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FESTIVAL DEL HABANOS 2005

MITCHELLS DIARY

Sunday 20th February

Habanos Festival...here we go again...the highlight of my years travel calendar :) ...a chance to meet old friends and new from within the cigar industry as well as aficionados and connoisseurs.

The VIIth Festival is already interesting, before we have arrived, the Cuban Government apparently having passed law to ban smoking in public places (are they becoming politically correct?!) ..... we are assured by Hunters and Frankau that allowances will be made for the Festival.

Meeting up with John Darnton (sales Director of Hunters & Frankau) and the Hunters and Frankau Group at Heathrow airport, our flight to Madrid was just about on
time and the first laugh of the trip was to find that I was sitting next to Adrian Leslie of Cigar Unlimited!.. Unlimited and Ltd next to each other (LOL) I understand Adrian has an excellent specialist cigar shop in Fulham that is well worth a visit.

10 hour flight from Madrid to Havana on Iberia...new aircraft...delightful...same old air hostesses (groan) nevertheless I was kept entertained by Vanessa from San Sebastien (duty free cigars if my Spanish translation was correct ...which it rarely is!) who constantly offered me sweets and chocolates throughout the flight ;-)

Finally arriving in Havana, I went through the usual slow passport control and rapidly on to change up my Sterling to the convertible Pesos (no more US Dollars here unless you want to blow 10% on the exchange rate!)

Hopped on the Hunters coach to the Hotel Nacional, check in was remarkably smoother than previous years and at last.....almost 24 hours of travelling later, it was time for a Puros.

Out to the terrace at the Nacional on a warm and breezy night...could there be a better spot for a cigar ? ( well I know one or two but I was happy to slum it here tonight!) Met up with Nick Foulkes (extremely witty journalist), Edward Sahakian (extremely professional and suave cigar merchant from Davidoff in London) and Simon Chase (ummm....walking encyclopaedia and Marketing Director of Hunters & Frankau) and some other thoroughly nice chaps from the Hunters & Frankau group. Some 7 year old Havana Club together with a 7 year old H Upmann Corona... the perfect start to my trip ;-)
 
Simon Chase relaxing at the Nacional Guy Hancock Decent Cigar Emporium Dublin relaxing at Commodoro cigar shop. Mirecki enjoys pizza at the Melia Habana! Nick Foulkes journalist...need I say more ?!

Monday 21st February

Sun is shining and it's around 75F....a beautiful day in Havana. I don't want to work too hard so I headed for the Robaina shop at the Melia Habana Hotel for coffee and smokes. Andreas the manager was helpful and welcoming, the coffee was strong and was complimented with some custom blends that I had made by Yolanda last February that were just about ready to smoke now. These cigars are not for the faint of heart as I had asked Yolanda to make them "Mas Fuerte"...not the best idea for me as a I prefer mild cigars! Nevertheless, they were full of flavour and little nicotine. The vitola was "Trabuca" (my spelling may be wrong based on the fact that Yolanda does not speak English and my Spanish...........!) Think of an overgrown Siglo VI and you're on the right lines!

Popped into the 5th Avenue Casa Del Habanos and said Hi to the manager Osmany briefly and checked if my cigars were maturing well. I've been laying down
cigars in Havana for the last 8 years and have enough mature cigars to last me for the next 8 years !

The cigars shops are full of stocks, regular and Edicion Limitada but alas nothing that we don't already have in the UK market. No sign of Ramon Allones Belicosos which I am pleased are only available in the UK.

The new Romeo book of Fabulosos can be found but you have to look very hard for them as they are few and far between.

No sign of the eagerly awaited Partagas Serie D Reserva although I have tried it and can confirm it is a most splendid cigar. The second band on the cigar says 2000 i.e. the filler tobacco is aged from 2000!...now you know why the cigar is excellent.

No sign of the new Partagas P2 although I have tried that as well :) The P2 is a piramides with a regular wrapper not Edicion Limitada and not maduro. (Same size and shape as a Monte 2) The blend is balanced but the cigar is fresh. It shows great promise and is sure to be extremely popular although patience and humidor time is required.

I understand that we may well be seeing an extension to the San Cristobal range with 4 new vitolas ....baffling marketing decision by Habanos but who am I to pass judgement.

Great jazz and entertainment at Casa del Musica in the evening (with Guy Hancock from The Decent Cigar Emporium in Dublin...be sure to visit his shop if you visit Ireland!) complimented with rather copious quantities of Havana Club 7 and Montecristo No.1´s from 1970 (nothing like smoking aged cigars in Havana!)

Simon Chase Che photo in the factory The Hunters and Frankau coach! A rather excellent Russian cigar sommelier!

Tuesday 22nd February

Early start as I'm off to Pinar Del Rio (literally Pines of the River) with the Hunters and Frankau group led by Simon Chase, John Darnton and Anna Lopez.

