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FESTIVAL DEL HABANOS 2003

Dear Friends,

What a privilege to be invited by Hunters & Frankau to join their group for the Festival del Habanos 2003.

This is the 5th Habanos Cigar Festival and cigar aficionados, connoisseurs, merchants and distributors from all over the world meet in Havana for five days of smoking the finest Havanas, drinking the best rum and enjoying interesting conversation at organised events, lunches and dinners daily.

Monday - Day 1

Our action packed week started with a welcome evening hosted by Habanos SA including an excellent dinner and magnificent cabaret at Tropicana. We were presented with a Trinidad wooden box containing a Fundadores and Robusto A which were perfect smokes for the evening.

Click on the picture to view a larger image

Tuesday - Day 2

On Day 2 we visited the El Laguito cigar factory (the home of the Cohiba brand!)  A number of interesting observations were made including :-

1. The tobacco is no longer remoistened by hand, but in specially built Italian units that moisten the leaf automatically.

2. Quality control has improved substantially with the introduction of a room full of draw test machines
which we believe may be one of the reasons why we've seen far less plugged or tightly rolled Havanas over the last year or so. Draw testing, we believe, is to be introduced in most Havana cigar factories, which must come as a great relief to Havana cigar  smokers worldwide.

3. We saw Cohiba Corona Especiales made and packed in the old style dress boxes as opposed to the hinged varnished box. A common misconception is that these boxes are counterfeit when in point of fact they are made at El Laguito for VIP gift purposes. We also saw the  new Cohiba Robusto 3 packs being made which are now available on the C.GARS Ltd online store. An excellent presentation, a perfect gift.

Our group was very fortunate to be accompanied by Simon Chase from Hunters & Frankau on our tour and those who know Simon realise that he is one of the foremost authorities on Havana cigars in the world.  Needless to say a constant question and answer session was carried on throughout the day!

Rafael Bernardo the spanish cigar connoisseur was also spotted taking photographs in El Laguito! 

I'm afraid there were absolutely no signs of any Siglo VI, either in the El Laguito factory or for that matter in Havana and despite receiving almost 200 emails a day from clients anxious to get their hands on this wonderful new cigar, our understanding from conversations with Hunters & Frankau as well as Habanos SA is that the Siglo VI is not available anywhere in the world and will not be commercially released until late May at the very earliest.

The Siglo VI is only currently available in the Siglo X Limited Edition Humidor which contains 15 cigars from each of the Siglo series including the new Siglo VI.  Its possible that major importers / distributors of Havanas have received a single sample box of Siglo VI but nothing further until these cigars are made widely available in due course.

I had the pleasure of smoking another wonderful new cigar which we hope will be commercially released around the same time as the Siglo VI. 

The new Trinidad size is 5 3/8" and 44 ring gauge approximately.  I  believe these cigars will be packed in 25's and with a similar blend to the Fundadores, this most pleasing cigar is sure to be a rapid success.

In keeping with previous years, a number of new Limited Editions were available including:

Partagas Serie C book style Humidor

Vegas Robaina 5th Anniversary Humidor

Montecristo Compay Segundo Humidor (containing 45 Salamones and 50 Marevas)

Vegueros Humidor

Email us if you'd like any further details - sales@cgarsltd.co.uk

The afternoon was spent at the Palacio de Convenciones Whisky & Cigar challenge, where I was delighted to be asked to be a judge by Whisky Magazine.  The tasting consisted of 12 whiskies and 3 Cuban cigars (Partagas Serie D No. 4, Cohiba Robusto, Hoyo Epicure No. 2) to establish the best whisky and cigar combination for 2003. To say we all had a 'merry' time during this serious tasting is an understatement! Personally I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon. :-)

