I am not sure why over the last three weeks the international press has been full of stories about the decline of the Cuban cigar. The stories have not been about a drop in quality, but the downturn in the sales and production of the famous smokes.
Owner Mitchell Orchant put together an impressive selection of more than 170 different lots of cigars from current production to century-old smokes, with plenty of Cuban Davidoffs, Cuban Dunhills, pre-embargo sticks and rare humidors in between. Almost all the cigars were Cuban. The sale totaled close to $318,000 including the 12.5 percent buyer’s and seller’s premium.
A Cuban musician friend of mine named Ernan Lopez-Nuzza, one of the island’s best jazz pianists, and his wife, Wendy, reminded me the other day during lunch of a rumba called “La Muerte Me Llama Que Es Esto?” The song, loosely translated, means Death Calls Me But What Is That?
Americans might finally get the chance to try Robaina grown tobacco in the not too distance future. Hiroshi Robaina, the grandson of Cuba’s best-known tobacco grower, Alejandro Robaina, is setting up plantations in Ecuador.
"The climate is the same level as Cuba," said the 33-year-old last week, during a visit to his family's plantation in Pinar del Río, Cuba. They were tending their shade grown tobacco of about 15 acres. The crop was about three to four weeks behind schedule due to wet weather. “The sun is a little less strong in Ecuador, but the soil, it is like in Pinar del Río. It is very sandy.’
It was coolio to visit the La Corona factory last week during the 12 Festival Habano. The workers were obviously on their best behavior. This is now the biggest factory in Cuba, according to one worker from La Corona. More than 900 people work there. Just over 250 are rollers, and they can produce between 40,000 and 50,000 cigars a day. Annual production at La Corona is about 10 million sticks.
That’s why I found a blind tasting of two cigars—Montecristo No. 2 and Partagas Serie D No. 4—with two Añejo and two Extra Añejo Tequilas fascinating. The tasting was done during a seminar last week at the XII Festival Habano. About 200 people packed into the meeting room. Each seat had four glasses of Tequila in brandy snifters and two unbanded cigars.
You probably smoke one or two of the brands on a regular basis if you are into Cuban cigars, considering those brands account for about three-fourths of the total number of Cuban cigars sold in 2009. Brand figures released during a seminar at the 12th Habanos Festival shows that the above five brands account for the lion’s share of Cuban cigar shipments: Montecristo, 21 percent; Romeo y Julieta, 17 percent; José L. Piedra, 14 percent; Cohiba, 11 percent, and Partagas, 11 percent.
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