The Und­ying Charm of Romeo y Ju­lie­ta Ha­ba­nos

THE MYS­TERY OF ITS FAS­CI­NA­TING CHARM GAI­NED STRENGTH AND VI­SI­BI­LITY TH­ROUG­HOUT ITS  YEARS OF EXIS­TEN­CE, AND IT BOASTS TO­DAY A SO­LID PRES­TI­GE

Habanos - - Summary - BY / LEO­NEL NO­DAL PHO­TOS / EX­CE­LEN­CIAS ARCHIVE

Af­ter it bro­ke in­to the com­pe­ti­ti­ve mar­ket of hand-ro­lled ci­gars with Cu­ban to­bac­co back in 1875, Romeo y Ju­lie­ta Ha­ba­nos trea­su­red in their aro­ma­tic and ins­pi­ring fra­gran­ce the char­ming spi­rit of En­glish wri­ter Wi­lliam Sha­kes­pea­re's mas­ter­pie­ce. The mys­tery of its fas­ci­na­ting charm gai­ned strength and vi­si­bi­lity th­roug­hout its 145 years of exis­ten­ce, and it boasts to­day a so­lid pres­ti­ge wit­hin the most de­man­ding mar­kets.

Ent­hu­siasts ap­pre­cia­te its ba­lan­ced and aro­ma­tic blen­ding, with se­lec­ted lea­ves hai­ling from the Vuel­ta Aba­jo re­gion, which ma­ke it the clas­sic me­dium-strength Ha­bano.

Romeo y Ju­lie­ta show­ca­ses the broa­dest ran­ge of vi­to­las of Ha­ba­nos' brands, all of which are to­tally hand­ma­de with long fi­ller.

The won­der­ful and cu­rious le­gend be­gan in the small ci­gar fac­tory be­lon­ging to As­tu­rian Ino­cen­cio Al­va­rez and Jo­sé Gar­cía (Ma­nín), who re­ques­ted per­mis­sion to the Ma­yor Of­fi­ce “to re­gis­ter a ci­gar tra­de­mark ca­lled Romeo y Ju­lie­ta for use at

the fac­tory they ow­ned on 87 San Ra­fael Street, in Ha­va­na,” ac­cor­ding to the of­fi­cial no­ti­ce re­cor­ded in the Of­fi­cial Ga­zet­te da­ted in Ha­va­na, on Fe­bruary 22, 1876.

At the Ino­cen­cio and Ma­nín's ci­gar fac­tory, ci­gar ro­llers as­ked the ci­gar fac­tory reader — such ex­cep­tio­nal ac­tor who en­ter­tai­ned wor­kers' work­day — to read ti­me and ti­me again the Spa­nish trans­la­tion of Romeo and Ju­liet's fas­ci­na­ting ro­man­ce.

Whi­le en­ca­sing with lo­ve and mag­ni­fi­cen­ce tho­se ac­tual hand­ma­de je­wels, which ca­me out of their hands with se­duc­ti­ve ap­pea­ran­ce, the pe­cu­liar au­dien­ce ex­plo­ded with joy and star­ted hit­ting the ta­ble with their kni­ves in the ze­nith of the no­vel.

Not even Wi­lliam Sha­kes­pea­re would ha­ve ima­gi­ned that, in the dis­tant Spa­nish co­lony of the Grea­test of An­ti­lles, the evo­ca­tion of Romeo and Ju­liet's tra­gedy em­bra­ced with its charm the le­gend of one of the best Ha­ba­nos' brands ever.

Tho­se ci­gar ro­llers, dee­med to be illi­te­ra­tes, ins­pi­red both As­to­ria's na­ti­ves in adop­ting the tra­gedy title as tra­de­mark for its ele­gant Ha­ba­nos.

From that mo­ment on, an ex­hi­la­ra­ting, suc­cess­ful ca­reer was built th­rough to­day. Bet­ween 1885 and 1900, the small fac­tory Romeo y Ju­lie­ta pro­du­ces Ha­ba­nos in li­mi­ted quan­ti­ties, but of ex­ce­llent qua­lity, har­ves­ted in the fa­mous re­gion of Vuel­ta Aba­jo (Pi­nar del Río).

Ac­cor­ding to his­to­rians, Ino­cen­cio Al­va­rez hi­red the best ci­gar ro­llers in Ha­va­na and de­man­ded — first and fo­re­most — the qua­lity of both the Ha­ba­nos and their pre­sen­ta­tion.

This way, the brand swiftly gai­ned pres­ti­ge among its most de­man­ding smo­kers world­wi­de. For exam­ple, the gold me­dals ear­ned in in­ter­na­tio­nal Ci­gar Ex­pos held in Ant­werp (1885), Brus­sels (1889), and Pa­ris (1900) speak for them­sel­ves and are stam­ped in the brand's lo­go.

