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Written by Puff Staff

Tuesday, 02 September 2003

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Paul Shoberg and Rob Shibata of Top25Cigar recount their experiences at the 2003 RTDA show in Nashville. The show, the cigars, the drive, all a part of an overall unique few days!

After a very informative and exciting first day (see mind numbing and palate destroying), we eagerly look forward to day 2 of the RTDA show.  We start at Padron, hoping to beat the crowds.  As usual, their booth is a beehive of activity, but we are finally able to catch the Padrons for a few minutes.  Jorge and Orlando Padron greet us in their typical easygoing style.  Jorge hands us each a Serie 1926 robusto to light up as our first cigar of the day.  “Let’s see what kind of cigar smokers you guys are”, he says with a laugh. 

We glance at each other and wince a little.  We’re both thinking the same thing.  “Great cigar… but a 1926 at 10 AM is going to kill me.” We also don’t expect any sympathy! We light up and ask what’s new.

“Well, we have a few things we are working on… but we can’t really say right now,” Orlando tells us with a smile.

We move a little closer to the Padrons and lower our voices saying, “Well, this is what we are hearing.  It is rumored that there will be a 1926 sampler out by year end.”  Jorge and Orlando step back and grin, saying, “Ah yes, it is rumored… it is rumored.  Maybe.  Maybe.”

“In addition,” we tell them, “it is rumored that there will be a limited edition 40th anniversary cigar to commemorate the Padron company’s 40th birthday next March.”  “Ah another rumor.  A 40th birthday cigar!  Yes, maybe.  Maybe.”  They reply with a look of faux wonderment.  I think these guys are definitely pulling our leg.

Well, as far as we’re concerned, we aren’t getting any denials, so look for a 1926 sampler probably for Christmas this year and a 40th anniversary limited edition cigar in time for Padron’s birthday next March.  We look forward to both, especially if the 1926 sampler has an “A” size as in the regular Anniversario sampler…which by the way is another rumor! 

Michael Argenti explains the process behind the making of the new Edicion de Silvio.

The Perdomo booth is also busy.  It is essentially the same booth as last year but with new products.  Billy Perdomo and Al Argenti, Director of Marketing, greet us as we arrive.  The big news is the Edicion de Silvio, an ultra premium cigar named after Nick’s grandfather who passed away in 1997.  Three shapes will be offered and a total of 1000 boxes will be made. 

After listening to the incentive behind the development of the de Silvio blend, Michael Argenti, who helped develop the top-secret blend, cuts a couple for us to smoke.   The wrapper is tan and smooth without a blemish.  As we light up, the cigar draws perfectly, producing a lot of smoke with a rich aroma.  It burns evenly and produces subtle complex flavors that are not too heavy.  At the one-third point, we conclude that the de Silvio is a well-made, elegant cigar, probably most appreciated by the experienced cigar smoker.  “Exactly!” exclaims Nick Sr. who talks with us as we enjoy the cigar named for his father.  The elder Perdomo talks about the importance of the three P’s:  Passion, Patience, and Pride.  “As a cigar maker, you must have all three or you will fail,” he says as he takes a long draw from his cigar.  We ask Mike about the blend.  “We’re not really talking about the blend,” Mike says with a smile.  “Regardless of the blend, the most important thing is if you like the cigar.”   Without a doubt, the de Silvio is one of the best new cigars at the show.

Billy and Al return and tell us about Perdomo’s other new products.  The giant ring gauge Inmenso gets two new sizes as does the Cuban Parejo line.  Remember when the Inmenso was looked upon in the industry as a “novelty” cigar?  Now this monster ring gauged cigar has plenty of peers in the thickness department.  “Adding new shapes to the line will broaden the appeal.” states Billy Perdomo

The popular Estate Selection has added a Cameroon wrapper.  “The idea of adding a Cameroon wrapper to the Estate Selection is to create more complexity in the cigar rather than just another full bodied cigar,” Al tells us.  Apparently Tabacalera Perdomo is showing they are capable of making more than just their trademark full-bodied cigars.  We had smoked samples of the Reserve Cameroon during a recent visit to Perdomo in Miami.  The Cameroon, in addition to the de Silvio, is indeed a departure from the company’s current line.  Tabacalera Perdomo continues to surprise the industry by offering new cigars for different segments of the market while improving quality.  Impressive.  We wish them well.