Luxury coach (better than the hotel in fact...I almost stayed in it for the rest of the week!) with a bar at the back (...well Crystal beer and Havana Club rum!) and the tour guide very kindly advised that "smoking was forbidden but hey guys....leave it all up to you."...off we went in a puff of smoke!

Constant wit and amusement was provided by Bill Knott journalist or as he prefers recovering chef...(previously Green street of Mayfair) as well as the one and only Nick Foulkes....dressed in his inimitable fashion.

Pinar Del Rio has some 15,000 hectares of prime tobacco growing area and this year Habanos expect to crank out some 3 million hand made cigars of better quality than ever before.

70% of the tobacco in Cuba comes from the Pinar Del Rio and this has been the driest year in the last 75 years which has been very good for the crops.

We drove past San Luis Y Martinez and the Hoyo De Monterrey plantation where I was surprised how late the harvest was, as there was still plenty of tobacco
in the fields. Expect excellent cigars from this years vintage.

Inspecting the curing barns I learned that last seasons hurricanes had no affect on the industry to speak of.

As reported last year, Habanos are now laying down bales of tobacco for ageing and use at later dates....we should see some awesome smokes over the next
few years.

Back to Havana and dinner at the Nacional gourmet restaurant ....bit of an oxymoron but the atmosphere and ambience was excellent.....I don't think much has changed here for the last 50 odd years except the faces of the diners.

No shortage of tobacco this year :-) Simon spamming his book "Cultivating a Tradition" My hero :-) How does he do that?!

Wednesday 23rd February

The trade fair opens at the convention centre and I'm there from the off. I love to meet up with antiques collectors (especially my friend Valerio Cornale who has the best collection the world...apart from him being a thoroughly nice chap!)

Bought my ticket for the raffle...prize is a Limited Edition Montecristo humidor...will I ever win ???!!!

Plenty of exhibitors this year including Montecristo fashions, aftershave and colognes (which are remarkably good) and cigar arts and crafts. Couldn't resist buying more of the glass cased baseball bats made of tobacco!...hope they don't fall to pieces in my suitcase on the way home!

Bumped into the Italian Mafia :0) and was invited to their cigar evening at the Hostal Conde de Villa Nueva on Thursday.. how could I refuse? The Havana Italian cigar smoking community are the coolest I know. (Thanks Massimo, Angelo and Alex..Boss, Under boss and Consigliore!)

Off to Club Havana for a smoke with Christoph Wolters. Decided on some 1969 Partagas Lusitanias that I just happened to have with me (!).... Christoph poured the Roederer champagne and we decided that this was how the life of a cigar merchant should be :) I congratulated Christoph on the wonderful new Bolivar Gold Medals as we discussed other limited production cigars that we would love to see recreated...watch this space ;-)

It may look like a post card but it's real!.

Thursday 24th February


Well....today is Whisky and Cigars challenge day hosted by Damien Riley Smiths excellent Whisky magazine.

I was judge at round 1 at Floridita in London last month and gladly participated, or should I say enthusiastically participated, in round 2 and the final at the convention centre today :-)

I'll leave it to Whisky Magazine to report in full but I can tell you that I guessed 1 of the cigars correctly which was the Siglo V but the second cigar which I was certain was a Partagas 898 was in fact a Bolivar Inmensas... I am absolutely floored! I have always liked the Inmensas and will soon be offering my friends and clients a very special deal on these splendid Puros. The winning Whisky was I believe a Glenrothes (hic)!

Have to head to the pool to top up the tan...more news from the Festival dinner follows soon assuming the computers hold out at The Nacional Hotel!

This evening I'm attending a party thrown by the Cigar Clubs of Italy Association at Hostal Conde De Villa Nueva in Old Havana.

This hotel has it's own Casa Del Habanos which has been refurbished since I was last here and looks better than ever.

Fantastic Cuban band, good food and plenty of fine libations. The event was held in the courtyard on a beautiful warm dry evening.

Chatted with James Suckling from Cigar Aficionado and Max Gutman the official importer from Mexico who kindly gifted me a rather old Cohiba Lanceros :-) I think he enjoyed my late 60's Montecristo No 1 :-)

Sat with a load of guys including Valerio (the most famous Cuban antique collector) and Salvatore Parisi the famous cigar collector (diary note must take Italian classes this year!) Swapped a late 1960's Montecristo No 1 with an enormous Diademas from Alex :-)

Thanks to all my Italian friends including Angelo Bigi for such a pleasant evening.

11 PM and it's off to the Boisedales party ...somewhere near Miramar in a Paladar.

More bands ..dancing and copious quantities of single malt Whisky. Great to see my friend Mike Mirecki of Cuba Welcome Travel there.

