Kelner—Davidoff's Tobacco Guru

Hendrik “Henke” Kelner feels quite at home in the fields of the Dominican Republic, where he has been making cigars for more than 30 years.
Photos/David Yellen
Hendrik “Henke” Kelner feels quite at home in the fields of the Dominican Republic, where he has been making cigars for more than 30 years.

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“It was an honor to work with Mr. Kelner,” said Mike Chiusano, former owner of the Cusano brand, which is made by TabDom. “With Henke I learned the science and art of blending and creating world-class cigars. His attention to detail, enthusiasm for testing and discovering new tobacco varieties and appreciation for fine cigars is a gift. It was a privilege to have him as a mentor for over 13 years.”
Kelner made the Cusano brand under contract for Chiusano before Davidoff officially acquired the line in 2009. Cusano is marketed as one of Davidoff’s value brands.
“Henke’s contribution to Davidoff’s success cannot be overstated,” says Davidoff president and CEO Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard. “He is the mastermind behind our most successful blends and continues to be driven by experimenting with new seeds and new areas of tobacco growing. His insistence on growing tobacco and in particular wrapper leaves in the Yamasá area of the Dominican Republic gave us the full-bodied Puro d’Oro Davidoff and is a particular testimony to Henke’s importance,
vision and tenacity.”
Although Kelner has been integral to the operation before Hoejsgaard was part of Davidoff, Hoejsgaard certainly recognizes that Kelner is not only synonymous with Davidoff, but emblematic of its mission.
“One of the hallmarks of the Davidoff philosophy is unrivaled quality and consistency and no one better understands that than Henke,” adds Hoejsgaard. “His contribution in this area has been pivotal. As he now relinquishes some of his operational responsibilities and takes on a more active ambassadorial role for Davidoff and travels the world for us, he will be a first-rate spokesperson for the Davidoff brand and philosophy.”
Right now, Kelner says that he’s sitting on six million pounds of binder and filler in the tobacco warehouse—a stock that equals about four and a half year’s worth of production. Large inventory allows him the luxury of consistency and lets Kelner control that rate of growth.
“Every day we smoke something new and taste new tobaccos,” Kelner says. “The blends are first dreamed, and then realized. It’s necessary to work on new projects, as the market requires. Pleasure and duty are mixed.” Kelner is extremely excited about the wrapper he’s been able to grow in Yamasá, even though the project has been far from easy.
“Aluminum,” he says of the soil as if it’s a major nuisance. “There is so much aluminum in the soil. It’s very complicated.” But Kelner feels he has overcome the challenges of that region. For the 2012 growing season anyway. In two years, we will see cigars using wrapper from a 2011–2012 harvest that Kelner believes is the best crop this particular strain of
tobacco leaf has produced so far.
“Now, finally,” says Kelner, puffing on his ever-present cigar, “I can say that I have grown the best wrapper in the world.”
Derek Wotton Deltona , Florida , July 8, 2013 10:58pm ET

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