Written by Gary J. Arzt

Monday, 05 January 2009

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industry updates

In my last column of 2008 I neglected to wish you all a happy holiday season and a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year. This is it!

I spent another very enjoyable New Year's Eve at Erik Espinosa's (EO Brands: 601, Cubao) home with the same people whose company I have enjoyed the past three (3) such occasions. It's an eclectic mix of family, friends, and industry friends, and this year was no different.

Not only was it a New Year's eve celebration but we were sort of celebrating the high ratings achieved by these two (2) great cigars...and their inclusion in Cigar Insider's "Best of 2008" and other lists!

Nismish Desai, from Rocky Patel, with his wife and daughter; Neha and Maya, were joined by Steve Saka, CEO of Drew Estate, and his wife, Cindy as well as Abe Debeneh, of Smoke Inn(s), and ...

his wife, Brandy. Of course, Eddie Ortega, Erik's partner, who was 'escorting', Helena of Miami Cigar & Company. Eddie may have been her escort, but every man there wanted to have a dance.

Rest assured there were a lot of fine cigars smoked - think Cubao, RP Decade, Liga Privada 9, and others to numerous to mention. And, of course, plenty of conversation about the state of the economy and its impact on cigar sales.

After everyone offered their analysis, Steve Saka put it succinctly when he said that Drew Estate has three (3) Business Plans for 2009. Geared to the possible state of the economy. You might say the plans address The Good; The Bad and The Ugly!

Tobacconists are evolving, and or perhaps I should be more contemporary and say "morphing," into what they once were. Or, to quote Yogi Berra, "Déjàvu all over again."

When I first started smoking, I used to go to Alfred Dunhill (, at that time at Fifth Avenue and 50th Street in New York City. There, on the second floor, in the humidor room - this was a room where the walls were lined with lockers with brass name plates on them, names that included General Douglas MacArthur, William S. Paley, General Courtney Whitney, Milton Berle, General David Sarnoff, et al (I noted the absence of George Burns, but realized he smoked El Producto cigars, and used a holder no less) and cedar armoires with "Romeo y Julieta," "Monte Cristo," "Partagas," etc, carved above the double doors to each cabinet. These were where boxes and boxes of cigars were stored. The room had coffee tables and comfortable leather sofas and wing chairs. The clerks worked at desks.

This format existed at Alfred Dunhill, in varying scale, in London, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. This was, in essence, a cigar store and lounge.

J. J. Fox/Robert Lewis ( Fox is actually an Irish firm that had a small shop on Bond Street, London. A larger presence in Dublin where they started. And what a location it is - opposite the gates of Trinity College!

Robert Lewis, an old line London tobacconist has long had a shop on St. James's Street. Now, Lewis had some very comfortable, over stuffed, leather chairs scattered about - if not liberally scattered about; adequately so. Remember, all this antedates flat screen TVs as well as wine and beer licenses in tobacco shops.

Nonetheless this shop and the others were oases of tranquility and comfort. Our stimulation was not a ball game on TV, or Dr. Phil or any of the pathetic programs that pass for entertainment - rather, we engaged in conversation; and, equally unbelievable to the patrons of most of today's cigar lounges, reading a newspaper - like one should at a proper club!

Of course, Robert Lewis has been doing this since 1787, so they have a handle on what it's about. J. J. Fox (a firm founded much more recently than Lewis - 1881) acquired Lewis in 1992.

La Cave (Blvd Haussmann, Paris), is or was (I haven't been to Paris since the Iraq war began. The frogs were so gracious about their disagreement with President Bush's course of action that I decided I'd had enough of France) a very formidable, gracious establishment with a very comfortable, welcoming atmosphere. I used to enjoy stopping in there, chatting with the proprietor and smoking some superb cigars; and leaving with a box or two as well.

Establishments like these are what all true tobacconists should be.

I was sitting, one recent afternoon at a favorite tobacconist with my friend 'T' (for Terence) Golden, an intelligent, engaging young man with an eye for a good cigar, as well as being a talented graphic designer and photographer, who is doing an increasing amount of work in the cigar industry.

