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Cuba's Cigar Summit

Cigar Lovers the World Over Descended Upon Havana in February to Celebrate the Past, Present and Future of Cuban Cigars
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 99

(continued from page 2)

Or even that one of America's giant cigar companies, Consolidated Cigar Corporation, a shared owner of such international brands as Montecristo and H. Upmann, would be taken over by France's Seita, or Hollco-Rohr, with its Romeo y Julieta brand, among others, taken over by Spain's Tabacalera?

This fusion of global companies is happening faster and faster. At the same time, the computer has become a rocket engine that is transforming the business environment even more quickly and more profoundly. The high-tech revolution that once promised just increased productivity has now opened the door to the Internet and the World Wide Web.

The Net is changing commerce and information retrieval--forever. Companies like America Online, Yahoo, Amazon.com, and Microsoft will be household names tomorrow, as Standard Oil, General Motors and Macy's were yesterday. It's just a matter of time before online sales of cigars join books, CDs and other consumer products.

The net effect is simple. These companies, and the technology behind their growth, are bringing the world closer together, making it smaller and smaller.

The global information revolution, however, is not confined to commerce. People all over the world are more and more likely to move in unison. A trend in one country pops up on the other side of the planet one or two years later. In fact, there's already a common, if mostly unnoticed, phenomenon happening everywhere today.

More and more consumers, not just the super-rich, want to enjoy the best of everything: the good life. Each of us, rewarding ourselves for a job well done. A glass of wine. A round of golf. A vacation to an exotic island. A sporty convertible. An expensive watch. Fine caviar. A 20-year-old Cognac. A good cigar.

And so begins our story. For cigars have turned the world upside down in the last decade of the twentieth century...for the better! This new world of cigars affects all of us in this room. Yet here in Cuba, the epicenter of the handmade cigar--thankfully, the tradition of cigars has changed very little.

On my first trip to Cuba, in 1991, to research a cover story on Cuban cigars to appear in Wine Spectator, another consumer magazine my company owns, I was spellbound while visiting the great cigar factories of Havana. My colleague James Suckling and I met cigar rollers, many of whom had sat at the same workbench for 30, 40, 50 years.

As we toured the Romeo y Julieta factory, we heard the clapping noise of the chavetas--the rollers were welcoming us. The sound gave us goose bumps. But I remember the faces of the rollers--showing the strains of age, yet filled with great pride and a glowing sense of dignity. Every one of them dedicated to the art of cigar making. Doing God's work.

Then we traveled to Pinar del Río, to the Vuelta Abajo, to visit the vegas that grow the finest wrapper tobacco in the world. There, we met many farm workers, also people with enormous dedication.


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