Habanos Festival 2017 A New Day for Quai D’Orsay

Quai D’Orsay, created over 40 years ago exclusively for the French market, is being relaunched globally, plus other major launches and limited editions from Cuba’s 19th annual Habanos Festival > By E. Edward Hoyt III

The 19th edition of the Habano Festival, which was held from February 27th to March 3rd, 2017 in Havana, Cuba, set a new milestone with a grand total of 2,000 guests from over 50 countries converging on the island to learn first-hand about the major new product developments from Habanos S.A., tour cultivation and production facilities, learn about the history of habanos, and engage in seminars. The festival also hosted three evenings featuring Cuba’s finest food, live music from renowned international artists, the unveiling and sampling of the newest cigars from Habanos S.A., and pairings with top products from around the world.

Festival attendees have seen this celebration grow each year, adding more events, more seminars, and a closer look at this country long synonymous with premium cigars internationally. Those who make the trip, from all corners of the world, come away with a new perspective, whether this is their first visit to a cigar factory and tobacco farm, or this is one of many cigar-producing countries they have visited.

While all countries and factories follow many of the same age-old traditions of cigar making, each one has its own story to tell, and each country does a few unique things in bringing a cigar from the tobacco field, to the cigar factory, to the retail chain, and finally to the consumer. And Cuba has long piqued the interest of cigar smokers, particularly those in the United States, where Cuban cigars are not so easy to find.

The festival opened on Monday, Feb. 27 with a welcome evening reception at the historic Club Habana social club in Playa, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean on the city’s west coast, where the first Gran Reserva from the H. Upmann brand was showcased. The H. Upmann Sir Winston Gran Reserva 2011 (47 ring gauge by 178 mm, known by its factory name as the Julieta No. 2 vitola), utilizes filler, binder, and wrapper leaves harvested in 2011 in Vuelta Abajo, Pinar del Rio, Cuba and selected for an extended five-year aging process, rather than one year process for regular production habanos. This extra aging releases tannins, yielding a rounder, sweeter, and more aromatic flavor, according to the manufacturer. Production was limited to only 75,000 cigars, which will be released in 5,000 numbered boxes containing 15 habanos. The keepsake cases feature an elegant black lacquer finish, embossed gold graphics, and quadrant hinges. The launch follows the release of the brand’s first Reserva in 2014, the H. Upmann No. 2, which was rolled with leaves from the 2010 harvest that were aged for three years rather than one.

Only certain types of tobaccos have higher aging potential, according to Cuban black tobacco experts, but when the proper leaves receive extra aging, the process results in superior flavor characteristics in the finished cigar. Rich, flavorful tobaccos grown under ideal weather and soil conditions—unstressed by drought or excessive rains—and receiving proper nutrition, are the ones best suited for higher fermentation. And yet, further selection is still necessary. After the curing, and during the first fermentation process, some tobacco leaves already stand out due to their high levels of oil and other properties that will help them improve during aging. Other leaves, however, are deemed unsuitable for the process; although they would have high combustibility characteristics, they would lose key components over time rendering their taste and scent “virtually nil,” explains Habanos S.A.

As a result of extended tobacco aging, certain spicy notes found in habanos tend to disappear due to the reduction in the small amounts of ammonia typically present even in fermented tobacco. “The cigar gains a sweeter taste and the smoke scent is less penetrating, but keeps the aromatic points of a good habano smoke,” explains Habanos S.A. “Generally speaking, the strength tends to decrease since the leaves slowly lose the elements that give Cuban black tobacco this characteristic.”

Since the tobacco’s strength and flavor nuances are refined during the extended aging process, the blend for a standard cigar in a brand like H. Upmann must be modified slightly when including five-year aged tobaccos in order to keep the brand’s character intact. The manufacturer explains that its seasoned blenders are challenged to come up with a blend that faithfully stands for the brand but with more a refined variation.