T and I were discussing this very subject, and he remarked that he had written a piece on the topic. He volunteered to send it to me.

I have read it; shared it with some people, and, based on my opinion of the article, and theirs, I've decided it is worth giving you an opportunity to read it and compare T's thoughts to your own.

A Society Established From Smoke
By: Terence Golden

Imagine yourself in a place where you feel at home as soon as you walk in the door, a place where everyone knows your name, a place where you can escape life's conundrums and enjoy life's simple pleasures. As you enter aromas of wood, honey, cedar, and most importantly tobacco stimulate your senses.

This 'place' that I refer to is no more than a gentleman's cigar shop. Once a place reserved for elite members only, more and more cigar shops are opening their doors to the average gentleman. As time passes interest in cigar culture expands generously. Individuals from all walks of life come together to partake in an occasional cigar smoke and an intellectual conversation.

A surprising realization is that younger gentlemen are beginning to frequent cigar shops. The reason I say this is because I myself am a young gentleman. Merely 26 years of age, I enjoy frequent visits to my local cigar shop, Puros Fine Cigars ( I began smoking cigars at the age of 20 and owned my own humidor by 21. At first I was hesitant to smoke as I had never smoked anything prior to my first cigar. I still remember my first stick; it was a Carlos Torano mild Churchill that had traveled half way around the world as I was stationed in South Korea at the time. From that time on I would smoke a cigar occasionally on the weekend or if I was going out on the town.

At first many of my friends were puzzled as to why I smoked cigars. I would just smile and reply, "Try one for yourself, and tell me what you think?" then I hand them a stick and light it for them properly. To their surprise they enjoyed it very much, so much so that they began to join me in a smoke whenever we would go out on the town. One friend in particular became fascinated with cigars, and everywhere we went we would have to make a stop for some sticks before heading out for the evening.

One way to escape life's conundrums is by engaging in conversation. The amount of stratification a person can receive from a stimulating conversation at a cigar shop is quite astonishing. You see, as many individuals frequent cigar shops, many are from different walks of life. A very diverse group of gentlemen come together differing by age, color, race, and religion, only to enjoy the simplicities of a cigar and each other's company.

Topics of conversation are numerous, and many times non repetitive. From the female perspective one may think that we gentlemen sit around and discuss woman and other topics of immature nature while we smoke cigars and sip on a fine beverage, not the case. So much in fact some women may argue that we talk to each other more than we do our significant others. In actually, some women are becoming cigar enthusiasts. Conversations that arise are unique in nature. Discussions include topics on music, sports, politics, health, style, art, food and wine and of course the fundamentals of cigar making. A person may ask, "What is a person to gain from these conversations?" the answer is perspective and insight. You see, the individuals involved in the conversation have different viewpoints as well as experience. A person is certain to leave the conversation feeling that they learned an important point or left a good impression on anther person.

Frequenting a particular cigar shop on a regular basis has many advantages socially and professionally. For example, when a gentleman or lady routinely visits a shop they become socially accepted into a newfound society. As they walk into the shop everyone greets them by their name, asks them how they are, and makes them feel at home. Professionally, a person is able to network with many individuals. You never know whom you might meet or what potential business opportunities you may establish over a fine cigar.

There is much to be said about the enjoyment of a cigar shop and it company. One of my favorite things to do at Puros is to sit back and unwind with a cigar and a glass of wine. As I write this I can picture myself sitting at the bar. In the background you can hear a game of dominoes being played, the sounds of laughter and silence cut through the air. I flash back from my daydream only to realize that I am confined to my desk, desperately waiting for the workday to be over so that I can enjoy my fine cigar and a great conversation. A pleasant experience at a cigar shop will encourage a person to come back time and time again. A bit of advice, take your time a look for a cigar shop that makes you feel right at home. I found my "home" and I hope that you too will find yours.

