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Part Two: Las Vegas Big Smoke Saturday Seminars

Rising Cigar Stars
Nov 8, 2006 | By Gregory Mottola
Part Two: Las Vegas Big Smoke Saturday Seminars

By 9:30 am, few people had finished the Padrón 80th Anniversary, the specially made perfecto and the first cigar presented to the sold-out crowd at the Big Smoke Las Vegas seminar. As cigar enthusiasts looked through their bags of premium smokes, David Savona, senior editor of Cigar Aficionado magazine, introduced three very young faces to the cigar world, opening Saturday's second seminar, entitled Rising Stars. The main attraction was three young cigar producers barely out of their 20s: Pete Johnson, who created the Tatuaje cigar brand, Jose Oliva of Oliva Cigar Co. and Ernesto Padilla of Padilla Cigars. All have put forth smokes that have garnered not only consistently high scores in Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Insider, but placement in Cigar Aficionado's Top 25 cigars of the year.

Savona asked Johnson, who was wearing a baseball jersey that said "Cuba," to explain his brand. "A lot of people who smoke Tatuajes might not know what Tatuaje means, let alone know how to pronounce it," said Savona. "You want to tell the audience a little about it, Pete?"

Johnson responded by pulling up both his sleeves and exposing two arms richly decorated in tattoos.

Pete Johnson
Tatuaje means tattoo in Spanish, and Johnson told the audience that he has a Fuente Fuente OpusX tattoo on his arm, adding that he has no compunction about tattooing cigar brands he likes on his body.

"So you have a Cigar Aficionado tattoo?" asked Savona.

"A temporary one," answered Johnson, getting one of the first real big laughs of the morning. By this time, some members of the audience had opted to light up their red-label Tatuaje cigars, made in the Nicaraguan El Rey de Los Habanos factory. Johnson talked about how master roller Pepin Garcia procures fine tobacco for his brand and how Garcia's unusually adept skill is evidenced by the fine construction of the cigar.

"When I visit the factory, I'm like the conductor and Pepin is the orchestra," said Johnson.

Ernesto Padilla
Padilla chimed in, attesting to Garcia's skill, as Garcia makes some Padilla cigars as well. Like the Tatuaje red-label Havana VI, Padilla's Habano cigar is also made in Nicaragua, but in the Oliva Cigar factory. Other audience members opted to smoke Padilla's robusto-sized cigar, which was included in their packet, as Padilla spoke about his involvement with the industry and how he started out doing marketing for Tabacalera Perdomo. Padilla also mentioned his father's influence on his outlook on cigars and how the Signature 1932 cigar, Padilla's newest release, was a tribute to him.

Oliva spoke about the new Master Blends 3 cigar that a good number of attendees were smoking and related how as a child he had a job banding cigars.

"I remember thinking: Boy whatever I do, I don't want to be in this business," recalled Oliva.

Jose Oliva
Savona eventually turned the microphone over to the audience. One participant asked a question directed to the entire panel: "Outside of your own cigars, what's your favorite smoke?"

The panel went silent for a moment. And then another moment before Oliva half-jokingly said, "What a terrible position you just put us in."

Johnson added "Who's in the room right now?" Litto Gomez, maker of La Flor Dominicana cigars, stood up and Johnson immediately said he loved what Gomez does. The panelists were understandably reluctant to answer the question, but managed to joke their way out of it. Johnson then reminded the room that his tattoos reflect his taste in cigars, and that tattoos have a sexy mystique, which is why he used the word Tatuaje for his brand.

A member of the audience enjoys a smoke while listening to the panelists.
"Tatuaje is very sexual," Johnson said, but there was an odd silence, and then he added, "that comment was for you ladies out there, not the men." The room filled with laughter, and this was the general mood of the seminar -- serious cigar talk underscored by good humor and great energy, which was a prefect representation of the youthful theme of the discussion. All of the energy, creativity and enthusiasm that cigarmakers like Johnson, Oliva and Padilla bring to the cigar world was projected onto the audience, making for a lively and educational morning. Many cigar smokers have been faithful to their brands for so long that, to some, a favorite cigar is like an old friend. By the end of the seminar, hundreds of inveterate cigar smokers had made three new friends.

Photos by Camilla Sjodin