Q&A: The Silent Legend
An Interview with Alfons Mayer, the globe-travelling tobacco buyer for General Cigar Co.
From the Print Edition:
Morgan Freeman, Mar/Apr 2005
(continued from page 4)
Q: What is your impression of the old Cuban tobacco, how does that differ from your impression of Cuban tobacco now, and what are the prospects for the future?
A: I would say the good plantations—the excellent plantations in San Luis, Corojo—never changed. They are still the top-quality tobacco you can lay your hands on, because of the climatic conditions in the Pinar del Río area. I have a book from 1945, every word on how they work in Pinar del Río. When I got to Cuba in 1992, there was not a book to be found, anywhere, not in the university. The government took over. It is quite different when you are run by government than by private companies buying tobacco knowing exactly where to go, because those farmers, pre-Castro, got a much better price and were much more enthusiastic to get the quality of tobacco the way it should be than be taken over by the government, who says you have to do this, and you get paid that much. And everybody the same. That's the difference. The second category [in later years] is they needed dollars, and they didn't give [the tobacco] the sufficient age and preparation—put it in yagua for a year and a half to two years and check those bales out between A, B and C. A means use, B means wait until it becomes an A, and C from C to B to A. And that's what we did [in the '50s]. We didn't use all 500 bales, we probably got the first time 30 or 40 bales, then they go to the country and they got assessed.
Q: How long would they age the tobacco in the '50s in Cuba?
A: Those bales would go at least for a year and a half, two years, in Havana, where it is much more moist, in those stone warehouses. You cannot age tobacco in the country, because it's too dry.
Q: Were they still taking the same care with the tobacco when you went back to Cuba in '92?
A: I saw yagua in the warehouses in '92—but the rooms were almost empty. They needed dollars. And [they] sped up the [aging] time. But they got eye-openers, they knew what was wrong.
Q: So they've made changes?
A: They made changes, they're going back to the quality and preservations and timing that they find makes better cigars than before.
Q: Do you think the Cuban cigars being made today are better than those made in the mid-'90s?
A: I would say, yes. The biggest problem for the public is there are so many cigars coming in from Santo Domingo and other places, contraband.
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