet with the players—major and minor—in the premium cigar business and test out their newest smokes.

As I write this blog its about two hours before the show floor opens for day three. If you’ve been following my Tweets, and those of my coworkers, you’ll have followed along with our findings.

Yesterday was a busy one, with a full day of the show, a working lunch, a meeting once the show closed and then off to a party high atop the Palms with Alec Bradley Cigar Co. The workday began at 10 and ended at midnight. I may have lost count of how many cigars I tried. Many were great.

Looking through some of the offerings I’ve seen so far, there’s quite a mix in terms of power. For those who prefer their cigars strong, there is the 601 La Bomba Warhead, a very dark and pressed smoke from Espinosa Cigars that I smoked and enjoyed. It had power, especially at first, but enough sweetness to round it out. Fuente, which had big plans for 2012 that were derailed by fire, now is poised to unveil several lines, including the strong Arturo Fuente Destino al Siglo, a line of four cigars that come packed in boxes resembling books. (And before anyone says this is a copy of the Habanos book collection, recall that Fuente packed Hemingway Masterpiece cigars in book-like boxes back in the 1980s.) I smoked a Churchill-sized example of the smoke yesterday with its creator, Carlos Fuente Jr., and found it leathery and strong, with great flavor. It has things that remind one of Fuente Fuente OpusX, but it also has its own identity. The Garcia’s new El Centurion, one of my favorites from Monday, is strong and chocolaty and full of big flavor.

Medium bodied has the greatest array of choices. The new Oliva Serie V Melanio Maduro, which has a touch less power in my opinion than the traditional Serie V, is a box-pressed torpedo made with a maduro wrapper from Mexico’s San Andrés Valley. Davidoff Nicaragua, the company’s first Nicaraguan puro, is a very pleasant smoke with a rich and medium-bodied character. I smoked several samples before the show, and I’ve enjoyed every one. Azan from Nicaragua, a new cigar from Roberto Duran Pelayo, has a solid toasty character with a touch of cinnamon. La Palina’s Classic line, which has done well in Cigar Aficionado tastings, has expanded with a new lancero size, which I enjoyed quite a bit. It’s a very savory medium-bodied blend.

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Follow Us In Las Vegas

Posted: Jul 14, 2013 8:30pm ET

My Sunday began with a 4 a.m. wakeup call to make a bright and early flight from New York to Vegas. It’s a weekend, but today is a workday. After a five-hour flight I zipped straight to the Venetian Hotel and Casino, threw down my bags in the room and grabbed a cup of coffee as I walked to the Sands Convention Center. It was going to be a busy day.

The cigar industry returned to hot Las Vegas this morning as the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailer trade show opened its doors. The show, which is off-limits to the public, brings out most of the players in the world of premium cigars and accessories. I’m here with Cigar Aficionado for the 19th time in a row covering the show.

I’m not alone. Team Cigar Aficionado is very well represented here on the editorial side, with executive editor Gordon Mott, editors Greg Mottola, Andrew Nagy and G. Clay Whittaker. We all have our notebooks and lighters and we’re moving around the floor seeking out all the new products coming to your favorite cigar stores down the road. So far the show is off to a good start. The mood seems bright—everyone seems to enjoy coming back to Vegas, which is a popular place to visit, to say the least—and the floor layout seems better than last year. I’ve seen quite a bit so far and as I’m typing this blog I’m only about four hours in.

I’ve already puffed some very interesting new smokes, such as the Alec Bradley Mundial and El Centurion by the Garcia family. I’ll save the details for later, because even though my internal clock says it’s quitting time my Las Vegas day won’t end for another eight hours or so. There are many more cigars in my future, and a whole notebook to fill.

Check back to this website for updates, and if you really want to keep busy, follow me and the rest of the Cigar Aficionado gang on Twitter. We’ll be out here smoking—let us know what you think.

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Basking in Broadleaf

Posted: Jul 10, 2013 12:30pm ET

Do you like broadleaf tobacco? I cut my teeth on the stuff back in the day, puffing away on homely but tasty Muniemaker Breva 100s when I was in college. The cigars, then and now, were machine-made, but contained only tobacco. And they were wrapped with dark, rugged leaves of Connecticut broadleaf.