The com­pany was suc­cess­ful thanks to a sim­ple but ex­tre­mely ef­fi­cient call: “to achie­ve a prai­se­worthy Ha­ba­nos, it was ne­ces­sary a high-qua­lity to­bac­co.”

For his part, to gua­ran­tee the lea­ves hig­hest qua­lity, Ma­nín Gar­cía crea­ted an ex­pe­rien­ced ob­ser­vers' Corp that spied the best to­bac­co plan­ta­tions in Cu­ba with pre­ci­se ins­truc­tions to pay clo­se at­ten­tion to every sta­ge that plants ex­pe­rien­ced un­til cu­ring. Thus, it was much ea­sier to de­ci­de whe­re to pur­cha­se every sea­son.

Ho­we­ver, anot­her As­tu­rian young man —arri­ved in Cu­ba with ni­ne years old in 1885 and af­ter ha­ving stu­died in Cu­ba and uni­ver­si­ties in the Uni­ted Sta­tes, paid by his to­bac­co gro­wer un­cle, he de­ci­ded to re­turn and work in the in­dustry to the ex­tent he ca­me to know every de­tail and ca­me to own and boost ad­ver­ti­sing as no one had do­ne be­fo­re — rai­sed the mer­chan­di­zing of Ha­ba­nos Romeo y Ju­liet to its hig­hest de­gree. Af­ter gai­ning ex­pe­rien­ce as for­mer ma­na­ger of the Cabañas fac­tory in Ha­va­na, Jo­sé Pe­pín Rodríguez Fer­nán­dez pur­cha­sed Romeo y

Ju­lie­ta in 1903, and ga­ve up the idea of wor­king for

Ame­ri­can com­pa­nies that ca­me to of­fer him a blank check to set his fees.

He ca­red for and en­han­ced it “as if it we­re my own daugh­ter,” he said to an Ame­ri­can bu­si­ness­man who tried his best to pur­cha­sing Pe­pín's bur­geo­ning fac­tory, which was one of the most im­por­tant in Ha­va­na by 1905, with a to­tal area of 1.960 m2 and mo­re than 1.000 wor­kers.

Over the pe­riod of 1903-1916, Romeo y Ju­lie­ta in­crea­sed its pro­duc­tion from 2 to 18 mi­llion units per year.

Don Pe­pín, as he was known, was re­pu­ted to be sim­ple and easy­going man. He trea­su­red a na­tu­ral gift and in­he­ri­ted bu­si­ness ins­tinct pai­red with a great crea­ti­ve skill. He was re­gar­ded as a pio­neer of ad­ver­ti­se­ment.

The brand gai­ned fa­me world­wi­de in the early years of the 20th cen­tury, af­ter Don Pe­pín Rodríguez reali­zed the im­por­tan­ce of ci­gar bands as the cor­ners­to­ne for suc­cess.

For­mer Bri­tish PM Wins­ton Chur­chill vi­si­ted Cu­ba in 1946 and Pe­pín pro­ved his sa­ga­city. As soon as he knew about the li­kes of the fa­med po­li­ti­cian re­gar­ding the Cu­ban to­bac­co, af­ter Chur­chill's trip to the is­land in 1895, and his pre­fe­ren­ce for Romeo y Ju­lie­ta, the com­pany laun­ched a 178 mm long Ha­bano with a ring gau­ge 47.

Chur­chill's de­vo­tion for the brand Romeo y Ju­lie­ta las­ted to his dying day. His na­me was not only used in Ha­ba­nos ci­gar bands, but al­so ga­ve a na­me to the most fa­mous vi­to­la of the brand. When he died, 69 years af­ter he tas­ted a Cu­ban ci­gar for the first ti­me, Wins­ton Leo­nard Spen­cer Chur­chill had smo­ked mo­re than 250.000 Ha­ba­nos, ave­ra­ging 4.000 per year, ac­cor­ding his­to­rians Ber­nard Le Roy ad Mau­ri­ce Sza­fran.

One of the weir­dest cu­rio­si­ties su­rroun­ding the wisps of smo­ke of the Ha­bano is that it was first tas­ted by Eu­ro­peans around the sa­me ti­me Sha­kes­pea­re was ma­king an im­pres­sion in Lon­don's thea­ter sce­ne. Fi­ve cen­tu­ries la­ter, the le­gend of Romeo y Ju­lie­ta trig­gers pas­sion and hid­den plea­su­res in ent­hu­siasts of Ha­ba­nos Romeo y Ju­lie­ta as well as the se­crets of its uni­ver­sal charm.

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