My last trip to Cuba—during the Habanos Festival in February—was a blur of dinners, meetings, interviews and cigar after cigar. I left many great stories in my notebook. This is one of the best.
One of the wonderful things about the annual Cuban cigar festival is the amount of free time built into the schedule. For every night with a festival event, there’s a free night that follows. That leaves time for visitors to enjoy Havana, gather with friends they’ve made over the years, and to meet new ones.
I’m back at my desk after a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. I’m a little more tan, a little more achy yet far better rested then when I left the office on Friday.
Here in the United States, Memorial Day serves as the kickoff to summer, even though summer doesn’t begin for 22 more days. Here in the northeast, the weather complied. It was as if a switch went off, with the mercury zooming. We immediately went from a rainy spring to summertime temperatures, and just in time.
Derby Day was a little colder than normal, but the cloudy skies were predicted to hold their rain throughout the day, making me and my friends smile. We were heading to Derby Day at the Harris Household.
Jay and Tammy Harris throw an incredible party for the Kentucky Derby. Tammy, a southern girl, typically makes country ham and biscuits, which is as delicious as it sounds. Jay ensures there are plenty of bourbon mint juleps to get everyone in the true spirit of the day. And the two of them have the amazing talent of making everyone feel like they’re the most important person at the party. They are, in short, the consummate hosts.
I spent some time yesterday smoking with two of the biggest names in cigars from General Cigar Co.: Johnys Diaz, vice president of operations for the company’s main Dominican Republic cigar factory, and legendary cigar man Benjamin Menendez, who is working in his 60th year around cigars. They were bringing Greg Mottola and myself an exclusive first taste of the new Partagas 1845, which goes on sale April 9.
When I visit Havana, one of my greatest joys is walking through the humidors of a Casa del Habano and taking a look at the selection of cigars. On my last trip a few weeks ago, I found that many of the shops were in decent supply.
I recently spent 10 days out of the office, bouncing between the Dominican Republic, Miami and Cuba. The weekend in Miami gave me the chance to take in part of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Our company is a sponsor of the event, and my colleagues at Wine Spectator have long participated, but my schedule never allowed me to take part. This time, I was in.
Much of the excitement surrounding the annual Habanos Festival surrounds new cigars. The Festival is a stage for Habanos S.A. to present their new creations to the hundreds from around the world who gather for this event. Some of the cigars are available for preview, but it will be many months before they appear on store shelves.
It was a bright, sunny day here in Havana, but the weather would have to wait. It was time for the Habanos Festival trade fair and seminars about Cuba and the world of Cuban cigars.
After a simple breakfast with hearty coffee (and another aficionado lighting up at 8 in the morning in the restaurant, with no complaints) Gordon Mott and I headed to the convention center in Miramar. We began walking around and getting the lay of the land.
My first full day in Cuba is behind me. As I sit in my room pecking away at this blog, it’s a bit past midnight, and I’m reminiscing after a long, smoky start to my trip.
My first cigar of this Habanos Festival was one that’s been around for some time, a Montecristo Edmundo. I’ve long preferred its truncated cousin, the Petit Edmundo, but this Edmundo smoked beautifully, full of rich wood notes, touches of leather and a long, succulent finish. One of the best Edmundos I’ve smoked. It is a current production smoke and indicative of the high quality of new Cuban cigars.
I’m in Santiago, Dominican Republic, attending the fifth annual ProCigar Festival. The weather is warm, the cigars are copious and everyone seems to be having a good time.
My first stop was the new MATASA factory, owned by the Quesada family. MATASA has been in Santiago since 1978, in the original Free Trade Zone, but after paying rent for nearly four decades and realizing it could never own a building there, the Quesadas decided to move the entire factory out to the Santiago suburb of Licey, where it had a leaf storage facility. “We had to raise the roof of a 100,000 square foot building,” Manuel Quesada told me as we fired up Quesada España cigars. “We’re still painting and hammering.”
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