They filed into the Four Seasons Restaurant in formal attire, selected fine cigars and raised a flute of Tattinger Champagne to the heavens to celebrate Cigar Aficionado's Tenth Anniversary Another Night to Remember, held on April 16 in New York City. They numbered 217 in all: cigarmakers, politicians, business leaders and celebrities, including James Gandolfini, Rush Limbaugh, Francis Ford Coppola, Rick Pitino and Rudolph Giuliani, united by the love of cigars and wine and a desire to give to CaP CURE, the research organization created by Michael Milken in hopes of finding a cure for prostate cancer. An auction of rare cigars, legendary wines and an array of luxury goods and services raised $756,000 for the charity, after Milken matched the $378,000 total with his own money.
The night began with a chilled seafood bar of lobster and shrimp cocktail, raw oysters and clams, as well as hors d'oeuvres such as blini with caviar, skewered scallops and bison carpaccio with black truffles. The guests sipped Champagne, Martinis and other cocktails as they selected from a world-class selection of premium cigars, including Arturo Fuentes, Ashtons, C.A.O.s, Cuesta-Reys, Diamond Crowns, Don Diego Reserves, La Flor Dominicanas, La Gloria Cubanas, Macanudos, Montecristo Serie Vs, Partagas Black Labels and Punch Rare Corojos.
Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado, and host and auctioneer for the evening, greeted and thanked the crowd as they sat at their tables, arranged around the dining-room fountain, which was filled with flowers, and flanked by cherry blossom trees in spring bloom.
"It's been 10 incredible years, and we made it," Shanken said, to heavy applause. He immediately gave a heartfelt thanks to the cigar- makers in the audience for their long-term support of the dinner, and they stood to crowd applause. The group comprised Theo Folz, Jim Colucci and Janelle Rosenfeld from Altadis U.S.A.; Edgar M. Cullman, David Danziger and Sherwin Seltzer from General Cigar Co.; Carlos Fuente Sr., Carlos Fuente Jr. and Wayne Suarez from Arturo Fuente Cigars; Robert Levin from Holt's Distributors Inc.; Ernesto Perez-Carrillo and Michael Giannini from El Credito Cigars Inc.; Jose Orlando Padrón and Jorge Padrón from PadrÛn Cigars Inc.; Eric M. Newman from J.C. Newman Cigar Co.; Litto Gomez and Ines Lorenzo-Gomez from La Flor Dominicana and Tim Ozgener from C.A.O. International Inc. Also in attendance were Fred Levinger from Colibri, as well as New York City cigar retailers Lionel Melendi from De La Concha, David Kitchens from Davidoff, Lew and LaVonda Rothman from JR Cigars and Bruce Goldstein from Arnold's Tobacco Shop.
The auction began with a mystery wine auction, and the winning bidders had to open the wine immediately and share it with their lucky tablemates. Each wine was revealed as a magnum of fine Bordeaux, including a 1945 Margaux, won by Ed Rabin, chief operating officer and executive vice president of Hyatt Hotels Corp., with a bid of $5,000.
Cigar Aficionado's grand dinner didn't always benefit CaP CURE: "When we started this dinner 10 years ago, we listed the charities and let people choose the charity they wanted their $1,000 to go to," Shanken told the guests prior to the auction. By the third year, CaP CURE had become the charity of choice. "I realized we should dedicate this dinner to prostate cancer research and CaP CURE," he said. "So far, in the seven years dedicated to CaP CURE, this dinner has raised $2.7 million."
Milken followed Shanken on the stage, and spoke about his research organization. "I match all funds, so it's $5.4 million," he said.
With six tables drinking some of the finest French wines the world has ever seen, diners tucked into soft shell crabs in lemon butter, accompanied by a Louis Jadot Batard Montrachet 1997. It was only the first of three courses that evening. The second course, beef short ribs served with morel mushrooms, was paired with a legendary wine, a Chateau Margaux 1989, one of Bordeaux's finest vintages. Dessert was paired with a 1977 Fonseca Vintage Port.
Rare cigars were passed out between the courses, beginning with a black, box-pressed Padrón 1964 Millennium Series Maduro, brought by Jose and Jorge L. PadrÛn. That was followed by the second dinner cigar, a Fuente Fuente OpusX PerfecXion No. 2, a pyramid brought by the Fuente family.
As the audience smoked, several people took the stage. CNN's Jeff Greenfield spoke about the importance of cigars and history. "Grant smoked cigars -- Lee didn't. We all know how that turned out," he said. Greenfield ran through a litany of examples from Churchill to Giuliani, leaving no doubt to any member of the audience about the close relationship between cigar smoke and intelligent political decision making.
Rick Pitino, the University of Louisville basketball coach, quieted the audience with a story about his best friend, whom he last saw while smoking a cigar off the 18th green at Pebble Beach. Soon after that great day, his friend was trapped in the World Trade Center at Cantor Fitzgerald. Pitino called his friend that day before the plane hit, and they spoke about how they wished they could be transported back to the seaside links.
The reminder of September 11 set the stage for one of the great heroes of that terrible day, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who took the podium in the middle of the auction. He thanked Shanken and the cigarmakers for their contributions at the last New York Cigar Aficionado Big Smoke, where 800 of New York's firefighters, police officers and emergency medical service personnel were able to enjoy a bit of peace after working tirelessly since that tragic day. "It was another indication of how they were cared for, how they weren't isolated and how they weren't alone," said Giuliani.
The lots at the charity auction were extraordinary. Highlights included A Flight to Remember, donated by Richard Santulli, chairman of NetJets. It consisted of five hours on a Gulfstream IV-SP, which seats 13. Facundo Bacardi of Bacardi Rum won the lot with a $32,000 bid, then offered to double his bid if Santulli would double the hours to 10. Santulli agreed, and the bid became $64,000.
Lot No. 12 turned out to be the most exciting one of the evening. It was a sneak preview of 800 Padrón Serie 1926 cigars, donated by Padrón Cigars Inc. The lot inspired hearty bidding. Leonard Riggio, chairman of Barnes & Noble Inc., bought the lot for $30,000 with a condition: that the cigars be given to Giuliani, who agreed to accept the cigars only if he could auction them again. Bidding resumed and the lot was finally won for $30,000 by Tony Goldman, a prominent real estate developer, Milken and Shanken, raising the total to $60,000.
The final lot proved one of the biggest of the night, called Marvin's Mystery Box, which featured an Elie Bleu humidor conceived by and made exclusively for Shanken by Alain Berda of Paris, founder and chief designer of Elie Bleu. The lot included an array of fine gifts, and was purchased by Limbaugh, the radio personality, for $50,000.
As the auction concluded, the guests received their final cigar of the night, a box-pressed double corona presented without a band. It smoked as a well-aged cigar, with a rich and complex flavor. Its stunning aroma was met with the heady scent of the Fonseca Port, which proved to be the perfect mate for the cigar. As dessert was served, the guests moved to other tables, sharing stories of the evening, thoughts already turning to next year's dinner.