If you’ve ever been to, or heard about the IPCPR, you know there are endless aisles packed with booths from cigarmakers, pipe dealers, humidor and accessory manufacturers and various sundries that are essential to the operation of tobacconists around the country. The trade show at the Festival de Habanos is a mere shadow of that scene, and in truth, is a showcase for various Cuban government enterprises and a smattering of foreign companies conducting business in Cuba. A generous guess would put the number of booths at 50.
It is housed in the Palacio de Convenciones, or PALCO as it known to attendees. There are two small levels of booths, the majority of which are filled with artisan goods—paintings, wood products, some jewelry and a seemingly endless array of antique items. If you dawdle, the trip through them might take an hour.
The unavoidable centerpiece is a grand booth from Habanos, filled each year with the cigars being released for the Festival and beautiful photographs of factories, fields and other cigar-related scenes. We shot a little video of the fair (see below).
The Festival’s real draw is the seminars and programs that are held throughout the week. There are tastings of cigars with various spirits. There is a “Habanos Sommelier of the Year” contest with entrants from around the world; a Mexican won the prize this year.
One of the best-attended events was the rolling seminar, run by Arnaldo Ovalles Brinones, the general director of the El Laguito factory where the majority of the big sizes of Cohiba cigars are made. More than 400 people packed the room with the requisite tobacco leaves to make a cigar. (Most were making cañonazos, or Siglo VI cigars, as the schedule promised, while we found others who were making more diminutive Siglo Is).
Unlike some seminars that I’ve seen where the amateur rollers are given a completed bunch and just asked to put the wrapper leaf on, the participants here started with stacks of leaves to make the blend, a binder leaf and a wrapper leaf. If you’ve ever tried to roll a cigar yourself, you can imagine the results, most of which look nothing like a handrolled cigar. But the crowd was completely enthralled and did their best to duplicate Sr. Ovaldo Brinones.
There was also a cigar and beverage tasting, pairing Ports from such storied houses as Dow’s and Graham’s with Cohiba, Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta and Partagás cigars, and a blind tasting of three Cuban cigars.
The closing ceremony at PALCO included a brief summary of the week’s events and an overview of Habanos’ business around the world. There were more than 500 people in the grand auditorium. After a week of dinners, parties and trips to factories and the Vuelta Abajo, most were worse for the wear. But everyone was already getting ready for next year.