Written by Puff Staff

Monday, 08 August 2005

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Top25Cigar sums up our second day at the 2005 RTDA show in New Orleans.

RTDA 2005 - DAY TWO - August 8, 2005

Day two starts soon after having brushed our teeth 7 times.  There is no easy way to cleanse the palate after a day of cigars and an evening at the CAO sponsored Jam-Balaya party at Generations Hall in New Orleans.  Over two thousand people attended the CAO party, each receiving 4 C.A.O. cigars to sample.  Doing the math, you realize CAO's generosity knew no boundaries.

Cusano 18 in Maduro

Cusano Cigars

Spending time at the Cusano booth, we learn they will be releasing a Maduro version of their popular Cusano 18 line.  There will be three shapes in the Maduro, all having a Connecticut Maduro wrapper, Dominican binder and a spicy Brazilian filler.  These cigars should hit the market in the next few months.

The "18" line has quickly become their best seller after only two years in the market.  Cliff Randolph was quick to point out the success of the 10th Anniversary line that debuted a couple years ago.  A Robusto size was also added to the Anniversary line this year.

C.A.O. International

CAO's staff all seemed to make it to work ok after the big bash at Generations Hall last night.  We met up with CAO Marketing Director Jon Huber who took us through the line.  CAO has had a steady stream of new products at each of the shows we have attended and this year was no exception.  They have succeeded in bringing innovative blends to the market featuring tobaccos from lesser known regions such as Brazil and Colombia.  Speaking of Brazil, the Brasilia line is now CAO's number one selling line followed closely by the gold line on which the company was launched.
New for this year is the Soprano's Edition cigars.  Housed in a glossy, sexy red box that resembles the trunk of a car, CAO worked closely with HBO to get the project done.  The cigar will feature a 3 nation blend of filler tobaccos with a Honduran binder and Brazilian wrapper.
The new Sopranos Edition cigar from C.A.O. International
The Criollo line is notable since awarded the best Nicaraguan cigar for 2005 by the European Cigar Cult Journal magazine.  This is a cigar you should try if you haven't yet. Huber told us that the Italia line, introduced last year, is doing well and a smaller size has been introduced this year.
Also new for this show is the CX2 which follows on the success of last years hit, the MX2 which featured 2 maduro wrappers.  Like the MX2, the CX2 features a double wrapper, but this time its Cameroon.  The double wrapper "amplifies the sweet, nutty, and spicy taste of the cigar", according to Huber.
CAO flavors "far exceeded our expectations" beamed Huber and is definitely one of the fastest growing lines for CAO. This fact seemed to be mirrored by the success of flavored cigar lines by other companies as well.  "The problem", explained Huber, "is the blending.  As the size of the cigar changes, the amount of flavoring necessary to maintain a balanced taste is difficult."
Controlling quality is something CAO is serious about.  Last year they dove into the production side of the business.  They set up a factory that is co-owned and operated by the Torano family in Nicaragua.  "This will help us to control every aspect of the manufacturing process" stated Huber. 
Cigar Classics Inc. 
You may not have heard of Cigar Classics, but no doubt you've heard of their exclusive line of Halliburton traveldors.  Tal Holloway, President of Cigar Classics and Kent Goellner, the operating manager spoke with us about their products.  Their flagship product line is the Zero Halliburton line of traveldors.  The Diplomat holds 10 cigars and the Ambassador holds 30 cigars.  The cases come with Paradigm humidification devices and foam inserts keep your cigars in place.  Cigar Classics has also purchased the Paradigm line of passive humidification devices.  Our experience shows the Paradigm system as one of the best in the industry.
For those who only want to carry a cigar or two in their coat pocket, Cigar Classics has Ciguards.  Ciguards are hard plastic tubes with a telescoping cap.  They can be purchased blank or imprinted with the graphics of your choice.  For those looking for the classic leather 2 or 3 cigar holder, Cigar Classics has added an improvement.  The pocket humidor features stainless steel tubes with screw caps that insert into the leather cases.  The airtight caps will ensure the cigar's freshness for short excursions.  A camouflage version is available for the outdoorsman.

Victor Sinclair Anniversario
Victor Sinclair
We think Victor Sinclair is one of the most interesting companies in the industry today.  New products include the Legacy, a box pressed cigar and the Anniversario, a puro made with all Dominican tobaccos.  We sampled the Anniversario as we talked with Sinclair owner Bill Rhodes.  The Anniversario has a beautiful dark wrapper with good construction.  The aroma is full and very pleasant and the cigar taste has some complexity to it.  The retail will be about $6, a good value for this cigar according to our taste buds.
When asked about the cigars released last year, Rhodes states that the "Serie 55 Yellow is doing great!  The Bamboo line (renamed the Bohemian Buddha) is doing well and the medium bodied Primero is also doing well."  However, the flagship line is still the Bohemian line.
"You have to remember, cigars to retailers is only a small part of our business. 80% of our sales are to other manufacturers.  We make cigars for La Perla Habana, Maker's Mark, and Victory Cigars to name a few".
When asked about a new cigar boom, Rhodes thinks it is less of a boom than "marginal players" dropping out of the industry.  Those left pick up the extra demand for cigars.  "We're making great cigars right now" states Rhodes.
William "Bill" Rhodes may be many things, but conventional is not one of them. Rhodes took an equity position in Victor Sinclair five years ago after the end of the cigar boom.  Since then Rhodes has taken the vertically integrated company and turned it around.  He started with the best selling Bohemian line and has been introducing new products ever since.  Today Victor Sinclair employs over 200 rollers, produces 60,000 cigars a day and has $9 million dollars of tobacco inventory.  That makes Victor Sinclair one of the largest independent cigar manufacturers in the Dominican Republic.
In interviews he has described his company as "edgy and innovative" and they don't disappoint.  Rhodes and his team have used Cameroon wrapper tobacco as a filler, double wrappers on the Bohemian line and inverted wrappers for the Bamboo line.  We look forward to learning more about Victor Sinclair when we interview Bill Rhodes later this Fall.