I recently returned from a short trip to several tobacco fields in north central Connecticut to look at the 2013 broadleaf crop for a story I'm doing on broadleaf for Cigar Aficionado. You'll read about it in the October issue. The plants were young, having just gone into the ground about a month prior to my visit, and had a long way to go in what had been a very rainy summer.

Some people are still surprised that the very northern, decidedly non-tropical state of Connecticut grows superb cigar tobacco. There's delicate and mild Connecticut shade, a tall plant that grows under tents of nylon, resulting in thin, light tan leaves found on such cigars as Macanudo and Fonseca.

Then there's broadleaf, a squat, bushy plant that basks in the straight sunlight and makes fat, thick and dark leaves. The bulk of it goes to machine-made cigars such as Backwoods, but the very best go on rich and dark maduro cigars, such as La Riquezas, Punch maduros and the ever rare and appealing Arturo Fuente Añejos. It's also the hallmark of the Liga Privada brand—named yesterday as the Hottest Cigar Brand in the United States by Cigar Insider.

connecticut broadlead tobacco.

Broadleaf has an inherent sweetness and big, bold earthy flavor. The crop goes into the ground in June, and workers were transplanting some of the year's final seedlings to a field when I made my trip. (Thankfully my visit was not on July 1, when a tornado touched down in a tobacco field in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. See our story on the damage here.)

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A Politician Who Embraces A Smoky Room

Posted: May 3, 2013 12:30pm ET

New York City's most recent mayors have had a love/hate affair with cigars. Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani is a passionate cigar smoker. He graced the cover of Cigar Aficionado magazine in December 2001, is a regular at our Night to Remember dinner and has spoken repeatedly about the rights of cigar smokers. Current Mayor Michael Bloomberg couldn't be more the opposite, having initiated the New York City smoking ban and making move after move to make buying and smoking cigars increasingly difficult in the city that never sleeps.

So it made me happy to read a New York Times piece about a mayoral hopeful who held a fundraiser inside a cigar shop while puffing away happily on a cigar. Joseph J. Lhota, who once served in the Giuliani administration, including as deputy mayor, filed his candidacy for mayor on January 17. Last week, according to the piece written by Michael M. Grynbuam, Lhota fired up a Montecristo White with about two dozen supporters in the Habana Hut Smoke Lounge in Bayside, Queens, while discussing his hopes to become Mayor of New York City.

Lhota doesn't smoke as many cigars as he used to, according to the article. But he enjoys a good smoke on occasion, like the majority of cigar aficionados. And he's not afraid of a good old-fashioned smoky room. At one point he even joked about opening a cigar shop nearer his home.

You shouldn't vote for a man just because he smokes a cigar. But when politicians have beliefs that mirror your own—rather than standing in conflict to what you believe in—that's a good thing.

New York City will elect a new mayor on November 5. It would be a pleasant change to have another cigar smoker back in that seat.

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An Unforgettable Night

Posted: Apr 17, 2013 3:30pm ET

A luxury suite at Yankee Stadium. Your own barrel of George Dickel whiskey. The chance to meet golfing legends Nick Faldo and Tony Jacklin. A humidor representing 120 hours of painstaking labor. A dinner with legends of wine and cigars.

All of these remarkable experiences and more were auctioned off at Cigar Aficionado's 19th annual Night to Remember dinner. Last night's event raised some $1.2 million to help cure prostate cancer.

The setting was the Four Seasons restaurant in midtown Manhattan, and more than 200 guests arrived in black tie for a smoky cocktail hour featuring many of the cigar world's most revered brands, followed by a rich dinner of squab risotto and sirloin steak with wines by M. Chapoutier and Caymus. When the meal was complete, waiters brought out Flor de las Antillas Toros, Romeo by Romeo y Julieta Piramides and Padrón Family Reserve 85 Years, Cigar Aficionado's Nos. 1, 3 and 4 cigars of 2012.