The Order of Whiskies

1. Glengoyne - 17 years old 
2. Glenfiddich Solera - 15 years old

3. The Glenlivet American Oak Finish - 12 years old

4. Aberlour a'bunadh

5. Glenrothes - 22 year old

6. The Dalmore Cigar Malt

7. Isle of Jura Superstition

8. Poit Dhubh - 12 years old - Green label

9. Bowmore darkest

10. Cutty Sark - 18 years old

11. Chivas Regal Rare - 18 years old

12. Whyte & Mackay Masters Reserve - 21 years old

The Order of Cigars

1. Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2

2. Partagas Serie D No. 4

3. Cohiba Robusto

The Winning Combinations

Whyte & Mackay - 21 year old &  Partagas Serie D No. 4

The Dalmore Cigar Malt & Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 

Wednesday - Day 3

A most enjoyable day spent visiting the Vuelta Abajo, inspecting the harvest in full swing and learning more about tobacco processing.  The aroma from the tobacco whilst being air cured is truly intoxicating and during the 50 day process great care and attention is required to ensure that freshly harvested leaves are racked closest to the ground and gradually dried out as they are hoisted further and further up the barn. Leaves at the bottom are fresh and green whilst leaves at the top become mature and brown.

In my photographs below you can see two of the most famous cigar merchants in the UK, Edward Sahakian and Desmond Sautter viewing the tobacco plants that are being grown under muslin shade.  Lunch was enjoyed at an Escogiada (tobacco sorting house) and throughout the ever witty journalist / writer Nick Foulkes provided the most amusing of comments! You can also see Alejandro Robaina of the famous Vegas Robaina brand who was at our table sitting next to Denis Barthe from the cigar friendly Pennyhill Park Hotel and Restaurant in Surrey. 

Dinner was enjoyed at the El Aljibe Restaurant in Miramar. We were split onto a few tables, but my dinner companions included the lovely Loren (Stagnetto Cigar Merchant in Gibraltar!), Keith Rowson (Captain Crunch on Cigar Aficionado!) and Martin & John (Hunters & Frankau). El Aljibe is famous for its chicken dishes which were complimented with ice cold Crystal beer (not so good when not cold!) and custom rolled cigars by Luna thanks to Keith.

Thursday  - Day 4

The morning was spent at the international conference centre where there was some excellent exhibits of antique humidors and cabinets from Valerio Cornale who has the most magnificent collection in the world of pre embargo cigar related memorabilia.  Other exhibits included modern humidors and smokers accessories, books and magazines.

I took part in the cigar rolling class and demonstration and you can see my efforts in the photographs below.  Needless to say, I won't be giving up my day job!

The afternoon was spent at leisure and in my case that meant relaxing in the Casa del Habanos in the Partagas factory, where I smoked custom blend Double Coronas rolled by the famous cigar roller 'La China' and sipped 7 year old Ron Santiago. I was surprised to see my photograph in the Casa del Habanos book of memories (when C.GARS Ltd purchased the Steven Spielberg Humidor at the last Partagas dinner). I was also shown the Epicur cigar magazine which also had my picture in it! 

In the evening we were treated to a most excellent fashion show at the El Laguito Protocol House where we enjoyed Romeo Tubed Churchills and Partagas Serie D No. 4 whilst listening to music from many musicians including the legendary Chucho Valdes. (thank goodness nobody played Guantanamera)

Friday - Day 5

I attended the cigar Sommelier competition which was won by the Austrian contestant, although our group was certain that Matthew, the English contestant should have won. Nevertheless we all hope he will return and win next year.

The highlight of the Festival as always was the Gala Dinner to mark the 5th anniversary of the Trinidad brand and the 510th Anniversary of the Habanos arrival to the world.  The dinner was held at the Pab Expo Exhibition Centre.

We smoked superb cigars including a Cohiba Gran Corona which took me most of the evening to get through! 25 year old Montecristo Rum, strong, complex and a perfect accompaniment to our cigars. An meal was first rate and followed by a most interesting auction.

Regrettably, Fidel Castro did not attend this year as he was in Japan and auction prices were lower than expected. C.GARS Ltd had donated, a beautiful box of pre embargo Cabanas and to our shock and astonishment at some time after the dinner and before the auction, the box was stolen.  A terrible shame, particularly as this was a charity auction.

Although I was excited to bid for some of the lots, as was my contemporary Albert Stagnetto (the best cigar shops in Gibralta), I was unfortunately not successful, but nevertheless Simon Chase did his usual professional job as auctioneer. 

