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Mitchells Festival del Habanos 2004 Diary

Habanos SA will be holding the Festival's VI event from 22nd February to 27th February 2004! As always, Mitchell will be attending to bring us all the latest information direct from Havana, where they will be celebrating the V anniversary of the launching of the San Cristobal Le Habana brand.

As usual it will be a week of pleasure and delight, full of good smoking and sharing experiences with experts and aficionados of Habanos, the best cigars in the world.

Mitchell will be reporting here on a daily basis, with his Havana Diary, so you can find out all the latest gossip as it happens!!! So remember to check in here on a daily basis starting from Monday 23rd February.

23rd February 2004 - Mitchell Arrives!!

Long flight to Havana via Madrid on Monday and the usual chaos ensued at the airport. Long queues at passport control (always join the VIP line!) and an hour and a half wait for baggage to come thru! Bumped into James Suckling  whilst waiting at the airport and enjoyed a chat with him whilst we puffed on our first Havanas in Havana :-)

More chaos at the hotel Nacional with over bookings and guests getting fed up with waiting at reception...welcome to Havana I thought!

Enjoyed some Havana Club 15 year old with a Hoyo Piramides on the veranda at the Nacional accompanied by a lot of "the usual suspects" Keith, Alex, Mike, Valerio, Angelo and Simon Chase to name a few.

Checked out the Robaina shop at the Melia Habana (one of my favorites) and saw the new Montecristo humidor (50 Salamones and 50 Monte A) not very impressive but rather expensive at $3,800. Saw the Hoyo 109 Colleccion Book ....very classy indeed. Caught a glimpse of the new Montecristo Edmundo.....that vitola is sure to be popular.

Shot over to the Convention centre to check out the trade fair which started today. Had a quick drink and smoke with Johan Markwell and stayed a while at the Murray Frame and Love stand sipping strong Cuban coffee. Picked up a few antiques and souvenirs as well as my tickets for the Churchill diner at the Hotel Nacional on Wednesday and the Gala dinner on Friday.

Off to a fashion show at the Melia Habana Hotel this evening......more to report tomorrow.

24th/25th February 2004

The fashion show at the Melia Habana was excellent. Beautiful models and Trinidad Fundadores cigars, cocktails and canapes... who could ask for better! I enjoyed chatting with Christoph Wolters from Germany, Nobuhiro from Japan (great surprise to see him!) Guy Hancock from the Decent Cigar Emporium in Dublin and many others fine folks.

Diner was at an Italian restaurant in the Commodoro Hotel and by Cuban standards was rather "acceptable" :-) The evening finished on the veranda of the Hotel Nacional with a few of my smoking buddies, ´93 Dom Perignon and another Trinidad Fundadores.

This morning started out at the Robaina shop again at the Melia with a fresh corona Gorda rolled by Yolanda and a couple of Cubita espressos....a fine way to start the day :-)

I´m off now to see Hamlet the roller at the Romeo factory and test out his cigars (tough job eh?!) and this evening I´m attending what should be a wonderful dinner for 800 people ("The Churchill Dinner") at the Nacional!!  :-)

26th February 2004

Checked out the Casa Del Habanos at the Romeo factory and the hospitality was certainly second to none. Plenty of complimentary rum, coffee, cigars and snacks...most impressive. Tried a cigar rolled by Hamlet and it was very good indeed but still not in the same league as Valdes/Cueto/Toboada.

Moved on to 5th avenue LCDH but not much of interest there except my private stash of cigars which are maturing nicely (mainly 1994/5/6 vintage)

On to Club Havana to test out the Enrique Mons Lonsdales ("Monsdales")... again not a bad smoke but a bit too light in flavour for me. The problem with smoking custom blends in Havana is that they are too fresh for my palette and the nicotine content is so high it´s not easy to detect the flavour. Time and patience is of course the key.

A couple of hours round the pool at the Nacional with Keith and Alex smoking our Monsdales and then it was time for "The Churchill dinner" at the Nacional.

The dinner was held outside on the veranda. We were greeted with a specially banded Robaina 85th anniversary cigars as well as a specially banded Winston Churchill cigar both of which smoked very well indeed.

Around 800 people enjoyed cigars, cocktails, snacks and some great music on this very very humid evening.

The speeches started and we heard that a new Floridita with a Casa Del Habanos will soon be opening in Londons West End. I´m looking forward to spending some enjoyable evenings there!

Towards the end of the speeches, the weather turned a lot cooler and there was an incredible storm so the party moved inside and continued till the early hours with plenty of champagne and various single malts.