One of the amenities that I find in most tobacconists, at least in Florida, is one, or more, domino tables. Now, it was not always thus. I lived in Miami for sixteen and a half years, and managed only four domino games in all at my friend, Maurice Hanono's Absolute Premium Cigar (22 S.W. 8th Street, Miami, FL - 305.374.9999).

With the opening of Puros Fine Cigars (10792 Coral Way, Miami, FL - 305.222.2217 -, I started to really learn the game, and play it practically every day - give or take a few.

When I found a domino table at Robbie Morton's Cordova Cigar ( in Pensacola, FL, last January, it was a most pleasant surprise. I tried, along with Erik Espinosa to teach the Cordova crowd the game.

Thursday, 11 December when I was at Cordova, I played dominos with Mark Peterson; Noah Casner and Chris Robbins. Tom Morton, Robbie's father, sat in on a game or two.

The best part of it was the decorum. The table was quiet. I make the point to contrast it with four (4) Cubans playing dominos: You'd think you were at the Democratic National Convention, or the Super Bowl, for all the noise and 'violence.'

There is, however; a down side. What I have come to call "White Man's Dominos," is slow, dull, uninteresting, illogically played and unlike anything I have ever seen. And to add insult to injury; when I questioned something, they respond, "Cordova rules!"

On 17 December my friend Jose M. "Pepe" Herrera, Esq., lost the appeal, on behalf of his client, Juan Penton, in U.S. v Juan Penton - a case involving the counterfeiting, and sale, of Havana cigars.

I testified for the Defense in that trial, not because I support counterfeiting of any sort, but because the issue is never made clear to the jury, and that is why convictions take place.

Yes, the man participated in the production of counterfeit cigar boxes. And, yes, counterfeiting is repugnant to me and anyone else. But, these cases are brought at the instigation of Altadis USA, with a claim that the counterfeits damage the sale of their Montecristo, their Romeo y Julieta, and their H. Upmann. That is preposterous. Only Helen Keller would mistake a counterfeit Havana cigar box for one of the Dominican made brands. They look nothing alike.

These cases should be brought as civil trademark infringement cases. Altadis should not be using Miami Police like Pinkerton's; or the U. S. Attorney like private counsel.

When I lived in Hong Kong, I was friends with Philippe Charriol, at that time, President of Cartier in Asia. We constantly discussed the impact of counterfeit Cartier watches on Cartier itself.

Give me a the individual who will buy, and wear a $35 "Cartier" really a customer for the authentic watch at $3,500 (these are 1980's prices). Not on your life!

Well, the case is over; Penton remains the arch criminal he is, and life goes on. There will be more such cases; more Federal, State, County monies wasted prosecuting them while tons of illegal drugs are imported and sold on our streets. Let's hope the "change" promised by Obama includes getting our priorities right.

I was playing dominos shortly after the verdict came down from the U. S. Appeals Court. I asked Pepe to briefly reiterate his contentions. Asking a lawyer, who gets paid by the hour, to be brief is an exercise in futility. Nonetheless, I took down every word. Here he is, pretty much verbatim, on a subject is knows very well:

Jose M. Herrera, Esq.: A prosecution for "counterfeiting" Cuban cigars under United States trademark law is an oxymoron. The essence of a "counterfeit" trademark is the confusion it causes to the consumer. The consumer is misled by the fictitious trademark to believe they are a superior quality product when they are in fact getting a fake or imitation. This consumer confusion dilutes the value or "integrity" of the original mark, adversely affecting the product. The original Cuban cigar marks, often referred to as "Famous Marks," are those made world famous by the pre-revolutionary Cuban cigar makers in a bygone era.

As a result of the Cuban-American trade embargo, United States law does not permit the importation or sale of Cuban Cigars, and does not protect any intellectual property - trademarks - in which the Cuban government has an interest. The Cuban-American embargo created a concept of "Parallel Trademarks," and with it the production and marketing of two very distinct Cigars under the virtually identical "Trademark." The Cuban Government, through its partnership with Altadis, S.A., acquired fifty percent (50%) of "Habanos, S.A." Habanos, S.A. marketing arm for cigars made in Cuba, from Cuban tobacco, and sells these worldwide except in the United Sates. Then we have Altadis, U.S.A., a wholly owned subsidiary of Altadis S.A., which produces cigars in the Dominican Republic, largely from Dominican Tobacco, which they sell in the United States market. The two cigars are un-mistakenly different, particularly in the essence of the product - flavor, texture, and appearance.