I had a birds-eye view of the auction, as I was called up to the podium by Marvin R. Shanken to assist Gordon Mott, who took over Marvin's traditional role as auctioneer. Gordon stepped into the role with style, keeping the energy in the room high as he described each lot and encouraged the bidding, which tended to be heavy. Michael Milken, Rush Limbaugh, Jaime Coulter and Lee Einsidler were among the active bidders. (Look for Greg Mottola's comprehensive piece on the event for complete details of what was auctioned.)

I've been attending the Night to Remember for many years now, and it always strikes me how people bond during the evening—even people who were once enemies of a sort. Rush Limbaugh spoke of how he and John Salley were once antagonists, but have become friendly. Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who made the dinner despite a busy media day giving comments about the tragic terror attack in Boston, actually prosecuted Michael Milken years ago, but today the two are cordial as they have united in a common cause to stamp out prostate cancer, a disease that has affected both men.

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The TAA Show

Posted: Apr 15, 2013 3:30pm ET

If you read this blog and visit this website on a regular basis, I bet you know the terms IPCPR, CRA and CAA. But how about TAA?

TAA stands for the Tobacconists' Association of America, a group of high-end cigar shops in the United States. The group is meant as a supplement, rather than a replacement, to the main organization of U.S. cigar shops—the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers (IPCPR). Every TAA member that I know is also a member of the IPCPR. But where the latter group's annual get-together is all about a high-energy, very hectic trade show spread over a group of days, the annual TAA meeting is a far more laid-back affair.

Every year the group gathers along with a number of cigarmakers for a series of meetings and social events. Last week, I flew down to La Romana, Dominican Republic, to attend the 45th annual show with Gordon Mott. There were meetings and discussions, presentations and a small trade show, but most of the time was spent socializing and really getting to know the other members of the organization. An undeniable draw for the conference was the setting: Casa de Campo, in La Romana, Dominican Republic.

This wondrously large, all-inclusive resort has always been a beautiful place. The resort boasts one of the finest (and toughest, I'll attest) golf courses in the Caribbean, Teeth of the Dog, and is only a few minutes away from Tabacalera de Garcia Ltd., one of the world's largest handmade cigar factories, where Altadis USA makes Romeo y Julietas, H. Upmanns and Montecristo cigars, among many others. Because of the cigar connection, I've had the pleasure of going there many times. But this was my first trip to Casa de Campo since the resort's $40 million renovation, and boy did it show. It was great before, but it's phenomenal now. Read Gordon's story from the February 2011 Cigar Aficionado to get a full idea of the resort.

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The Labors of the Land

Posted: Mar 22, 2013 3:30pm ET

I hope you’re smoking a handmade cigar as you read this blog. You know that the robusto, corona gorda or perfecto that you’re puffing was made by hand, but you might not have a full idea of just how much hand labor went into its creation. And I bet you didn’t realize that the hand labor started long before the cigar was a cigar.

I was going through some old files the other day, and I came across a video I shot two years ago, when I was in northern Nicaragua. I spent a day in the fields of Jalapa, a beautiful place known for growing some of Nicaragua’s finest wrapper leaves. It’s a gorgeous spot, with vibrant fields of green leaves, bright blue skies, clear and cold streams, and gently sloped mountains covered in vegetation. And it’s a fine place to grow tobacco.

I spent that day with Eduardo Fernandez and his team of tobacco men that lead Aganorsa S.A., one of the biggest growers of cigar tobacco in all of Nicaragua. Many of those videos ended up on this website, but this one never saw the light of day. And it illustrates my point about labor and cigarmaking.

Let me explain what’s going on in the video. You can see about nine men working with hoes on a very large field of young tobacco. The plants are only three weeks old, and they are getting close to knee height. The field has just been fertilized.

The men with the hoes are pulling the earth close to the plant on each side, a process that does several things at once. First, it brings the fertilizer toward the plant, where it’s needed. That move creates a ditch between the rows, allowing better irrigation. It also gives some structure to the plant and helps it stay in place for its very quick growth spurt—in another two months these little guys will soon be almost as tall as man. And finally you can see how hoeing disrupts the wayward stalks of grass that are beginning to grow. If you know your gardening, you know that a hoe is a farmer’s friend and helps get rid of weeds.

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