How can I tell that the soothing influence of tobacco upon my nervous system
may not have enabled me to comport myself with calm and courtesy
in some awkward personal encounter or negotiation,
or carried me serenely through some critical hours of anxious waiting?
How can I tell that my temper would have been as sweet or my companionship as agreeable
if I had abjured from my youth the goddess Nicotine?
—Sir Winston Churchill, Cigar Aficionado and curmudgeon
The smokes of history will no doubt forever obscure the role of that especial product of the Americas, the Cigar, in the commencement, management, and eventual resolution of World War II. The fact that it is nearly impossible, however, to conjure an image of Winston Churchill, Great Britain’s wartime prime minister and the Allies’ formidable eminence grise, without his ubiquitous stogie speaks to the mystique engendered over the centuries by the majesty and complexity of rolled and smoldering tobacco, one of the New World’s first and most successful exports.
Like most of the good and bad things about the Western Hemisphere, it all goes back to Christopher Columbus, who sailed into Cuba’s Bahia de Gibara on October 29th, 1492 and in short order discovered aboriginal Cubanos puffing on flaming tobacco leaves wrapped in corn husks roughly the size and shape of a man’s forearm. An acquired taste, no doubt, but it is from these surprisingly humble beginnings that an industry rivaling only that of Big Alcohol was born.
From the very beginning, tobacco use, specifically as it applies to the cigar, has been associated with wealth and privilege. The reasons why one smoking bunch of leaves is superior to another is, of course, beyond the scope of this writeup. Suffice it to say, with the advent of the wild and wooly easy-money days of the 1990’s, cigar consumption, particularly in America, has grown at amazing rates.
Somewhere along the line (though I haven’t had a cigarette in 13 years) I developed a taste for cigars. I’d hate to think it was concurrent with the demonstrable yuppie tendency to do anything, so long as it’s expensive, but the fact is, yes, I have paid upwards of thirty dollars American for the chance to shove a bunch of burning leaves in my mouth and suck.
And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Such is the power of fine tobacco.
The best cigars have always come from Cuba. There’s something about the Cuban gestalt—the perfect combination of moist, nutrient-rich soil, warm temperatures, and the five-or-six month growing season in full sun that most tobaccos need—which produces, no question, the tastiest of all smokes. And let’s not forget the experienced torcedores, the cigar-makers themselves (not all of them virgins), who’ve been producing the world’s finest for hundreds of years.
This fact was not lost on American President John F. Kennedy who, before placing the still-extant embargo on Cuban cigars, made sure there were enough of those babies in Washington's humidors to keep America’s most privileged in Cubanos for generations.
In the United States, Cuban cigars remain illegal. But yes, they’re easily found. Walk into any cigar store in L.A., ask for the “house specials” and you can be pretty sure you’ll manage to score Cuban Cohibas, Fonsecas, Partagas, or Romeo y Julietas, not to mention twenty or more other brands that are not so familiar. But at what price, my neophyte cigar-smoking friend? What’s the sense of spending 40, 50 or a hundred dollars on a burning leaf if you don’t know what it’s supposed to taste like?
The counterfeit Cuban cigar business in America, land of the gullible yuppie know-nothing, is enormous. Cubans, simply, aren’t worth the trouble and expense for the most part. Not if you’re a working stiff with a budget and just trying to figure out what this cigar thing is all about in the first place.
Enter the Dominican Republic, the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola (which it shares with Haiti), home of Ashton, Davidoff, Cuesta Rey and Licenciados. Twice the size of New Hampshire. Blessed with a climate similar to Cuba’s and—perhaps most importantly—home to thousands of cigar-makers who found Cuba not to their…taste…after the Kennedy-Castro years.
For my money, and to my taste (in matters of which, remember, there can be no dispute) the cigars created by Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia., manufacturers of the completely hand-made Arturo Fuente brand, are superior to all but the best Cubans.
The family-owned business, operated by Carlos Fuente, Sr, (Chairman) and Carlos Fuente, Jr. (President) began in Cuba back in the late nineteenth century. Arturo Fuente, the company’s founder, learned the art of fine cigar-making from his own father. His first cigars were rolled in the house where Carlos Sr. was born.
Along with the Industrial Revolution, world commerce, two world wars, and a lack of skilled manual laborers nearly closed the struggling Fuente factory by the middle of the twentieth century. Still making cigars by hand, Carlos Sr. opened a factory in Nicaragua, but it was burned to the ground by the Sandinistas. He later moved to Honduras where once again his factory was destroyed by fire.
In 1980, the first Dominican Republic Fuente factory was built. There were seven employees, and father and son worked night and day, seven days a week for years in order to assure its success. By the time the American cigar boom hit in the 90’s, the Fuentes were well-situated to profit from the obscene mark-ups that other manufacturers enjoyed. They could have automated, as others did, created less-expensive blends, certainly, and taken advantage of the ignorance and demand that pushed a two-dollar cigar in 1985 to ten dollars or more during the nineties.
But that was not the family way. Fuente cigars have, basically, been back-ordered for ten years, since father and son (and now granddaughter) refuse to change with the times. They produce their flagship cigars in the same way they were made a hundred years ago, and the time it takes is the time it takes. All Fuente cigars are hand made. All Fuente cigars are hard to get. And all Fuente cigars are worth the getting.
Since 1996, the Fuentes have produced on their two plantations in the Dominican Republic their own wrapper leaves, known as rosado, a delicate part of cigar construction that heretofore had not been produced on the island for climatic reasons. Their premier cigar Fuente Fuente OpusX, sought after by connoisseurs world-wide, is produced entirely from tobacco grown on the island and joins the famous Fuente Hemingway, the Don Carlos, and, of course, the Churchill at the very pinnacle of world-class cigars.
We are a family business
Our factories and our plantations comprise our family “kitchen.” By staying in the kitchen, we're able to consistently produce outstanding tobacco leaves and rich flavored, perfectly balanced cigars that please cigar aficionados every time, everywhere.
And because tobacco is in our blood, that is all my family and I ever aspired to achieve.
—Carlos Fuente, Jr.