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Written by Gary J. Arzt

Friday, 25 July 2008

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76th IPCPR ANNUAL CONVENTION & TRADE SHOW (Formerly RTDA)

76th IPCPR ANNUAL CONVENTION & TRADE SHOW (Formerly RTDA)With 1680 plus booths, the show looked to be one of the largest in recent years. I don't know the final count on attendees, but it appeared that those that were there were there to buy.

Sands Convention & Expo Center

To give you a walking tour of the Sands Convention & Expo Center floor would be an onerous task, and might be a little tedious for you.

In trying to recapitulate the event, I'm reminded of the story of a U.S.A.F. Captain, in the China, Burma, and India Theatre of WWII. His plane was shot down and he survived. He made his way to a Maharaja's palace; and the Maharaja took him in. When the airman was fully recovered, the Maharaja led him to his harem and threw open the doors, revealing twenty-two voluptuous women ... the Maharaja's wives and concubines. "By way of thanking you for what you have done for my country," he said, "I want you to enjoy yourself here. "The Captain stood, immobile for twenty minutes, when his host said, "Don't you know what to do?" To which the officer replied, "Oh, I know what to do alright; I just don't know where to begin."

And so, I'll try to find a place to begin ...

Jesus Fuego, of the eponymous brand, was located at the Xicar booth, for which he makes the Defiance brand cigar. He was very active, with retailers ordering his J. Fuego Corojo and Natural cigars, with which he started his line. The excitement, however; centered on his Delirium maduro line and the newer than new 777. All are excellent cigars, made by a very knowledgeable cigar maker descended from several generations of tobacco farmers.

La Flor Dominicana had several 'special' items along with their well regarded regular product line. Litto Gomez had created a third issue of his Limitada along with 300 of a new issue of Factory Press. When those three hundred were sold, there was no way to get one. And, I am here to tell you they were sold out by Tuesday. La Flor also released another batch of their 'A' ... on very limited availability as well as a fantastic sampler called Los Perfectos; an exquisitely styled prefecto in a box of five, made from a variety of their blends. The five pack of Carajo, a ligero blend in a 34 x 4 come packed in beautiful wood packets. How the hell Litto packs all that flavour in those little sticks is beyond me!

The Ashton booth, elegantly laid out, as always, featured an exquisite new line extension of their highly regarded and highly successful La Aroma de Cuba. This time, the cigar is made for them by Pepin Garcia, who has already produced Holt's Old Henry, and their San Cristobal, which took the smoking world by storm after last year's RTDA (now the IPCPR). It is not hard to understand why Pepin is El Rey de los Habanos!*

Ashton did their usual series of dinners for the tobacconists, hosting about seven hundred and twenty plus customers, at three dinners at Wolfgang Puck's Postrio in the Venetian. Manny Ferrero, Ashton's V. P. of Sales, was kind enough to invite me, to enjoy a fabulous meal in the company of many, many old friends that I rarely get to see.

MATASA, whose sister company, S.A.G. Imports lost the distribution of Joya de Nicaragua, 'struck back' with an superb new line, made in Nicaragua, called Casa Magna. Manuel Quesada also introduced a cigar called Cubano Viso Fuerte. Your correspondent enjoyed both of them, perhaps, in excess!



The La Aurora booth was bustling, but I managed to get some time to sit down with Jose Blanco, who had brought me a special gift from Santiago. Enough said. The Barrel Aged was doing very well for them, albeit it was introduced last year.

This year they brought out their Puro Vintage 2003, which Jose, always passionate about his product, was kind enough to describe in detail; but rather parsimonious when it came to giving me one!

I did smoke several of their new LJ robusto and enjoyed them tremendously.

All excellent cigars. But, then, we expect no less from the Dominican Republic's oldest cigar manufacturer.

Opposite the La Aurora booth was their U.S. Distributor, Nestor Miranda's Miami Cigar & Company. Nestor, Rene Castaneda, MC&C' National Sales Manager and his extremely astute regional sales people were featuring the already successful 1989 line (introduced last year), the famous Don Lino Africa and, of course, the repackaged Tatiana, one of, if not the, leading flavored cigar line. The new Mocha was quite a hit; as the air around the booth was redolent with the aroma of coffee, chocolate and fine tobacco.

In addition, MC&C was showing, for the first time, their line of fine accessories; lighters, cutters, cigar cases (graphite) humidors, travel humidors, money clips, key chains and pens. Made in Japan and Taiwan, the line is comprehensive and very attractive.

