Cigar Aficionado European editor James Suckling reprised his yearly report on Cuban Cigars at the Las Vegas Big Smoke—with a couple of twists: the seminar became a multimedia one with the showing of a promotional film on H. Upmann cigars, and Suckling's guest was a retailer of Cuban cigars who had actual factory experience in Havana.
Arek Aboulian, of Raffi Cigare Geneva, the son of the proprietor of the Geneva, Switzerland store, described his experience when he took a sort of cigar internship with H. Upmann. He spoke foremost of the dedication of Cuban cigarmakers who strive under hard conditions with little recompense to create this national art form.
"Cigars are the pride of Cuba," Aboulian said, "and the heart is the factory." The young man worked both in the blending room and the galleria, where cigars are rolled. He added that it was bonding experience with Cuban people, who were open to accepting him.
"The people in the factory are like a family. They work from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and eat their breakfast and lunch together," he described. "I was completely well received. They called me hermano (brother)."
Asked if now was a good time to buy Cubans, the response was an emphatic "yes" as recent hurricanes hectoring Cuba will almost certainly drive up the cost in the near future.
Suckling, who visits Cuba regularly for Cigar Aficionado, describes the hardships that weather problems have subjected people to. "They've all been affected. There are shortages of food and the prices are up for food and gas. These are people who make an average $18 a month and they have to find ways to supplement their income." He recounted the story of one tobacco farm at which they had work slowdowns because of the unavailability of diesel fuel to run their tractors.
The weather flattened many tobacco barns, and while they weren't storing tobacco at the time, Cubans will be hard pressed to replace them with a shortage of wood and nails. "I'm not sure if they are going to plant tobacco. Lost tobacco is the big question mark hanging over Cuban production," Suckling said.
Suckling also commented on recent marketing of Cuban cigars. Two large trends are the packaging of cigars in single metal tubes and in sampler packs, the thinking being that with high prices, customers can taste test cigars before committing to a large purchase.
The Upmann promotional film showed an old Cuban traditionalist and a hip young man in contrast fishing on Havana's Malecon. At first at odds, they ultimately bond over their love of cigars. At its conclusion, Suckling announced: "It's not to far in the distance that we can all enjoy a cigar together on the Malecon."
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