Wednesday, March 1st was filled with educational activities at the Palacio de Convenciones, starting with an international seminar and followed by a master conference on the H. Upman brand; a master class on the making of Habano parejos; and a master conference on the history and future of the Quai D’Orsay brand, which set the stage for an entire evening at the El Laguito Reception Hall dedicated to the brand and its global relaunch.

Created in 1973 by Cubatabaco exclusively for the French market at the request of SEITA, the former French state company, Quai D’Orsay turns a major corner this year with what Habanos S.A. calls “a promising new stage:” the launch of an entirely new presentation and the release of two new vitolas as the company expands distribution of the brand to all of its major international markets for the first time ever.

Quai D’Orsay, whose name refers to the well-known Parisian street along the River Seine where SEITA had its offices at that time, is still a relatively young brand within the Habanos range. For over forty years, the mild-bodied blend has been available only to consumers within the French market. Its major innovations have all come through Regional Editions—four in the last decade—which were also exclusively for the French market.

The new Quai D’Orsay No. 50 (50 ring gauge by 10 mm) and Quai D’Orsay No. 54 (54 ring gauge by 135 mm), both in 10 and 25-
unit presentations, join the previously available Coronas Claro (42 ring gauge by 142 mm) and form the new brand portfolio available worldwide in 2017 through the Habanos international distribution network. The No. 54 vitola, called Edmundo Grueso, is a new vitola in the regular Habanos, S.A. portfolio.

All three vitolas share the same “smooth, pleasant, and elegant” Cuban tobacco profile that has characterized the brand since its launch. A new design and new labeling reinforce the presentation of Quai D’Orsay boxes. The brand’s origins have also been given greater visibility and presence, with the references to “Habana” and “Cuba” appearing in the center and on the sides of the new band, which is larger in size and enriched with different printing techniques, incorporating various gold colors, reliefs, and patterns, as well as each vitola’s name. In addition to the band, there is new labeling treatments to reinforce the brand codes in the box.

Officially celebrated at the closing night gala dinner, the new Línea 1935 under the Montecristo brand, was unveiled in three vitolas incorporated in the brand’s regular portfolio. The new series, which takes its name from the year the legendary brand was founded, is now the most premium habanos offered by the brand. Two of the three vitolas are unprecedented in the Habanos portfolio: Maltés (53 ring gauge by 153 mm) and Dumas (49 ring gauge by 130 mm), while Leyenda (55 ring gauge by 165 mm) takes the form of the special limited edition Montecristo 80 Aniversario, which was launched in 2015 to commemorate the brand’s 80th Anniversary.

The best known and perhaps most appreciated Habanos brand, Montecristo is considered by many to be the benchmark for habanos flavor. The Línea 1935 also stands apart in the portfolio, incorporating a full strength flavor blend for the very first time by the Montecristo brand, complementing the medium- to full-strength flavor of the Línea Clásica and Línea Edmundo and the medium-strength flavor of the Línea Open blend. The natural “carmelite” wrapper that’s used gives the Línea 1935 habanos a lustrous appearance. All tobaccos are sourced from top farms in the Vuelta Abajo area of Cuba’s Pinar del Río.

Línea 1935 is presented in 20-count beveled-edge boxes with an elegant carmelite lacquer finish, a design that’s unique within the Habanos portfolio. The Línea 1935 seal, which was inspired by the design of the brand’s band and traces its origins to the special commemorative edition Montecristo 80 Aniversario, appears on the box lid.

Cigars in the Línea 1935 line also features an exclusive and innovative triple band treatment, each incorporating brown ink and gold foil highlights. In addition to the principal primary band, a wide secondary band with the name of the line and the vitola name appears beneath, as well as a third foot band featuring Montecristo’s traditional Fleur-de-lis icon that is both decorative and protects the foot.