At the La Perla Habana booth we see Doug Wood, who introduces us to Johnny Dowers, his new marketing director.  Johnny tells us about La Perla’s new releases: Conga and Cobre (Copper).  The Conga has 3 sizes with spicy Brazilian wrapper and Indonesian binder and Nicaraguan filler.  The Conga is a value line designed to give price conscious smokers a tasty entry point to the La Perla family of cigars.  The Cobre line is a more refined smoke with an Ecuadorian Connecticut shade wrapper, a Criollo binder, and Nicaraguan filler.  Both new lines have bright, attractive packaging and come in 20 count boxes.  The existing line has also been changed to 20 count boxes with fewer shapes and new contemporary boxes. 

“Consistency and value is what we want to offer our customers.” Doug tells us.  “We know we have a good product, but customers today are more value conscious.  We can give the price points the market wants by offering fewer shapes in the existing line and standardizing on 20 count boxes.”  Sounds good.  We look forward to trying the new cigars and discussing La Perla Habana’s direction in a future interview with Doug.

The Bahia booth appears to be smaller than last year, but no less avant-garde with a huge poster of a nude model in a discreet pose.  Danielle Fleck, Bahia’s new marketing director, greets us since Tony is out of the booth at the moment.  Danielle shows us the new Bahia Blu line which comes in 3 shapes.  The Bahia Blu is a beautiful cigar with the standard exceptional Bahia presentation along with a focus on a more reasonable price point..  We smoke a couple of Blu samples and decide to reserve judgment until we can try properly stored samples. 

Remember the full-bodied, limited edition Bahia Vintage 1995 with the Ecuadorian wrapper?  The 1998 Bahia Vintage has just been released, this time as an all Nicaraguan puro.  We’ll see if the 1998 release enjoys the same success as the 1995 vintage.  Danielle reminds us that the Bahia Gold Maduro line has been reblended for a new taste compared to the old line.  Bahia’s other lines remain unchanged.  Also in the booth is the Biker brand of cigars, a private label venture for Tony Borhani. 

Bahia was one of the hottest boutique lines around a couple of years ago.  In an apparent move to be closer to the distribution, Bahia has moved their headquarters from LA to Miami.  We mention that we haven’t heard much from Bahia lately and Danielle tells us that the company is re-focusing as it looks to the future.  OK Tony, we’ll be waiting.

The hottest thing we notice at Rocky Patel’s Indian Tabac booth is the gorgeous Indian Head bike.  Patrick Vivalo, an Indian Tabac representative, lets us know that the hottest items are the new releases: 2 vintage lines with 10 and 12 year old Nicaraguan and Dominican filler tobaccos respectively.  Both come with either Ecuadorian or Connecticut broadleaf wrappers.

The current line gets new packaging, but we think the big news is the wrapper change in the regular line.  A Honduran Criollo wrapper will replace the H2000 wrapper on the entire line.  That’s a big change, but the company doesn’t seem to play it up much.  We think it is a good move for Indian Tabac since we favor the Criollo wrapper over the H2000 wrapper.  Rocky, the attorney turned cigar maker, is cordial as usual, but busy with customers.  We exchange hellos and agree to talk after the show. 

left to right, Rob Shibata, Carlos Fuente, adn Paul Shoberg

Arturo Fuente is truly the cigar family.  The booth has an atmosphere that is a cross between a family reunion and a carnival.  All the brands manufactured by Fuente factories are represented in the booth including Ashton, Bauza, Montesino, and SosaCarlos Fuente, or Carlito as he is called, holds court with the rest of his family and organization in the always-crowded booth.  Standing in their booth, we see a steady stream of cigar industry celebrities pass through as they greet and talk with the Fuente family.  We are lucky and get a photo with Carlito.  We are not, however, fortunate enough to talk to anyone about their business.  They’re not unfriendly, just too busy.  We congratulate them on their success and hope to know them better in the future.

