218 - 11 June, 2009
This could be the credo for CAO International, the “boutique” cigar manufacturer with creative blends and innovative marketing.In 2006 James Suckling met with Tim Ozgener (President of CAO) to find out more about the company philosophy, and wrote the following for Cigar Aficionado. (Read the full article – it’s really interesting.)
He was greeted on arrival at the factory in Danli, Honduras with the sight of “dozens of petit corona cigars in open cedar trays” each with a tiny international flag. “Welcome to the United Nations of cigars” says Tim Osgener. James Suckling continues “then I discovered that I also was expected to smoke each cigar and give my comments”.
His thoughts were that good tobacco can come from most countries selling cigar leaf, assuming the tobacco is properly harvested, processed and rolled. And just like good wines, leaf from each area has its distinct characteristics – “the provenance of the tobacco is fundamental to its character”.
These were some of his opinions:
Dominican Republic: Fresh, clean and spicy with a light decadent flavour; the most refined;
Honduras: Earthy and strong by comparison, with a slight bite on the finish;
Nicaragua (three areas - Estelí, Condega and Jalapa): Smooth and more balanced;
Mexico: Almost salty, with lots of meat, coffee and spice flavor;
Colombia: Green-pepper, grilled-meat, earthy character – bitter;
Peru: Delicate, elegant and almost fruity;
Costa Rica: Round-textured with an almost buttery character;
Brazil: Rich, smoky and spicy;
Panama: Astringent and earthy.
With all these choices (not available to Cuban blenders) no wonder the blenders at CAO can “think outside-the-box”. No one-variety “Puros” for them.
James Suckling quotes Tim’s philosophy from Tim’s stand-up comedy days: “you just got to throw it out there” and “if-it-sticks-to-the-wall-it’s-good”. “Why don’t we try a Maduro, with the Connecticut broadleaf and a Brazilian binder? I mean, why not? If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
Amongst their really good ranges are CAO Brazilia (Nicaraguan and Brazil leaf), CAO America (Nicaraguan, Connecticut, Brazil) and CAO Italia – described on the CAO website as “made with tobacco from 4 countries, a full bodied smoke wrapped and bound in dark smooth Honduran leaves and filled with Peruvian and Nicaraguan tobaccos as well as Cubano seed tobacco grown exclusively for CAO in the Benevento region of Italy. Bold earthy and sweet.” Find out for yourself – try next week’s 3-pack.
Philip Gregory Wynne is another cigar manufacturer who thinks outside the box.
“Felipe Gregorio”, the Latinised version of his name, is well known in the cigar world.
In 2006 he spoke with David Savona for Cigar Aficionado and told how he grew up in Europe (his dad was US Diplomat) and became accustomed to rich cigars, so his first venture into cigars in 1990 was with a full bodied blend. It was successful in Europe, but too early for the US market – it wasn’t until 1993 that the American taste started moving to his type of Cuba-style, “Cubanesque” cigars. Macanudo "Robust" was only introduced in 1998.
To pay the bills during the lean period he made cigars for a mail-order house – specialising in well constructed cigars which offered value for money - Sumatra wrapper – nothing very exciting.
Now he keeps these cigars down to under 30% of his business and can explore “blending outside-the-box”.
In a radio interview he said “I’m always trying new blends, new combinations. It’s a challenge to make an excellent cigar.”
He speaks about choosing the leaf for his cigars: “A typical plantation sits in a small valley, called hoyos. These valley locations protect the plants from too much sun and wind. The basic formula for the best crop is a sheltered valley, good altitude to maintain temperature (not too hot or cold), and great draining soil.
At Felipe Gregorio we bring our tobacco from selected farms in the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Ecuador. In the Dominican Republic we get the best binder and filler from different locations in the Cibao Valley, always selecting just the best tobacco. In Nicaragua we emphasize the concentration on the growing process in the fields. We have several plantations in Jalapa and Condega, where we grow our filler, binder. Both sun and shade wrappers are grown in our Nicaraguan fields. We have carefully chosen the Havana 92 variety because our experience has shown us that it blends best with the heavily volcanic soils in the territory. This seed was brought over to Nicaragua by Cuban agronomists in 1980, when the Sandinistas were in power and Cuba was the most important trading partner of the country. An important percentage of the wrapper tobacco we use for our cigars is grown in the coastal region of Ecuador, near Quevedo (250 km south from Quito). The climate conditions there are some of the best in the world for wrapper tobacco. The tobacco fields are located on the side of Los Andes highlands. What make this zone special are its soil, temperature and cloudiness.
The soil, which is rich in minerals and natural components, helps the plant develop and produce the best leaves in terms of quality, a fact that will be later reflected in a cigar with an excellent taste and aroma. Cloudiness is also a very important factor; it gives a natural cover that helps to produce bright, soft and elastic leaves, which are extremely important characteristics to make a good premium cigar.
In 1996 he was approached by Frank Sinatra to make a “Sinatra” cigar. It had to be the best of the best, and made by a Sicilian (Philip is part Sicilian). They agreed on the blend and the robusto format, and as he was about to leave Sinatra said: "Kid, by the way, I want a Dominican cigar. This Central American stuff don't sell for sh--. Everyone wants Dominican." I said, "I don't have a Dominican factory." He said, "Now you do." So I threw out a number, and he said, "Do you want a check, or do you want it wired?"
The Dominican cigar is smooth and refined – and so is the Felipe Gregorio “Sinatra”.
And you can taste it from next week.
Try these “blended outside-the-box” cigars, and compare them with a classic Cuban
From June 18 we offer a pack of 3 Robusto cigars in glass tubes for R325.00:
CAO Italia Ciao (R151.00*) Honduras / Nicaragua / Peru / Italy
Felipe Gregorio Sinatra (R150.00*) Dominican Republic / Nicaragua / Ecuador
Romeo y Julieta Exhibicion No.4 (R184.00*) Cuba
Because we only have 50 packs, you’ll have to move quickly. No more Sinatra cigars, ever.
(*Normal price for 3 single cigars in glass tubes)
No.218 June 11 – 24, 2009
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