Thanks to Ranald McDonald of Boisdales and Floridita for a great evening. Be sure to visit his excellent restaurants in London!

 

No shortage of wrapper!   Hanging up to cure  
   
Bill, Mitch and Simon enjoying a lunch time cigar (Ramón Belicosos thanks H and F!) Rafael Bernardo    


Friday 25th February

Late start and I'm off to the Partagas factory Casa del Habanos. The Manager Abel greets me warmly as ever. Said hi to Kiki and Jose who kindly gave me a La China salomones with an awesome maduro wrapper. Smoked it on the spot! strong sweet and perfectly crafted. Accompanied by a couple of strong espressos...I'm now fully awake!

Next stop La Corona factory Casa del Habanos where I bump into Ajay Patel from Broadweighs cigars who's chilling out at the bar.

Said hello to Toboada (probably the best roller in Havana) and asked him to make me a bundle of maduro piramides and he gladly obliged:-)

Well....the big night is here and it's time for the Gala dinner!

Hopped on the Hunters and Frankau coach and the rain started to pour! Luckily the event was not open air as it was last year!

Greeted by beautiful statuesque girls serving Champagne and Partagas Shorts I headed into the dinner where I am told 900 people attended from all over the world.

Chatted with loads of folks I know both from the cigar industry and cigar aficionados. Hot topic was the supposed smoking ban in Cuba which seems to be almost universally ignored I am pleased to say. Perhaps just a token gesture from Fidel to appear politically correct?

Sitting between Simon Chase and Jemma Freeman and opposite David Lewis (Chairman of Hunters and Frankau) was an honour in itself.

A few speeches as usual as well as Habanos Man of The Year Awards. Congratulations to Vahe Gerard of Geneva for winning retailer award. Do visit his excellent cigar store at the Noga Hilton if you find yourself in Geneva.

English actor Jeremy Irons made a short speech that went something like this, " Cigarettes are like having sex ...cigars are like making love"! Bizarre but very funny! Nice chap...I had my photo with him!

Various entertainment provided by singers, dancers and a rather bizarre magician! Followed by Chuchu Valdez on piano....awesome and then Spanish dancer Joachim Cortez.....incredible!

It's already 1 in the morning and Simon Chase starts the charity auction (proceeds to the National Health service in Cuba) 6 beautiful lots all sold rather smoothly this year and Simon was an excellent auctioneer! Full details of lots and photos to follow.

We smoked Partagas Petit Corona Especiales and 898 during the meal and the new Partagas P2 after the meal. This is sure to be a popular cigar. Attendees were gifted a delightful varnished box containing 3 of the new Partagas cigars.

Thanks to Hunters and Frankau for all their help during my trip to the Festival this year.

....and to think I have to do this all again next year ;-)

Hope you enjoy the photos.

Best

Mitchell Orchant
Whisky and cigar Challenge Whisky and cigar challenge I really do excel in some things...like whisky and cigars :-) Bill Knott
recovering chef (!)
Final round Whisky and cigar challenge
  Angelo Bigi at Conde De Villa Nueva CCA night James Suckling European editor Cigar Aficionado magazine at Conde De Villa Nueva CCA night Nobuhiro at Conde De Villa Nueva CCA night Valerio at Conde De Villa Nueva CCA night
Partagas LCDH Bernard from South Africa at Boisedales party Caught trying to take these leaves out! Edward Sahakian Davidoff of London Partagas LCDH
   
The panel included the British ambassador Bill relaxing with a good cigar or two or three....      

WHATS ON

The organisers' extensive programme starts on the 23rd of February, with the III International Habanosommelier Competition, a very popular event among the growing number of Habanos enthusiasts who ask for the advice of the sommelier when choosing a cigar. The participants in this international competition are the  winning sommeliers of the national encounters organised in each different country.

As part of the Grand Finale, competitors will undergo a theoretical exam, where they will have to prove their knowledge of the different brands and vitolas. The finalists will then show their skills in a practical test which demonstrates their cutting and lighting techniques with Habanos, followed by a descriptive tasting session and the association of these cigars with a range of different drinks.

The Whisky and Cigar Challenge, held for the second time this year, is another favourite among Festival Week participants. On this occasion, different marriages will be proposed between a variety of whisky brands and Habanos cigars. The winner will emerge victorious from the votes of over three hundred participants who will taste the
proposed combinations.

The programme also includes an International Seminar with lectures on different subjects such as The World of Luxury. Present and Future, the historic links of San Cristóbal de La Havana with the Habanos brand and an interesting analysis of Literature, Cinema and Habanos.

PRACTICAL CLASSES

Festival participants this year will be given a practical class on the art of rolling and making a Robusto cigar. In Cuba, where almost no Habanos are machine rolled, a long tradition of "torcedores" or artisan cigar rollers has developed over the years. The only tools these experts use are a wooden board, a ring punch to cut the cap, a guillotine, vegetable gum and a template to measure the length and girth of the cigar and, of course their skilled hands. It takes years to become an expert in this work, considered by many to be an art.