The Romeo y Julieta Petit Royales is a totally new 47 ring gauge by 95 mm vitola that has been added into the brand’s regular portfolio. With a large ring gauge and short length, this is a habano in keeping with the current format trends that are increasingly demanded by enthusiasts around the world. The Petit Royales provide all of the aroma, balance, and complexity in nuances of Romeo y Julieta, the classic medium strength flavor habano, but in a short smoking time. The cigars will be released in two presentations, a 25-unit labeled box and aluminum tube in a three-unit case.

Habanos S.A. also presented three 2017 Limited Editions at the festival, vitolas that are not part the respective brands’ regular portfolios, and are distinguished by their specially selected leaves—filler, binder, and wrapper included—that have all been aged for at least two years. All limited edition habanos are made in very small quantities by expert Cuban torcedores.

Cohiba Talismán (54 ring gauge by 154 mm) is large ring gauge vitola never before seen in the Habanos portfolio. Medium to full strength flavor, Cohiba’s usual additional fermentation, coupled with two years of aging for its leaves, impart a complex and highly aromatic character. This limited edition is presented in a varnished 10-unit slide lid box. Partagás Series No. 1 (52 ring gauge by 138 mm) is another “first” in the Habanos portfolio: the vitola de galera “Noblezas” launched with Series No. 1. Enthusiasts will be able to enjoy the brand’s richness and intensity in a totally new format with this Habano in the brand’s recognizable full strength flavor territory. The presentation is in a 25-unit slide-lid box. Punch Regios de Punch (48 ring gauge by 120 mm), a vitola also known as Hermoso Especial, completes Punch’s traditional range of sizes with a new benchmark in large ring gauge/short length Habanos. Featuring a medium strength flavor, Regios de Punch is presented in a 25-unit slide lid box.

Two exclusive new launches for the La Casa del Habano network of specialist stores were also unveiled, continuing the company’s strategy of offering new and exclusive productions for its specialized retail channels each year. The Trinidad La Trova (52 ring gauge by 166 mm) will be exclusive to La Casa del Habano points of sale, while H. Upmann Connoisseur B (54 ring guage by 150 mm), will be distributed not only at La Casa del Habanos shops, but also by retail outlets with the Habanos Specialists rating.

The 19th Habano Festival came to a close on Friday, Mar. 3, when the Gala Night brought down the curtain with help from world-class Cuban artists such as Latin Grammy-winning singer Haila, David Torrens, the Litz Alfonso Ballet Company, and Armenia-origin Spanish-Lebanese violinist Ara Malikian.

The evening featured the presentation of the 2016 Habanos Awards. The winner in the communication category was journalist and contributing writer for Cigar Aficionado magazine, Gordon Mott. In the business category, the award went to retailer Edward Sahakian in recognition of the development of the Habano in the UK, while Josefa Acosta Ramos, with over 60 years of experience in the Cuban tobacco industry, walked off with the top prize in the production category.

Puro Tabaco of Chile, and his representative Felipe Rojas, was the unanimous winner of the 16th International Habanosommelier Contest, while Slavomir Marek Bielicki (UK) and Krystian Hordejuk (UAE) finished second and third, respectively.

The event’s highly-anticipated annual humidor auction saw one-of-a-kind offerings from the Cohiba, Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, Partagas, Hoyo de Monterrey, and H. Upmann brands sold under the gavel to raise a grand total of 1.27 million in proceeds that were dedicated entirely to benefit Cuba’s public healthcare system.

Luis Sánchez-Harguindey, Co-President of Habanos, S.A. said that despite the current challenging market environment, Habanos S.A. was very satisfied with its business evolution in 2016, achieving a 70 percent global market share for premium cigars (excluding the USA). Grupo Habanos, which exclusively markets the 27 Habanos brands globally, had a turnover of 445 million dollars in 2016, with a growth rate of 5 percent versus the previous year at a constant exchange rate. “We have a very solid base to face 2017 with great optimism and to continue surprising our customers and consumers with new initiatives,” said Sánchez- Harguindey.

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