"Parallel Trademark" is legal shorthand for the original trademarks are, again using legal lingo, already diluted. The use of the "Famous" marks to identify cigars of Dominican origin to create an appearance that these Dominican cigars are the same as the "original" of Cuban pedigree, when nothing is further from the truth, dilutes the mark. "As I said in court, these Dominican Cigars are not, and will never be, my Father's "Monte Cristo," or "Partagas" - which he enjoyed in a pre-revolution Cuba.

"Parallel Marks" exist because United States law, specifically Cuban embargo laws, does not protect Cuban intellectual property or trademarks. Thus, as a matter of intellectual honesty, the prosecution of those producing "counterfeit" or "replica" Cuban cigars should not be occurring under United States laws intended to protect trademarks. To use United States trademark protection law to prosecute those who produce counterfeit Cuban cigars is tantamount to affording legal protection to "trademarks" in which the Cuban government has an established interest.

Furthermore, these prosecutions are evidently a thinly veiled effort to protect the market for Cuban cigars in a post embargo era.

The "production" and "sale" of "counterfeit" Cuban cigars are indeed consumer fraud. The question becomes why not prosecute the "counterfeiters" under the laws of consumer fraud, which is intellectually honest and does not denigrate the laws of trademark protection or the Cuban embargo, specifically the Helms-Burton Act. The reason consumer fraud laws are not used to prosecute Cuban cigar "counterfeiters" appears evident - there is no consumer deception or "fraud, because everyone knows real "Cuban' cigars are banned in the States!

When it is all said and done, who is fooling who, or more pointedly, who is fooling both the consumer and the authorities? Stripped of all fiction, the answer is evident!

One has to hand it to Cigar Insider (M. Shanken Communications) and David Savona and his staff - the issue of 23 December was crammed with lists and lists. "Best Cigars of the Year," "Best Cigars by Country of Manufacture," etc, etc.

What was not surprising was to see how many of the very top rated cigars were produced by Pepin Garcia and/or Jaime Garcia's Tabacalera Garcia. 601, Cubao, San Cristobal, My Father, and La Aroma de Cuba Edición Especial. These are, truly, the work of a master blender and cigar maker.

Two (2) that I know of were missing from these lists of 'immortals': the Nestor Miranda Signature Selection, and the new Don Pepin blended and manufactured, La Giralda from Forcade & Sons. But, they were first released in November, and I suppose there was no time. Wait till next year, Nestor!

If you want a treat, grab a bunch of Cubaos, J. Fuego Deliriums, Tabacalera Garcia's My Father, Pete Johnson's La Riqueza, Nestor Miranda Signatures, a handful of Monte Pascoals, a couple of Padron 1926s (I say a couple, because these are trying times) and hunker down with a nice bottle, or two, of Quinta Noval Nacional 2000...and try and forget the election; the economy; the anti-smoking legislation; the last arse that was in your face about you enjoying a cigar.

Put on some Vivaldi, or Grateful Dead or even Montovani...whatever you prefer and just realize that all this too will pass and life will go on.

I prescribe this enthusiastically because this is what I did with most of the holiday interregnum and it was fantastic. And, I say that in spite of the fact that hardly anyone enjoys being with people more than I (I never liked the sound of 'me').

One last thing my friends...take $30. from the Christmas, Hanukah or Kwanza money you received and send it to CRA for your first year membership. They are on track to do us some real good.

If you followed their postings, newsletters and e-mails regarding Boston and Dallas, you know they were on top of the issue, and I believe, they were very effective.

And, make no mistake about it, "they" are US!

"The most futile and disastrous day seems well spent when it is reviewed through the blue, fragrant smoke of a Havana cigar." Evelyn Waugh


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