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Cuba Quandary

As Cubans Increase Cigar Production, the Quality is Starting to Suffer
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Michael Douglas, May/Jun 98

(continued from page 4)

Alejandro Robaina, the legendary wrapper tobacco grower whose namesake is one of Cuba's new cigar brands, received the first award of the evening, for Best Tobacco Producer in Cuba. Oswaldo Encarnacion, director of the Union of Tobacco Enterprises, presented the honor to Robaina. Awards for the three categories of "Habano Man of the Year" followed: Zurich cigar retailer Samuel Menzi won for the trade category; Simon Chase, director of marketing for U.K. cigar importer Hunters & Frankau Ltd., took the communications section; and Swiss cigar importer Henrich Villiger received the award in the commercial division.

An auction followed the awards ceremony. Nicholas Freeman, director of Hunters & Frankau in London, told the crowd that he expected high bids, and not in Italian lire but in U.S. dollars. The good-natured gibe was directed at Enrico Gazaroli, an Italian who imports wine and spirits to Cuba and also runs a hotel and makes cigars in Nassau, the Bahamas. The big, boisterous Italian always bids at Habanos events, and this year's party was no different. He paid $55,000 for a small replica of the Millennium humidor. (The full-sized version will hold 2,000 Cuban cigars comprising some 20 brands and 185 shapes; 20 of the humidors will be sold next year for about $100,000 each and one will be auctioned.) American Gary Arzt, a keen smoker and cigar producer in the Dominican Republic, bought a Credo humidor for $25,000 that included 25 cigars of his choice. Raphael Levy, a Cuban cigar agent living in Switzerland, paid $65,000 for a crafted humidor with figural designs cast into its metal top. It contained 50 Cuaba cigars, 10 of each size, as well as a new figurado-shaped Churchill size coming out next year. Juan Maria Cazes, the Cuban cigar agent for Andorra, paid $60,000 for a cedar-and-mahogany humidor shaped like a curing barn and filled with 20 of each of the five sizes of Vegas Robaina cigars.

But the biggest bid of the night came from Levy, who paid $100,000 for a Trinidad humidor. Made of cedar with sterling silver inlays depicting the town of Trinidad and the cigar's logo, the humidor was crafted by Cuban silversmith Raúl Valladares Valdés, creator of the Habanos Man of the Year statuettes. Inside the box were 101 Trinidad Funadores, one with a gold cigar band, and a sterling silver cutter with the Trinidad logo in 18K gold and ivory. Like the other four humidors auctioned that evening, the Trinidad was signed by Fidel Castro.

With the end of the auction, guests sat back in their stiff metal chairs and finished the Trinidad Fundadores and glasses of seven-year-old Havana Club rum. Sure, the night wasn't perfect, but the opportunity to smoke the first Trinidads on the market in Havana was worth enduring any of the negatives.--James Suckling

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