Word leaked during the show that Miranda's company had acquired the rights to Tony Borhani's (you all remember Tony Borhani) Bahia, now styled "Bahia by Miami Cigar." This after Borhani had sold the Bahia Blue (the box color, not the tobacco) to Cigars International about a week ago.

The ProCigar (Asociación de Productores de Cigarros de La Republica Dominicana, Inc.) booth was not, per se, about cigars. They were promoting the 2009 ProCigar Festival. The second iteration of something they started with great success in 2008.

Last year's ProCigar Festival was the trial run, and for a trial run it was superb. For cigar lovers who dare not venture to Cuba for the Habanos Festival, and why should we when we have so many fine cigars to choose from, from other countries, this is more than a mere substitute. This is an opportunity to see tobacco grown, cured, fermented, first hand. To see cigars made and to meet and question the several of the foremost manufacturers. And then, you can lunch with them and attend galas, each evening, filled with Dominican entertainment and culture.

This year the event is in February, and you can make your booking at www.procigar.org

Aside from promoting the event, the charming ladies of ProCigar, lead by my favorite Dominican señorita, Michelle Marcelino, were purveying the best coffee in Las Vegas.

To my observation there was one corner of the convention floor that was constantly busy ...

Don Pepin Way, at the end of aisle 1600 where Espinosa y Ortega, El Rey de los Habanos/Don Pepin and Tatuaje were running out of samples and order forms very early in the game.

Pepin was introducing My Father, a cigar blended by his son, Jamie, in honor of Pepin, as well as their new Tabacos Baez. Sometimes one has to wonder how this brilliant cigar maker can make nothing but superb cigars that have captured the attention, and respect, of smokers all over the world.

Espinosa y Ortega (EO Brands) introduced their second line, also made by Pepin, to follow on the heels of their success with the 601. Cubao, in six sizes, including an elegant, classic lancero at 38 x 7.5. Nicaraguan filler and binder are wrapped in a flavor filled Ecuadoran Sumatra. Even the box is extraordinary, with an elegant patina of age.

Also on Espinosa y Ortega's palette of fine cigars is a limited edition called Mi Barrio, or, My Neighborhood. The first edition is a 7.5 x 52. The cigars will be issued quarterly; each selection will be a different vitola and a different blend in a unique box with original art by Miami based Cuban artist Edin Gutierrez. The bands will match the cover art.

Edin has also created art that EO is using on humidors, ashtrays, coasters and lithographed reproductions of the original paintings.

All that and two very well made bundled cigars from Nicaragua expand and round out the offerings from Espinosa y Ortega.

Pete Johnson, owner of Havana Cellars, distributors of Tatuaje, Cabaiguan, had some new sizes in his existing lines as well as introducing La Riqueza ... made, of course, by Don Pepin. With a Connecticut broadleaf wrapper it is an excellent cigar with great flavor. Suffice it to say, Pete, a fashionista at heart, had some new baseball caps, tee shirts and polo shirts to accessorize the smoker.

In spite of an ongoing legal issue with Habanos S.A. over the use of the name Guantanamera, Jose Montagne had a reasonably well trafficked booth where his new Duo, a thick, aromatic maduro was garnering a lot of attention.

Augusto Reyes had a dazzling array of limited edition cigars, in his AR brand, called City. In boxes topped with art depicting cities from Kiev to Chicago, and a dozen or so in between, he had a particular cigar for each city. I haven't had an opportunity to smoke the samples Augusto gave me, but I have every confidence they will be worthy of the name Augusto Reyes ... with a little help from Monika Kelner Reyes!

Any smoker seeking a new experience should give them a try ...

Dona Flor Cigar

While Brazil Cigars & Tobacco were laying claim to Felix Menendez' Dona Flor, and both companies were claiming ownership, a small, new Brazilian company, Tabacos Mata Fina Ltda, through its U.S. Agent, Mata Fina Imports, in Miami, were introducing a truly magnificent line of cigars made from 100% Mata Fina and Mata Norte tobaccos. Initially in three sizes, the line will add additional vitolas early in 2009.

They should be in tobacconists in September, and any smoker seeking a new experience should give them a try.

This is a tobacco industry show, so there were pipes, hookahs, snuff, matches, lighters, humidors, cigar cases, tobacco pouches, pipe cleaners, clove cigarettes and every thing else, tobacco wise, you can imagine.

When it came to humidors, cutters and lighters there were several choices, from the high end Daniel Marshall, who has made exquisitely detailed, fine wood humidors for more than a decade, to Elie Bleu, who while they make beautiful humidors of collector like character, made a tremendous faux pas.

