Habano Festival a roaring success
AFTER FIVE DAYS OF tastings, workshops, concerts as well as visits to tobacco plantations and factories, the XIX Habano Festival officially came to a close. Held between February 27 – March 3, Havana once again played host to the largest international meeting of premium cigar enthusiasts.
More than 2,000 guests from more than 50 countries converged on the Cuban capital to discover the major new developments concerning the world’s best tobacco, learn about the cultivation process and enjoy food and drink from different corners of the world. In addition, those attending the festival were able to enjoy three evenings of the best live music from renowned international artists.
There was also the chance for attendees to sample the new products presented by Habanos, S.A, with the event this year focusing on the H. Upmann, Montecristo and Quai D’orsay brands, which all presented major new developments in their portfolios.
During the festival it was also announced that the Habanos Group – consisting of 27 brands – had a turnover
Festivities got under way with a press conference and we were one of more than 100 journalists on hand to hear about our schedule for the week. We were then treated to the first round of the sommelier content in which representatives from England, Chile, Cuba, Italy and the UAE had just 20 minutes to identify five spirits.
Then it was on to the historic Club Havana which sits on the shores of the ocean on the city’s west cost. Located in the popular area of Jaimanitas and opened back in 1928, the social club was the perfect setting for the presentation of the Gran Reserva Cosecha 2011 in the Sir Winston vitola.
In an evening filled with artistic performances, we were able to enjoy traditional Cuban music from the likes of Pancho Amat – one of the best Cuban treseros – and the great Adalberto Álvarez y su Son.
On Tuesday we were then handed the opportunity to visit a plantation. Here we visited barns and had the chance to plant seeds, thus helping us gain an understanding of the long process that goes into making a cigar.
The following day the sommelier contest continued as each representative had 20 minutes to convince the judges they had paired the right drink with the correct cigar. The UAE’S own representative Krystian Hordejuk had an interesting take as he offered champagne with a cigar as well as various drinks. For the first time he also matched food with the drinks and the cigars.
Later in the evening we attended El Laguito’s Protocol Hall for a tribute evening dedicated to Quai D’orsay, a brand created in 1973 by Cubatabaco exclusively for the French market upon request of SEITA, the then state-owned tobacco company.
Quai D’orsay revealed it was embarking on a new adventure with the release of its new design, the presentation of two new vitolas and its international distribution network to major Habanos S.A. markets.
Visitors at the evening event were able to enjoy the brand’s three vitolas: Coronas Claro (42x142 mm), and the new No 50 (50x110mm) and No 54 (54x135 mm), and also to delight in a vitola from its classic portfolio, Quai D’orsay Imperiales (47x178 mm), re-edited exclusively for the ceremonial dinner.
In addition, the evening featured an outstanding international Cuban musical line-up, with the presence of distinguished artists such as Luna Manzanares, Geidy Chapman, Tanmy and Brenda Navarrete. Mayko D’alma was in charge of the evening’s final performance with Maestro
Santiago Alfonso’s company providing the choreography.
There was also a chance for us to enjoy the traditional Alianza Habanos that this year brought together two legendary denominations steeped in history and whose products are the stuff of dreams for both sommeliers and Habano lovers around the world: Habanos and the prestigious Brandy de Jerez, from Spain.
On Thursday we then had a full day of visits to factories. At H Upmann we saw the art of hand rolling cigars and were even handed the chance to roll our own thanks to instructions from one of the master rollers. We also viewed the department which checks for quality and witnessed the final stage were the labelling and packing is completed.
There was also a tour of La Corona’s factory where most of the rollers are smoking cigars while performing their job. Music fills the factory and we could see cigars in all shapes and sizes, with each roller specialising in a certain size.
The 19th edition of the famed festival then closed with with a gala dinner in which we were invited to sample three vitolas from Montecristo’s new and innovative Línea 1935.
Next up it was the 2016 Habano Awards prize giving ceremony. Gordon Mott, journalist and freelance writer for the Cigar Aficionado magazine received the award in the Communication category. Edward Sahakian was awarded in the category of Business, in recognition for his work developing the Habano cigar market in the UK, and Josefa Acosta Ramos, with over 60 years’ dedication to the tobacco industry in Cuba, was the winner in the Production category.
It was then on to the conclusion of the International Habanosommelier Contest which was won by Puro Tabaco (Chile), with its representative Felipe Rojas. Slavomir Marek Bielicki (United Kingdom) was second, while the UAE’S Krystian Hordejuk came in third. The finalists were faced with a practical Habano cutting and lighting test and a descriptive tasting and pairing session with different beverages, including the most well-known international cocktails, following in the footsteps of last year’s 2016 special edition.