Cigar Aficionado

Part Two: Las Vegas Big Smoke Saturday Seminars

Fathers and Sons

The opening event of the first day of seminars at the 2008 Las Vegas Big Smoke began with an apology of sorts. Cigar legend Jose Orlando Padrón, creator of two Cigar Aficionado Cigars of the Year, was regretting in Spanish that he was unable to address the audience in English, and instead had to be translated by his son Jorge, with whom he shared the podium.

"I apologize that I am a man of the jungle," he said. "But I thought it was more important to make cigars than to learn English. That way I could bring a lot of pleasure to others."

The rousing applause of the sold-out crowd signaled that they appreciated the decision.

Padrón and his son took the first segment of a three-part seminar that celebrated father-and-son teams in the cigar industry. Carlos Toraño and Carlos Fuente Jr. spoke at the other two segments, which were sandwiched between the other seminars of the Saturday program. (They also supplied cigars.) The two cigarmakers also echoed Padrón's sentiment that bringing pleasure to cigar smokers was Job No. 1 in their field.

Jose Orlando Padrón, right, and his son, Jorge.

Padrón reminisced about the creation of his cigar company in Miami in 1964, having fled Cuba's Pinar del Rio tobacco region, and the hardships that he faced as a fledgling business man in the United States. Almost cashless, the new venture had to establish an address by renting space for a number of months in order to get its license. When Padron did begin making cigars, he couldn't afford a salesman and had to act in that capacity himself. He had one size, the Fuma, which sold for 30 cents apiece or $6 a box.

The initial response to Padrón's cigars was mixed because, as he pointed out, at the time many Americans considered them too full-bodied. Padrón said that his incentive in creating the Cubanesque taste profile was that he "didn't want the Cubans new to Miami to miss their cigars as well as their homeland."

Jorge Padrón

In the early years, brand distribution was limited to the Miami area with about six million cigars a year. While his son Jorge Padrón, now president of Padrón Cigars Inc., helped expand the label into a national business, Jose Orlando Padrón said he likes to keep volume to the same numbers as it allows him to maintain quality.

Jorge Padrón saluted his father, saying: "If I learn 40 percent of what he knows, I'll be fine."

Jose Orlando Padrón added a bit to that wealth of knowledge with this exhortation: "Remember you have to stroke that tobacco when you handle it, because the tobacco it is like a woman and it responds to good treatment.

Carlos Toraño, the patriarch of a family that had grown tobacco for many generations, became a tobacco dealer and now makes cigars as well. He pointed to his Cuban roots with the selection of the cigar that he gave to the audience: the Carlos Toraño Exodus 1959 Double Corona. He explained the date referred to the year Cubans began to leave Cuba after the Castro Revolution.

Carlos Toraño

"A little bit of our history is in each one of the cigars that you are smoking," said Toraño of the cigar, which is made from a blend of tobacco from five countries: Nicaragua, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic.

Toraño devoted much of his remarks to the strong possibility of an end to the Cuban Embargo and the return of its cigars to the U.S. market. "I am not afraid," he said, noting that there have been great strides in non-Cuban cigars in recent years and that they are making the best cigars that the industry has made in 40 years. "I would welcome the Cubans as we have better product and better quality control."

He illustrated that opinion with a story of visiting a cigar store in Puerto Rico recently when customers came in looking for Cuban cigars. The store had none, but Toraño said he could accommodate the gentlemen if they came back later. Subsequently, he handed over "10 unbanded Montecristo No. 2s," for which the customers paid $25 apiece and left with. They came back later, wanting more and saying that those were the best Cubans they had ever had. Toraño returned to the humidor and came back with a box of his own Carlos Toraño Nicaraguan Selection, from which 10 cigars were missing. These, of course, were the cigars he had given the customers to begin with. He offered them the rest of the box with no addition to the $250 they had already paid.

The reaction to having been temporarily duped? "They said they were so happy because otherwise they never would have tried them."

Toraño also discussed his family's entry into the cigar-production industry, recollecting that he and his son Charlie felt they needed a factory in 1998 right at the end of the cigar boom, While they faced some failure at the beginning of that venture, the company now makes some 20 million cigars a year with all the attendant production and consistency problems that that poses. "If I come back in another life," he jested. "I want to be a Padrón."

Carlos Fuente Jr., of Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia., honored his father, Carlos, who was unable to come to the event, saying, "I can't speak about cigars without speaking about my father. When they made that mold they broke it."

Carlos Fuente Jr.

Remarking about the large representation of family businesses in the cigar industry, Fuente remembered growing up in the small wooden house of his grandparents, the extended family all working overtime to make cigars. He said he cherished bonding with his hardworking grandfather and father. "My father still works around the clock and lives breathes and dreams cigars."

Fuente supplied the crowd with two cigars. The first was an Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Robusto, the preferred smoke of his father. The second was a Fuente Fuente OpusX Lancero, which he allowed was one of the toughest cigar shapes and sizes to roll. One cigar roller is charged with rolling the entire production of the shape, rolling 50 cigars a day. The cigar isn't part of the regular Fuente portfolio, and sales from the very limited release are donated to the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation, the company's charity dedicated to helping children in the Dominican Republic.

As he lit his cigar, Fuente joked that he was putting himself on the spot as one of the typical problems with a poorly rolled lancero was that they wouldn't light easily. His lit with no problem.

He also spoke on the subject of ongoing challenges in the cigar business because of dangers posed to each crop. "Every year there is a new challenge," he said mentioning that last year the fields at Chateau Fuente were flooded twice, resulting in a loss of 50 percent of the crop. He stressed the value of raw tobacco to the business. "You can't replace it. It's our greatest resource."

Cigar Rolling
Cigar Blending
Lunch With The Experts

Charlie Palmer Breakfast
Roll Your Own
Mas Tequila

Friday and Saturday Night