The day's practical class will be completed with an interesting Round Table Discussion on Cigar Tasting, a subject that is becoming more and more popular among Festival regulars. Participants will be given the best advice and suggestions for full enjoyment of a Habanos. Participants will come away full of useful recommendations covering how to select, cut, light and enjoy the cigar.

Following the wise process, this ceremony turns smoking a Habanos into delight for your senses. In the process of choosing a cigar, all of one's senses are involved: the colour should be pleasing to the eye, the perfect construction and correct conservation of the cigar should welcome the touch, its aromas should delight your sense of smell and its typical exclusive flavour should be pleasing on your palate.

AN EXCEPTIONAL EXCURSION

Cuba has the best land in the world for growing tobacco, but only a few places, known as vegas (tobacco fields) are considered suitable for growing the kind of tobacco used for making Habanos. Classed as "Vegas Finas de Primera" (First Class Fine Tobacco Fields), they meet unique soil-quality and micro-climate requirements, which make them unique for tobacco cultivation.

One of the most prestigious vegas is located in Vuelta Abajo, considered the best land in the world for growing tobacco. Vuela Abajo is the only vegas that produces all kinds of leaves. But even here, only a small portion, less than a quarter, of the productive land is classed as "Vega Fina de Primera", a requisite for growing tobacco for
Habanos.

Once again, the Festival organisers are offering an excursion through the major growing areas of this region: Pinar del Río, a province in the west of the island where there are several famous plantations like those of tobacco grower Alejandro Robaina. The excursion proposed by the Festival will culminate with a visit to the "Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagas" (Partagas Royal Tobacco Works) in Havana. The prestigious "Partagas" brand, one of the most celebrated cigars, are still made here. This is one of the oldest cigar factories in Cuba and a mecca for any cigar lover.

TRADE FAIR

In the week of the 22nd to the 27th of February, the city of Havana acts as host to showcase the excellence of Habanos. The Festival organises a Trade Fair that attracts all the leading professionals in the industry. This unique encounter, perhaps the best cigar industry exhibition in the world, allows participants the chance to purchase all kinds of Habanos related products in the heart of Cuba.

Every year, the fair attracts over 40 exhibitors, from manufacturers of humidors, articles for smokers and luxury items to gourmet products, crafts, farming related products, machinery, among other products.

INNOVATION AND DEVELOPMENT

The exceptional quality of the Cuban tobacco plant, which grows naturally in some parts of the island, has won it a reputation that is unrivalled anywhere in the world. Despite this, the Habanos S.A. company is well aware of just how important it is to devote effort to scientific development. These new discoveries are then applied to tobacco growing in order to maintain the quality standards that have made its' products famous throughout the world.

Habanos cigars are made from Cuban Black Tobacco, the direct descendent of the plants that Columbus discovered in Cuba over five hundred years ago. Since the early 20th century, scientific advancements have helped to improve the wide range of seed varieties, identify their characteristics and find resistant varieties. The Habanos S.A. Corporation has a deep commitment to preserve and perfect the essence of the true and unique Cuban seed; the seed that produces Cuban Black
Tobacco.

In this sense, the Festival also serves as an important forum for discussion and for exchanging experiences among prestigious researchers in the world of tobacco growing from all over the world. This year, a Scientific Seminar will focus on aspects such as genetic development, molecular biology, bio-technology, agricultural engineering and alternative uses of tobacco.

As part of this seminar, Habanos S.A. Corporation will hold an International Workshop with Cell death in plants: A challenge for the new millennium as its central theme. Participants will include specialists in Plant Pathology and Plant Physiology as well as students and professors of applied biology and agricultural engineering.

CLIMAX

The VI Habanos Festival reaches its high point on the 27th with the traditional Gala Dinner, a unique event that brings together over 800 cigar lovers from all over to celebrate the Habanos cigar in style. The evening will include the Hombre Habano 2004 Awards, which commends outstanding work in cigar-profession categories
such as Production, Communication, Retail Sales and Business.

Another high point of the Gala Dinner is the long awaited Humidor Auction, an event to auction off unique examples of fine cedar work. As in other years, the money raised from the bidding will go to the Cuban Health Service.

With the unmistakeable aroma and flavour of this evening, Havana puts the finishing touches to a frantic week in which the island opens up its walls once again to welcome all those who love Cuba's most famous export product.
 
Info on Partagas 2 Auction catalogue Auction catalogue Auction catalogue Auction catalogue
 
Auction catalogue Partagas P2 presentation case gifted to attendees of the gala dinner New Havana Club rum only available in Cuba at this time   Auction Catalogue

     

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