Victor Sinclair owner Bill Rhodes is busy with a client, so we don’t have an opportunity to talk to him, but his staff is very helpful.  Victor Sinclair is a fully integrated cigar company started 8 years ago.  Bill Rhodes, whose background is primarily in finance, purchased the company about 3 years ago.  The new owner launched the Bohemian line to re-invigorate Victor Sinclair sales.  The market embraced the Bohemian cigars, which are now the company’s flagship line.  Riding on the Bohemian success, Rhodes extended the line to include the Bohemian Black, Red, and Revolution blends.  The Series 5/5 Grand Reserve uses a blend of five tobaccos aged for 5 years.  The company advertises the 5/5 as an alternative to Fuente’s vaunted Opus X line.

Bill Rhodes takes advantage of his outsider’s view of the industry to surprise tobacco traditionalists.  Examples are his use of Cameroon tobacco as filler, double wrappers on the Bohemian Revolution, and the inverted wrapper on his new release ‘Bamboo.’  Victor Sinclair’s other new release is the Connecticut Yankee, which features a Connecticut Cuban seed wrapper rather than a Connecticut Broadleaf.

In a recent Smokeshop interview Rhodes said, “The nature of our organization is to be edgy and innovative…” and “We plan to stay at the hot edge of innovation.”  Rhodes certainly seems to back up that assertion with the products and changes he’s made to the company in only 3 years.  We look forward to talking with him in the future.

As we amble down the next aisle we are stopped in our tracks by a tribe of cigar store Indians.  The company selling them is called "Art by God."  The carvings are nice but we wouldn’t go so far as to say they look like something created by the Almighty.  But for $900 retail they are a better value than the $3000 prices we see elsewhere.  We order a couple of “samples” for our cigar rooms.  They are available through your local tobacconist.

The next stop is Cigar Classics where we talk to Kent Goellner.  Cigar Classics distributes cigar accessories, among them the Halliburton cigar cases to which they own the exclusive rights.  At $300 to $600 retail, they aren’t cheap, but Kent says business is good.  He is familiar with Top25Cigar.com and asks for feedback about his new product, a 20 cigar “Halliburton like” travel case that will retail for $200.  The prototype looks great and is currently being tested.  Kent says he’ll keep us posted as to a release date later this year.  Looks like a hot item.

The two biggest exhibitors are General Cigar (owned by Swedish Match Corp.) and Altadis (purchased Consolidated Cigar and 50% owner of Habanos SA).  Both booths appear to have the same size and appearance as last year.  General Cigar is giving away cars and vacations as well as posters of current Macanudo ads with customer photos inserted.  New products include the El Credito International brand in natural or maduro, the limited edition Hoyo de Monterrey Selection de Arto in hand painted boxes (a la Montecristo Cigar de Arts) an Excalibur 1066 Dark Knight, the Punch Gran Puro, an all Honduran puro with an oscuro wrapper, and a large ring gauge version Macanudo Cafe line.  Interestingly, we see General Cigar offer a line of Kahlua flavored cigars created by Drew Estates.

We enter Altadis as the sales team poses for a group shot, but decline their offer to include us…or was that “shoot us”?  T25C has never been well received by the biggies.  Altadis’s new products are the full-bodied Romeo & Julieta Reserve maduro and an R & J value line Reserva Real; a fuller bodied H. Upmann Reserve and Don Diego Anniversario both with an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper; and the limited distribution Montecristo White Label.  Where most of the booths wanted to talk about cigars, we notice the push at General and Altadis is orders, orders, and more orders.  If you don’t have money to spend, don’t expect to get any questions answered.

Both companies seem content with line extensions rather than developing new brands or deviating far from established blends.  You can’t argue with success, but don’t look to them for anything groundbreaking.

We stop at Sarasota based Cusano Cigars and talk to owner Michael Cusano.  The contrast to the large companies is striking.  This guy is excited about cigars and tells us about his latest effort, an 18 year old wrapper on the makings of their new xClusivo line.  This new release is based on 18-year-old vintage tobacco from Henrik Kelner’s Tobacos Dominicanos.  (Kelner makes cigars for Davidoff, among others)  18-year-old vintage tobacco is good.  18-year-old vintage tobacco from Henrik Kelner should be great.  Consistent with Cusano’s philosophy to offer value, the cigars will be priced below most cigars made with vintage tobaccos.  We look forward to smoking Cusano’s value priced, Davidoff quality, and vintage tobacco cigars.  Thanks Mike.

left to right, Enrico Gazaroli, Paul Shoberg, Avelito Lara, and Paolo Gazaroli enjoy one of Graycliff's new creations, Espresso.