Whilst investigating the cigar industry in Havana I am delighted to report that finally the cigar merchants (and cigar smokers) dream is going to come true.....Habanos are finally aging tobacco and special warehouse have now been set up with bales of tobacco being clearly marked as to when they have been laid down and when they are to be used. I understand that 5 years age is the minimum target and this will ensure that cigars will indeed in future be matured and ready for smoking straight out of the box. I have had these facts confirmed to me by Simon Chase, the sales and marketing director of UK importers Hunters and Frankau. Havana cigars will truly continue to be the Rolls Royce of cigars.

28th February 2004

Thursday night....was invited to an evening at la Guarida restaurant hosted by James Suckling (European Editor of Cigar Aficionado) - great food and wine.

James gave out some original batch San Cristobal El Morro from 1999 as well as some aged Bolivar Royal Coronas (1995 I think....too much rum at that stage! but still a great cigar!)

Max Guttman, the importer of Habanos for Mexico (and the first La Casa Del Habanos retailer in the world some 12 years ago) kindly gifted me a Davidoff 2000 which was very pleasant indeed.

Chistoph Wolters from LCDH Germany (and of course famous for creating the Partagas 1996 Especialidad) was entertaining as usual. We were also joined by Simon Chase from Hunters and Frankau and other cigar connoisseurs who will probably want to remain anonymous.

We all agreed that this dinner was indeed the "dinner of the year" and we would try to repeat it annually. Thanks James.

Friday Gala dinner

The weather has turned rather cold and very windy in Havana and as the dinner was being held outdoors in El Laguito a lot of people were rather concerned that the eveing could be rained away!...we were told that there was no "plan B" if it rained! Well...it did!...but luckily only for a few seconds ;-)

Now I have been coming to Havana for many years and enjoyed a lot of the dinners but nothing compares to this one....this truly was the best. I understand that over 850 people attended.

Celebrating the 5th anniversary of the San Cristobal brand, the evening kicked off to a bit of a slow start with a Montecristo No.5 but we were gifted a 3 pack of Trinidad Robusto extra as well as the new 3 pack of beautifully tubed Cohiba Siglo VI.... all of which were smoked by the end of the evening :-) We also enjoyed a Trinidad Coloniales and San Cristobal "109" which is a prominente (double corona) with a slight taper on the head... very attractive cigar that smoked perfectly.

The usual Habanos men of the year awards ceremony took place (This is a bit like the Oscars of the cigar industry!) My friend Angelo Bigi was nominated in the communications category but regrettably did not win this year. I tried to ask around and find out who decides on the nomination and who votes for the winners but got the impression that this was not a democratic process !

Entertainment was provided by an excellent big band, various singers and dancers including water ballet (they must have been well cold!)....all in all hard to find fault with any aspect of the evening.

Simon Chase held the auction with proceeds going to the Cuban Health service. All humidors signed by Fidel Castro.

The results were:

Lot 1 San Cristobal Humidor $26,000

20 El Morro
25 El Principe
20 La Fuerza
20 La Punta
20 Rodolfos
20 Hermosos No.1
25 Dalias Cortas

Lot 2 Hoyo De Monterrey Humidor $54,000

10 Particulares
15 Double coronas
20 Epicure no.1
20 le Hoyo Du Roi
20 Le Hoyo Du Prince
15 cigars made exclusively for this occasion 50 ring gauge 184mm length
2 boxes Hoyo particulares LE maduro
1 cabinet Epicure no.2
1 cabinet Le Hoyo Des Dieux
1 box Hoyo Coronas

Lot 3 Partagas humidor and painting $70.000

25 Serie D 3
25 Presidentes
25 Lusitania
25 Serie D no.1
25 Churchill deluxe

Lot 4 Montecristo Humidor $50,000

25 Edmundos
25 Double coronas
25 Monte C
25 Robustos

Lot 5 Cohiba Humidor and sculpture $250,000

25 Siglo VI
25 Lanceros
25 Esplendidos
25 Siglo V
25 Piramides
25 Robusto especial

Full catalogue of auction, photos of the dinner, menus etc will be published on this webpage on Wednesday. 

OK, that´s all the news for now........have to run to a cocktail party at the Partagas factory ;-)

Hasta manana

"Hamlet" roller at the Romeo shop Vimal,John and Will at Gala dinner   Now that's more my size of cigar!
Goodie bags to greet us at the gala dinner
The H&F coach
Simon Chase of Hunters and Frankau Fashion show at Melia Habana Hotel
Fashion show at Melia Habana hotel Cohiba Humidor Cohiba Lot 5 Montecristo Humidor
Lot 4 Montecristo humidor Partagas humidor in auction catalogue Lot 3  
Hoyo lot 2 San Cristobal lot 1 Auction catalogue Churchill dinner invitation
Auction catalogue Fashion show at the Melia Habana hotel Guy Hancock from the Decent Cigar Emporium in Dublin....the coolest cigar shop in Ireland Christoph Wolters from Germany
Johann Markwell from Sweden Churchill dinner invitation. Valerio Cornale from Havana and Grand Cayman LCDH Gala dinner invitation
H Upmann 160th anniversary humidor Upmann 160th anniversary humidor H Upmann 160th anniversary humidor. The auction Paddle!
Menu from gala dinner Vegas Robaina 85th anniversary cigar from Gala dinner and Churchill cigars fromChurchill dinner at the Hotel Nacional.
San Cristobal "109" prominente (double corona with slightly tapered head) from the Gala dinner
 Churchill cigar from the Churchill dinner at the Nacional hotel
Gala dinner invitation.
Festival dinner invitation. Menu for dinner held at El Laguito Menu for the Festival dinner held at El Laguito New packaging for tubed Cohiba Siglo VI

