Riveting! No other word describes Habana Compas, the dance troupe clad in black jumpsuits, long hair swirling, lithe bodies gyrating and the pounding percussion from their drumsticks on the wooden chairs they carried pulsing through the 1000-plus attendees in tuxedos and suits and flowing long gowns.
The dance group, one of the featured performances at the Festival de Habanos closing dinner last Friday night, highlighted an evening celebrating the brand Romeo y Julieta. Instead of the black on gold decor of several recent gala dinners, the banquet hall was vividly outlined with snow-white floors, bright red walls and splashy silver cursive lettering of one of Cuba’s signature brands.
A who’s who of the Cuban cigar universe joined in the festivities. Alison Cooper of Imperial Tobacco, Fernando Dominguez of Altadis S.A. Habanos, Habanos co-presidents Buenaventura Jimenez Sanchez Canete and Jorge Luis Fernandez Maique and vice president Ana Lopez Garcia, one of the longest serving executives of Habanos, and Javier Terres, also a Habanos vice president, were all at the head tables.
There were Habanos distributors from around the world, including David Tang from the Asia-Pacific region, Max Gutmann from Mexico and Jemma Freeman of the U.K’s Hunters & Frankau (who also received the Habanos Business Award of the Year). There were also Casa del Habano shop owners such as Christoph Wolters from Germany and Ajay Patel from England. In fact, they were joined by Casas del Habanos owners and Habanos distributors from virtually every country or region around the world.
One of Cuba’s leading political figures, national assembly president Ricardo Alarcon, also attended the dinner, and he was joined by several government ministers. Hirochi Robaina, one of the country’s most celebrated cigar tobacco growers, also was there. And, the crowd was filled with plain old cigar lovers, from the United States, Mexico Canada, South America, Europe and the United Kingdom, the Middle East and the Far East.
American actor Jim Belushi, a true cigar aficionado, brought an air of celebrity to the festivities. In a short presentation, preceded by a short solo on his trademark harmonica, summed up what nearly everyone in the audience was feeling: “I LOVE Cuba.”
The dinner focused on the Romeo y Julieta brand, one of the top five international brands for Habanos, and always closely associated with the famous size, the Churchill, one of my all-time favorite Cuban cigars. But the entire night provided a smoking forum for different sizes in the line; attendees received the Romeo y Julieta Exhibición No. 4, the newly released Romeo y Julieta Petit Churchill and the Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill. The pièce de résistance was the debut of the new Romeo y Julieta Churchill Reserva Cosecha 2008. The latter shows its youth, but it is a delightfully balanced cigar with a core of leather and coffee bean flavors that promises to only get better as it settles down after a year or two. The distinctive black and silver Reserva band will almost certainly become a much sought after addition to every connoisseur’s collection.
In the end, the annual live auction to benefit the Cuban health system raised about $963,000. The top lot was a humidor designed as a replica of the famous El Laguito factory, the home of the Cohiba brand, and the more recently developed Behike cigar. The single lot raised nearly $475,000.
As the evening wound to a close, every Festival attendee realized what a great week it had been and were already looking forward to next year.