Here are the full results:

1 PERRENOUD HUMIDOR AND PAINTING BY CARLOS BOIX - US$17,000

2 SAN CRISTOBAL DE LA HABANA HUMIDOR AND PAINTING BY ALEXIS LEYVA (KCHO) - US$18,000

3 2000 HUMIDOR - US$60,000

4 TRINIDAD HUMIDOR AND PAINTING BY VIVES FIERRO - US$30,000

5 510 ANIVERSARY HUMIDOR - US$15,000

6 VINTAGE CIGARS CABINET FAVORITOS DE ESPAÑA - US$3,500

7-a HOYO DE MONTERREY HUMIDOR - US$115,000

8 PARTAGAS HUMIDOR - US$20,000

9 HABANOS' V FESTIVAL HUMIDOR - US$30,000

10 MONTECRISTO HUMIDOR - US$117,500

11 COHIBA TABLE SET - US$15,000

12 COHIBA HUMIDOR - US$40,000

Special 1 CHRISTIAN DIOR LEATHER BAG - US$6,000

Special 2 HUMIDOR CONTAINING DALMORE 50 YEARS OLD AND 50 COHIBA ROBUSTOS - US$13,000 

The lots at the auction were truly magnificent and full details are listed on the Cigar Aficionado website.

"Eight years ago, Habanos S.A., the exclusive exporters of Cuban cigars in Havana, established the Habano Man Award to recognize those individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the cigar industry. At this year's dinner Theo Rudman, was elected the Cigar Man of the Year for 2002 in the category of Communications. This is, in effect, a life time award as it can only be awarded once to a particular person.

 

The announcement made at the awards read:

 

"The award to Theo Rudman for his long dedication and personal effort in promoting cigars. He has written a number of books and contributed to many publications throughout the world on cigars. He is the most famous aficionado in South Africa and is respected and admired throughout world. He has spread the art, quality and knowledge of cigars in his famous guides, which are sold in more than 16 countries. He pioneered cigar dinners and clubs in South Africa and has also created an exclusive range of smoking accessories."The three nominees in the Communications category were:

 


Mr Nicholas Foulkes, a journalist from the United Kingdom, 

Mr Oleg Chechilov, a journalist from Russia and

Mr Theo Rudman, from South Africa.

 

The splendid trophy, in silver on a marble base, has hand-crafted by famous  Cuban artist, Raul Valladares Valdes.


Previous recipients are:
1995:  Marvin Shanken, Editor, Cigar Aficionado.
1996: J ose Ilario, Publisher, Epicur Magazine, Spain.
1997: Simon Chase, marketing director, Hunters & Frankau, UK.
1998: Jean-Paul Kauffmann, Editor, LÁmateur de Cigare, France.
1999: Helmut Rome, Publisher & editor, European Cigar Cult Journal, Austria.
2000: Compay Segundo, Celebrated Cuban musician.
2001: Don Alejandro Robaina, celebrated tobacco grower, Cuba.

 

I'm proud to know Theo and C.Gars Ltd recomends and sells his excellent book."
 

Saturday / Sunday - Day 6/7

Finally time to completely relax. Coach drive to Varadero and the afternoon on the beach at the Melia Las Americas.

Catamaran cruise and wonderful BBQ lunch  accompanied by most of the cigars that I hadn't yet smoked at the Gala dinner.  The chap who was in charge of the Catamaran frequently jumped off the boat returning a few minutes later with a lobster, apparently just caught! that our group would be enjoying for lunch, but I'm convinced he had a freezer bag hidden under the boat! :-) 

On route we even stopped off for a quick swim and photographs with the dolphins.  

The last dinner was enjoyed at the Condes de Villaneuva cigar hotel to round off a near perfect week in Havana.

Sincere thanks to John Darnton, Tatiana Camacho and Simon Chase for a wonderful week. 

Look out for my newsletters over the coming months where I'll be interviewing some very famous personalities in the Havana cigar industry.

My next trip to Cuba is planned for November 2003 for the Partagas Anniversary dinner. If you'd like details, my colleague Mike Mirecki (mike@cubawelcome.com) from Cuba Welcome would be happy to tempt you to join us on this trip which I'll be personally escorting.

All the best

M. O.  - C.GARS Ltd