Questions & Answers!!

  Q.   Greetings From Wisconsin, USA: Regrettably, I have not kept up on this subject, but
         perhaps Mitchell can give us a brief overview of the situation. What is the current state
         of Cuban cigar factories? Have any new ones been completed recently? Regards, Jim
         I´ll have more details over the next few days but i understand there are still plans to
         close down La Corona and turn it into a museum. I heard that the old El Rey factory was
         being rebuilt to state of the art. More draw testing and quality control than ever so
         quality should continue to improve. New warehouse for the sole purposes of laying
         down bales of tobacco for 5 years to age have been seen and confirmed..  Jose Marti
         has now been completely rebuilt and is state of the art modern. All cigars are draw
         tested. Cigar moulds are new (no doubt from Spain) and the workers all have smiles on
         their faces obviously content with their new improved working environment.

Q.      Will the Robaina book be available in your online store?
          I have just bought a copy of the Robaina book for our library and it is quite excellent.
          It´s really the life story of Robaina and his family which is quite fascinating. The photos
          are very good indeed. I am not certain if there are any plans to sell the book in the UK
          but I would guess that eventually they will be available on my website.

          Rafael Bernardo has also written a first rate book on Havana cigars but is is currently
          available in Spanish only. I understand that there are plans for an English translation.

          Angelo Bigi's book is also due to be translated into English and will be available on my
          website in due course.

This just in from Bob C.....

Q.     How many of the beautiful women remember me from my last trip!!!
         Absolutely none (LOL)!!

Q.     Smokin Mo! What is your favourite brand of recent production Havanas? 
        Well, that has to be Hoyo Piramides limited edition maduro. Sweet and full of flavour
        but  not overpowering in strength. bearing in mind that this cigar is still very young, as it
        matures it will be quite awesome!

Q.     Mitch, something that's always bothered me? What's the difference between an H.
        Upmann Sir Winston and an H. Upmann Monarch? They both appear to be the exact
        same size!
        The Sir Winston is presented in a hinged varnished box and the Monarch (in the UK ) is
        the tubed version of the same cigar. In recent years I have not been able to tell any
        significant difference in blend between the 2 cigars.

Q.     Mitch, If Fidel Castro signs a box of cigars, does this add much value? Would you see
        them as becoming highly collectible? Are boxes that are signed quite rare to come by?
        Yes without any doubt, anything signed by Castro adds tremendous value and would be
        considered a collectors item. Castro signs a few boxes/cabinets a year which are usually
        auctioned with proceeds going to the Cuban national health service.

Q.     Mitch, I'm planning a trip to Havana at the end of the year, where would you
        recommend I go to find good stogies?
        My favorite cigars shops so far on this trip in preference order are:
        - The Robaina shop at the Melia Habana Hotel....excellent range and service, superb
        - The Casa Del Habanos at the Romeo factory. Amazing hospitality as well as first class
        roller "Hamlet"
        - Casa del Habanos at Partagas factory, always a busy buzzy atmosphere

Q     Smokeymo, Who do you most look forward to bumping into whilst in Havana?" :-)
        I always like meeting Don Alejandro Robaina and I understand he will be at the
        Convention centre on Friday. He is celebrating his 85th birthday this year and a new
        book about his life has just been published. There is a raffle for a 85th anniversary
        Robaina humidor containing 85 cigars. The winning ticket will be drawn by Robaina on
        Friday...I have my fingers crossed:-) If you have any questions you'd like Mitch to try and answer for you whilst he's in Havana, just email         them to me laura@cgarsltd.co.uk and I'll be sure to post the answers on this page! 

Mitchells Herfing Havana Sampler (as pictured above!)

includes one each of the following
Romeo Cazadores 1984
Romeo Corona Grandes 1988
Ramon Allones 898 varnished 1994
Hoyo Epicure No.2 1994
Montecristo No.1 1979
Montecristo No.2 1986
Bolivar Belicosos Finos 1995
Ramon Allones Gigantes 1994
Hoyo de Monterrey Churchill 1984
Punch Ninfas 1982 
includes shipping worldwide