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The Partagas Family

Cigar Smokers from Around the World Gathered in Havana and Orlando This Summer to Celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Partagas Cigars
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Winter 95/96

(continued from page 1)

"I am given the best materials in the industry, and I have to make the best cigars in the industry," says Edward Butler, 41, the manager of the factory. Energetic and thorough, Butler has been running the factory for almost two years and continues to fine-tune the production. "I have tried various things since I have been here," says Butler. "But in the end, it is a matter of pride and motivation. You essentially can't change how a handmade cigar is made. The people who make cigars are the most important thing [next to the actual tobacco]."

General Cigar Dominicana produces about 12 million cigars a year--about 8 million Partagas and 4 million Macanudos. (The majority of Macanudos, about 12 million a year, are still made in General's factory in Jamaica.) The 70,000-square-foot factory in Santiago employs about 600 people, with about 200 of them making the cigars. An adjacent tobacco processing and shipping warehouse run by General's parent company, Culbro, encompasses another 130,000 square feet and has another 600 or so employees.

Production has doubled at the factory in the past year, Butler says, mostly due to incentives for the rollers and streamlining a few processes. "But we do not want to pray to the god of speed and lose quality," emphasizes Butler. "We are not going to fall into the trap of just making the most cigars we can. At one time, the soldier concept was in here, where people felt that they were not to think but simply make cigars. Now, people take responsibility for what they do. We have empowered the people."

If the recently produced Partagas 150 Signature Series is any indication of the new cigars coming out of General Cigar Dominicana, Butler and his co-workers are certainly on a very good roll. These are some of the most exciting cigars to come out of the Dominican Republic in a long time. From their 18-year-old Cameroon wrappers to their fabulous cedar cabinet packaging, the Partagas 150s are already a collector's item.

The cigars come in eight sizes, ranging from a 4 1/2" by 38 ring gauge robusto to a 7" by 52 ring gauge Don Ramon. They range in price from $5.50 to $12. Only 1 million of these cigars will be made. The largest production of the range is the 6 3/4" by 43 ring gauge Partagas A, with 300,000 cigars; the smallest number produced is the Don Ramon, with a mere 10,000 made.

"We have done everything possible to produce a great cigar," says Benjamin Menendez, 57, a senior vice president at General Cigar and one of the most knowledgeable cigar men around. He and his family owned the H. Upmann factory in Havana before the Cuban Revolution. "The blend of the Signature Series is virtually the same as our normal Partagas, except for the special Cameroon wrapper. Don't forget the wrapper can account for a large part of a cigar's taste."

If you can't find one of the Partagas 150 Signature Series cigars, look for some of the top mainstay shapes, particularly the Partagas No. 10. At 7 1/2" by 49 ring gauge, the No. 10 falls just between a traditional double corona and a Churchill and consistently delivers very good to outstanding quality. It's a medium-bodied smoke with plenty of coffee, nutty character and a long aftertaste. It sells for about $4. Menendez describes the taste of Partagas as "rich" and "full-bodied." He regularly tastes all the cigars in the Partagas range with a small panel of colleagues to assure that style and flavor are maintained. "The idea was always that we wanted to make a cigar as close as possible to the Cuban equivalent," says Menendez. "And it is the best cigar possible for where it comes from. I am very proud of the quality."

Back in Havana, Lopez is equally delighted with the quality of the cigars coming out of his factory at 520 Calle Industria, a stone's throw from the capitol building and just behind Menendez's former factory, H. Upmann. "Partagas has always made great cigars," says Lopez. "And we have maintained the highest quality." Despite the difficult tobacco harvests of the past four or so years, Lopez believes that his factory has been one of the leading export factories in Cuba. Partagas cigars such as the double corona-sized Lusitania (7" by 49 ring gauge), the 8-9-8 (6 11/16" by 43) and robusto-sized Series D No. 4 (4 7/8" by 50) are classics. They all show the typical Partagas strength with forward tobacco flavors and a hint of earthy spiciness.

Annual production at the Havana Partagas factory--also known as the Francisco Perez German factory--totals just over 4 million cigars. The Partagas brand represents just under half of that, with Cohiba taking another 25 percent and the remainder divided among the brands of Bolivar, Ramon Allones, La Gloria Cubana and a few others. "We basically make all the brands that the Cifuentes family used to make here, plus Cohiba and a few pyramid-shaped cigars," says Lopez. "We have the capacity to make 8 million cigars here. We are only limited at the moment by the tobacco harvests, which have been small in recent years. The newest harvest was better, so, we should have a larger production next year, maybe reaching 5 million cigars."

Although 2 million Partagas are made in its namesake factory, says Lopez, total production of the brand is much larger. Partagas is Cuba's second largest brand, after Montecristo, with nearly 10 million cigars sold with its red-and-gold band. Cigars produced within the Partagas factory have a stamp "FPG" on the bottom of the boxes. What isn't produced in his factory is farmed out to others. For instance, the La Corona factory, also in Havana, produces a large amount of machine-made cigars. Among them are the beautiful Partagas Presidente perfecto and the ubiquitous demitasse Partagas Chicos. Most machine-made Cuban cigars are wrapped in cellophane before being boxed, which is one way to tell the difference from a handmade one. "We still oversee the production of Partagas cigars in other factories," says Lopez. "Plus, we send them the raw materials to make the cigars, which assures some consistency in the blend."

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