In an industry that is overwhelmingly populated by Cubans and Americans of Cuban descent, they had the poor taste to exhibit a humidor with a drawing of Che Guevara on the lid! Thoughtless? Certainly lacking in grace.

When it came to humidors, one of the largest booths was that of Orleans Group International, based in Boca Raton, FL.

That their products all come from China is not what makes them distinctive. Orleans does their own designing and has a very unique feature in humidors such as their Rampart line; a cedar 'grate' that fits in the bottom of the humidor, keeping the cigars off the bottom and allowing the humidified air to circulate all around the cigars. Another excellent reason to store your cigars out of the cellophane.

Steve Harvey, Orleans CEO, has a strong desire to make the company a full service organization, including the distribution of cigars. Coming from the Private Equity world, it is in his nature to expand acquired companies.

With that interest in mind, I paid attention when I twice saw Steve in the company of Frenchman Jean Clemente, owner of the twenty-six year old brand, Juan Clemente (clever) made in the Dominican Republic.

Jean's cigars are widely distributed in several European countries, and I first encountered them in 1984 in Hong Kong.

If a deal is cooking, rest assured you'll be seeing these excellent cigars in U. S. tobacconists shortly.

Charles Darby of Benchmade Knife Company and Raul Cruz, Operations Mgr of United Tobacco – 601 and Cubao cigars
Charles Darby of Benchmade Knife Company and Raul Cruz, Operations Mgr of United Tobacco – 601 and Cubao cigars
Charles Darby of Benchmade Knife Company manned the familiar booth with the finest American made blades available. Such that ICE and our Boarder Patrol and most police forces use them, to say nothing of the military.

Why are they at the IPCPR? Because, as Charles explained, so many cigar smokers are sportsmen, hunters and just knife fanciers. For the true connoisseur they had a few on display that had engraved blades (maybe today they are lasered or etched) with 18 kt. Gold embellishments. The booth was very active.

Xikar, maker of what are today's most popular cigar cutters and lighters – all with a Lifetime Guarantee - introduced a new slim 64 ring gauge cutter; a carbon fiber finish Xikar cutter in their unique design with a matching lighter and cigar case.

They have produced a new line of humidors, and, of course, they had other merchandise as a result of their acquisition of Madeleine.

The end of each day's show meant that the schmoozing and selling continued over drinks and dinner. The Oculus Bar euphemistically referred to as the "Round Bar" and the Center Bar, on the casino floor of the Venetian, was the location of choice as the watering hole and gathering place before people went off to dinner and then to party at Tao and several favored venues.

I've already mentioned Ashton's very civilized dinners, meticulously arranged by Manny Ferrero. CAO had a stellar event at The Palms; Pepin Garcia hosted a dinner for his Sales Reps and clients at Del Frisco's. There was the IPCPR's Opening Reception on Sunday evening; General Cigar's annual cocktail party.

Perhaps the most marvelous evening was the, mostly black tie, dinner hosted by Davidoff. The guest speaker was Hon. Winston Churchill, grandson of the WWII British Prime Minster. Davidoff has introduced a line of cigars named for the brilliant statesman and writer, so it was only fitting that 'young' Winston discourse on his famous grandfather. At last, a brand of cigars named for history's most famous cigar smoker.

Among the publications present were ...

The Cigar Report, published by Aaron Sigmond (founder of Smoke) and Doubledown media. This quarterly magazine, in its third issue is an eminently readable, well put together, up market controlled circulation magazine going to 331,000+ readers.

Thor Nielsen's Cigar Press, out of Los Angeles, makes for a very good read. Thor's writing style is very engaging. I particularly enjoyed his interview with Henke Kelner in the last issue.

Of course, Cigar Aficionado was there in force with James Suckling, David Savona and Greg Mottola covering the show, while their booth, adjacent to that of La Flor Dominicana offered a respite to the foot weary retailers.

Russia's elegant Cigar Clan magazine was present with Publisher Artashes Shirikyan in attendance. Without his charming and attractive, Co-Publisher, Editor and wife, Natalia Ryzhkova, the English at the booth was sparse, albeit he had an interpreter with him. The magazine is worthy of, well, worthy of Town & Country or, even, Cigar Aficionado!

The ebullient publisher of European Cigar Cult Journal, Reinhold Widmayer was present and could be seen checking out almost every booth and every cigar on the floor. Widmayer is a true connoisseur and the magazine has been a success from day one.

Tobacconist, Smoke and Smoke Shop all had booths and their people were covering the event as well.