Torano Cigars

New for this show is the Virtuoso. The Virtuoso features the first estate grown wrapper for the Torano family from Nicaragua. The binder is Nicaraguan Habano and the filler is a blend of tobaccos from Nicaragua, Honduras, and Panama.  This is the strongest cigar ever produced by the Torano's and the sample we smoked backs that up.  The cigar was well made and smoother than most full bodied cigars, however we'd like to see a little more complexity. 
The second new item from Torano is a port infused cigar called the Reserva Decadencia. The cigar will be tubed and is made with Decadencia port from California.  There will be 2 shapes.

Charlie Torano, represents the fourth generation of this renowned tobacco family.  The 4 shape, family blend released as Casa Torano last year has done well.

Torano Cigars is one of the best examples of the vertical integration occurring in the cigar industry.  The Torano family was one of the largest tobacco growers in Cuba until the government nationalized all the tobacco farms in 1959.  In the early 60's, Charlie's father started over and began growing tobacco in the Dominican Republic.  The Toranos haven't looked back since and now produce tobacco in 4 countries.  As time went on, they carefully began introducing their own line of cigars, being careful not to step on their customer's toes.  It appears they have been successful since their own brands have gained popularity while maintaining their business with other manufacturers.  The Toranos now own cigar manufacturing in 3 countries.
As he has assumed the leading role in the company, Charlie is always quick to give credit to his father and family members for the company's success.  As we walked the show, we only heard positive comments when Charlie Torano's name came up.  We look forward to reviewing Torano's new cigars and interviewing Charlie if he can spare the time.

La Aurora

We were pleased to be able to talk to the people at La Aurora this year, as we haven't connected with them in the past.  Jose Blanco, Sales Director, talked to us at length about their cigars and the company.
New for this year is another super premium from the makers of the Preferidos and Cien Anos cigars.  The cigar is called the 1495 Series to commemorate 510 years since the founding of the city of Santiago, DR.  Blanco gave us samples of the 1492 Series to smoke as we talked.
The 1495 features a Sumatra Ecuadorian wrapper, a corojo binder, and filler made from Domnican corojo, Dominican ligero, and Dominican piloto cubano.  The result is a medium to full bodied cigar.  The 1495 has a dark, smooth wrapper with good construction.  The cigar was developed to have an earthy taste and it delivers.  Complex earthy flavors build as you smoke the cigar.  Spice is present, but controlled. This is a very good cigar for experienced cigar smokers.  We look forward to doing a full review later..
According to Blanco, La Aurora's business is up over last year.  They are one of the premier corojo tobacco producers, which he feels gives their cigars an edge.  The company employs 250 rollers, but fewer than 30 work on the Preferidos, Cien Anos, and 1495 lines.  Tobacco is not the limiting factor.  Blanco stated emphatically "We could double our annual production without additional tobacco.  We have the tobacco inventory.  Not anyone can say that."
The bread and butter for La Aurora is the Leon Jimenes line of cigars.  However Blanco reminds us that the cigar business is only 1% of the Leon family's total business.  The Leon family also owns and produces El Presidente beer in the Dominican Republic.  They have over 90% of the market there.  They are also under contract to manufacture Marlboro cigarettes.  The Leon family is clearly not in the cigar business because they have to be.  Rather it is a labor of love that goes back to 1903 when the company was founded on the tobacco business.  We look forward to talking with Jose Blanco and the Leon family in the future.

Isn't this a nice motorcycle?

Best Smokes and Closing Comments

Many manufactures are cautiously optimistic about the future of the industry.  It seems a younger demographic is joining the cigar crowd, and this is to the delight of the manufacturers. 

While this show seems sparsely attended compared to the last few years, much of that may be due to the location of this years show.  Nothing against the great city of New Orleans, but it is very apparent that the state of Louisiana had other plans for the RTDA.  This is evident by the attendance of the ATF officers asking selected expositioners to provide their Louisiana customer list so they can verify proper tobacco taxes are being collected in this great state.  It's our bet the RTDA show will not be back here for a long time.

Today's cigars that left the biggest impression on us were undoubtedly the La Aurora 1495 Series, a dark earthy cigars with hints of "Who's your daddy" on the finish.  Joining the La Aurora 1495 Series is the Anniversario line coming out from Victor Sinclair.  This was a solid cigar all around.  The taste was medium in strength, but never lacked for complexity.

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