Our last stop of the show is the Graycliff Cigar Co. booth owned and operated by the gregarious entrepreneur Enrico Garzaroli and his son Paolo.  Their booth is extremely busy but Enrico takes time out to offer us a Churchill sized maduro cigar.  We light up and the cigars have the typical Graycliff perfect construction.  Within 2 or 3 draws we both have to sit down.  This new release, Espresso, is possibly stronger than the Padron Serie 1926.  And like the 1926, the strength comes without harshness.  We are barely into the Espresso and Enrico offers us another cigar, the Double Espresso.  WOW!!!  This may be the strongest cigar either of us have ever smoked and reminds us both of the new Cuban R&J EL Hermoso in character.  This is the best full bodied cigar we’ve smoked at the show.  Period.  Never one to follow convention, Enrico shows us the Espresso prototype box.  It has an alligator cover!  As we look about the booth, we notice other friends of Graycliff that Enrico has graced with this cigar...many of which are looking for the nearest place to sit down!.  Everyone seems to react to the Espresso as we did...they sit down and compose themselves while marveling at how such a strong cigar can be so smooth.

Sharon Garzaroli, Paolo’s wife, greets us as we take a break from our cigars.  Sharon has created a line of purses using Graycliff cigar boxes.  Tastefully decorated and reinforced to withstand the rigors of frequent use, the purses will be carried in high end gift and boutique shops.  Sharon agrees to talk about the purse line in a future Top25Cigar article. Sharon is providing all of us cigar fans a chance to stay in our passion, and think about that significant other in our life.

Life is never dull around the Garzarolis.  We also meet John Vogel, the man responsible for the tobacco research and breeding at Consolidated cigars for 20 years, before their merger with Altadis.  Now a consultant to the tobacco industry, he educates us about the need for superior and consistent plant material to produce good quality tobacco and cigars.  We hope to talk with John at length in the future.

Sharon Gazaroli show off her artistic talent in the form of her new Graycliff cigar box purses.

Also at Graycliff, we meet Alessandro Vernole, publisher of the Italian magazine Smoker.  Alessandro is reporting on the show to educate the European market, where non-Cuban cigars are growing in popularity.

So ends our time at the 2003 RTDA.  Our report is purely our own interpretation of the cigar industry and its players.  Our goal was to look inside the cigar industry from the consumer’s viewpoint and report whatever information is helpful, useful, or interesting to cigar enthusiasts.  It is not our goal to get involved in cigar trade or trade show politics, although we always reserve the right to shoot a edgy comment at those that tend to take themselves to seriously!  Consistent with the Top25Cigar credo, we don’t take ourselves too seriously either, and consider ourselves as “unofficial” trade press.  We hope Top25Cigar readers can get a sense of what the show and the players are like.

Our All Star Cigars and Standard Disclaimer:

We smoked plenty of poor cigars at the show and are choosing to reserve judgement until we have properly stored samples.  The conditions at the show were harsh (high A/C, low humidity) so keeping samples in good smoking condition was a challenge. There may have been other great cigars at the show, but we didn't find or hear about them. Despite the show's nasty environment for cigars, here are 3 standouts we have to mention.

CAO MX2
Perdomo Edicion de Silvio
Graycliff Espresso

There may have been others, but these are the ones we smoked and can recommend.

Observations, Trends, and the Rumor Mill:

  • Big manufacturers still aren’t having any fun, but they probably make more money that the rest of the premium cigar companies combined…. with the possible exception of Arturo Fuente.

  • All the innovation seems to be coming from the small and medium sized manufacturers who still have a passion for the product.

  • Everyone seems to have found a stash of premium vintage tobacco for creating a vintage cigar line. 

  • Companies without new products are giving them new packaging.  The Criollo wrapper seems to be replacing the H2000 as the wrapper of choice.

  • Everyone is coming out with a low price point cigar.

  • Many small to medium companies have hired “marketing people” to help them focus and differentiate their products in the marketplace. 

  • Premium cigars are only 5% of the US cigar market.  Machine made cigars make up the other 95%.

  • In 1990, about 90 million hand made cigars were shipped to the US.  In 2002, about 285 million hand made cigars were shipped to the US.

  • The RTDA next year?  “Viva Las Vegas, Baby!!!”




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