Richard Perlman, of www.cigarcyclopedia.com, and publisher of an annual comprehensive Cyclopedia of Cigars, as well as The Pocket Cyclopedia of Cigars, covered every nook and cranny, and was finishing up around noon on Thursday on Don Pepin Way, talking with Pepin and Jamie Garcia, Eddie Ortega and Erik Espinosa and, of course, Pete Johnson.

Many of the independent cigar bloggers and web site operators, constituting the non print, alternative media, were covering the show as well.

All these publications provide interesting stories, cigar ratings and photography for the dedicated cigar smoker.

There were a couple of other anomalies, besides the Elie Bleu Che Guevara humidor.

Illusione, whose boxes have various references to the Mayan version of 'End of Days' – the 5000 year old calendar ends on December 21, 2012 – added to the discomfort of some by having several photos of Jim Jones, the cult apostle of The People's Temple in San Francisco. Jones facilitated the death of more than nine hundred of his disciples in 'Jonestown', Guyana on November 18, 1978, by having them drink Kool Aid laced with cyanide! I wonder how many people were put off by that when they thought about smoking the highly touted cigars. I would be and was. And, why connect such a character to the fine art of cigars and the enjoyment of cigars.

Will we be seeing the likenesses of Pol Pot, Josef Stalin at booths in New Orleans next year?

Tony Borhani had a booth with three (3) banners saying "Rebirth." Borhani himself was nowhere in sight nor were any of his once relished cigars. But, if anyone is capable of resurrecting a brand, it's Nestor Miranda and his team at Miami Cigar & Company.

Ernie Padilla had a very attractive booth without much on display. His presence gave rise to much questioning about "Who is making Padilla's today?"

Many of the booths had Membership applications for the Cigar Rights of America organization (www.cigarrights.org ). This is the first and foremost effort made by the industry, but really designed to be smoker/consumer driven, to protect our rights against the anti-smoking, anti-pleasure forces that are so active in the United States. If we don't help ourselves; no one will. Join CRA and make your voice heard so that we can continue to enjoy the pleasure of smoking a fine cigar without harassment and onerous legislation. Check out the site for news, commentary and the online application.

Otherwise, there was plenty to see; plenty to sample and plenty for the attending tobacconists to order. We smokers will start to see all these things at our favorite tobacconists by September.

*Translates to "The King of Havanas" (His Miami company's name, and a sobriquet often applied to the Master Cigar Maker).

Photos from IPCPR


Jose Montagne and Pierre Joligard of “Guantanamera” cigars

Jose Montagne and a beautiful woman

Poster of Erik Espinosa and Eddie Ortega at the United Tobacco booth

Customers at United Tobacco booth

Original art, humidors and ashtrays at United Tobacco booth

Don Pepin Garcia booth

Don Pepin Garcia

Maria Garcia (Mrs. Jose "Pepin" Garcia), Amilcar Perez and Jaime Garcia of Don Pepin Garcia

Eddie Ortega of United Tobacco talking with Cigar Review owner Kevin Godbee and girlfriend Laura

Patrick Vivalo, Nat'l Sales Mgr and Eddie Ortega at United Tobacco booth
 

Robbie Morton of Cordova Cigars, Pensacola, FL and Gary J. Arzt
 

Gary J. Arzt and Jerry Mistretta, Jerry’s Cajun Café, Pensacola, FL

Gary J. Arzt and John, Cordova Cigars, Pensacola, FL

The legendary Rolando Reyes of Reyes Family Cigars (Puros Indios, Cuba Aliados)

Rolando Reyes

Israel Delgado, Gary J. Arzt, Rolando Reyes and Carlos Garcia

Charles Darby, Benchmade Knife Company, looking at an attractive woman!

Benchmade Knife

Les De Assis, founder and CEO of Benchmade Knife Co., Phil Barron after a superb dinner at Bouchon’s

La Flor Dominicana’s “Los Perfectos” sampler introduced at the show

Jose Bermudez and unidentified retailers at MATASA booth

Manuel Quesada, owner of MATASA and unidentified retailers at MATASA booth

Michelle Marcelino of ProCigar at ProCigar booth

Ankle of very attractive young woman with newly acquired 601 tattoo on her ankle

The very attractive young woman who has the 601 tattoo

Jose Montagne of Guantanamera cigars

Guantanamera booth

Roberto Alonso, Sales/Marketing Director of Flor de Gonzalez and Ms Gonzalez

Gary J. Arzt interviewing Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana

Monika Kelner Reyes in front of poster of her husband, Augusto Reyes at AR cigar booth

Eddie Garcia at PIO VI booth
   


 




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