Pro Cigar Festival 2009
Written by Gary J. Arzt

Friday, 03 April 2009

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The dinner was held at Patio Vidal. The open air venue was beautifully decorated, and the food and drink excellent. Jose Blanco was the ‘toast master’ and did an excellent job of both informing and entertaining us.

pro-cigar-festival-09-048 Jose Blanco enjoying the after party!

The first order of business was the awarding of the prizes and gifts to the winners of the golf tournament. Some of the prizes were such that I wished I had participated in the tournament. My good friend, Gabriel Estrada, Davidoff of Geneva, Buenos Aires, won an exquisite putter. I was with him at Cibao Int’l Airport, Saturday morning, when it presented all sorts of problems when we went through security. A prize, nonetheless.

After a very wonderful performance by an exquisite company of Dominican dancers, Manuel Quesada and Jose cooked up a little contest involving dancing the meringue with theses professional dancers. A number of the male guests were called to the stage – and you could not decline the invitation – to dance, or make a fool of yourself. Fortunately, I was indisposed, with a problem with my right foot; so, Jose spared me the experience of making a fool of myself, albeit, I am capable of doing that anyway!


Several of the guests acquitted themselves very well; but the the selection of the winner was difficult, ergo a tie was declared and Arthur Zaretsky of Famous Smoke Shop and Michael Herklots of Davidoff of Geneva, NYC, were declared the winners.

There were a lot of fine cigars smoked that night, and we returned to our hotels after a full day, looking forward to the next exciting round of events.

Thursday brought more visits to factories and the extended visit to the Davidoff tobacco fields and factories.

The fields are in Jicome, a ride of some length, but our buses were very comfortable and, of course, we were allowed to smoke…which leads me to a small anecdote, to wit:

Thursday evening, on the bus to the dinner, one of the guests approached me and asked if I would “Put out the cigar.”  It was one of those rare occasions in my life when I was almost speechless. I recovered quickly and replied, “Here, in the Dominican Republic, at a cigar festival? I think not.” How very bizarre, I thought, as did everyone else in earshot.

Those who either wanted a small respite from the cigar tours, or perhaps, their motivation was to broaden their knowledge of what is made in the D.R., journeyed to Santo Domingo to visit the Presidente Beer factory – another element of the Leon Jimenes corporate empire.

The factory tour, lasting about two and a half hours, ended with lunch and then a tour of the capital’s historic places, before hitting the road, pardon me; it’s a totally modern expressway, back to Santiago and the hotels.


Next stop, for all of us, at 7:30 PM, Santiago’s striking “Monumento a Los Heroes de La Restauracion.” The huge memorial, virtually in the center of the city atop a hill, can be seen from almost everywhere.

It commemorates the heroes of the insurrection against Haiti, in 1844, to restore the Dominican Republic’s independence.

Our reception and dinner was at the base of the monument, with all of Santiago ‘at our feet!’ It was an extraordinary experience.

Further evidence of the city’s commitment to the Pro Cigar Festival, if further evidence were necessary, is the fact that no such event has ever been held at this site.

With a great view; excellent food; terrific music, the evening was another tremendous success, capped by another ‘confection’ from the mind of our impresario – Jose Blanco. Actually, two confections.

First, he selected guests to sing, with the band, a famous Spanish song. Those selected had to be non-Hispanics. Of course, the redoubtable Arthur Zaretsky was given his shot, and, while he acquitted himself reasonably well, the conclusion was he shouldn’t give up his cigar business.

pro_cigar_festival_09_035 Jose Seijas, Henkie Kelner , Modesta Fondeur, Manuel Quesada, Jean Clemente, Guillermo Leon (in back) and Daniel Nunez, preparing   to sing “Mi Santiago”

One of the guests took to the stage to perform and all I can say is, I thought I was listening to one of the Three Tenors. One of the living ones, that is.

The second idea from the fertile mind of Jose, required all the founders of Pro Cigar (Kelner, Nunez, Seijas, Quesada, Clemente, Leon, as well as Modesta Fondeur) to come to the stage. Once there, they joined the band in a memorable rendition of “Mi Santiago,” something of an anthem and paean to the city

The pièce de résistance of the day was the ‘after party’ that Pro Cigar arranged at Francifol Café. The Studio 54 of Santiago…VIP room and all!

From what I recall, it was a terrific few hours. If you want more details, you’ll have to look to Dave Savona, Frank Seltzer, et al. My recollection is a little foggy.

I do recall heading back to the hotel around 1:30 AM with Steve Ross from Tobacconist magazine, and Robert Brown and his son, Hart (who lives in Santiago), from Telson Cigars. Robert is an entrepreneur who has decided to turn his talents to cigars. We had a great conversation at the hotel; and then it was off to bed.

Friday, I slept late; relaxed and wrote. I was supposed to go to the Brugal Rum distillery – another one of the non-tobacco options – but, frankly, I had seen enough rum the night before.

The groups were headed for Mao and the General Cigar fields and farms. Another group was headed for Davidoff at Jicome.

The Brugal tour and the Karoma Coffee Estate tours were other non tobacco options offered. Regrettably, for those that chose it; the road to Karoma plantation was damaged in some manner and that trip had to be cancelled.

Some spent the day meandering around Santiago, shopping and soaking up the  ambiance of this engaging city.



0 # Mr.Bill Bartlett 2009-11-11 07:57
How do I find information on the 2010 Pro Cigar Festival? williambartlett

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