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No 244 - September 23, 2010
Nicaragua - Spirit of Cigars

Way back in 1985 I encountered my first Nicaraguan cigar.
The handmade Joya de Nicaragua.

The history of cigar making in Nicaragua started well before that – in 1959 when some of the top cigar names in Cuba left, with their bags of Cuban seed, to find a new soil in which to grow their tobacco.
Popular destinations were the nearby island of Dominican Republic, and the Central American countries of Honduras and Nicaragua. (See map of the area.)

The Dominican Republic was soon producing top quality cigars. They were, I was told, the first to introduce “draw-testing” in their factories. The Dominican cigar was light and smooth.
On the other hand, the heavily volcanic soils in the Honduras and Nicaragua produced much richer leaf, and gradually the huge US market became accustomed to the intensity of flavour.  The Joya de Nicaragua became the standard for the non-Cuban premium handmade cigar.
One of the founding partners of Nicaragua Cigars S.A. was Somoza (Anastasio Somoza Debayle) who, besides growing tobacco, was heavily involved in politics and became the dictator of Nicaragua. His government was overthrown by the Sandinistas in 1979. The revolutionaries made their headquarters in the tobacco growing region of Northern Nicaragua and that was the end of the farms and factories.
(The story around the trade at that time was that much of the stored tobacco had been shipped across the border into Honduras.)
For many years, Honduras provided the rich tobacco for the premium cigars demanded by the US market. We imported bundles and boxes – Particulares, Indian Head, Don Juan, Don Mateo. The prices were good and the quality high.

Yet the big names in Nicaragua (the Padrons, the Plasencias, the Toranos) were waiting and their opportunity to rebuild came when Violeta Chamorro was elected in place of the socialist Sandinistas.
Once again Nicaraguan cigars regained their position and popularity.
Then in 1998 the Nicaraguan cigar industry was hit again – this time by Hurricane Mitch. Floods destroyed bridges, buildings and fields. On one of the Padron farms all the topsoil was washed away leaving only rocks.
But there is real magic in the cigar spirit of Nicaragua; the plantations were revived and Nicaraguan cigars are again some of the best in the world.
At a “Big Smoke” in New York in the we smoked Nicaraguan/Honduras Punch Churchills: a most enjoyable and satisfying experience.

However this determination to create the best, combined with the demand for the cigars, has a price tag. In South Africa, particularly with the very high duties on tobacco products, Nicaraguan cigars seemed to be almost out of reach of the average cigar smoker.

J C Newman Cigar Co., founded in 1895, manufactures such quality cigars as Diamond Crown and Cuesta Ray. Looking to satisfy a wider market, they introduced in 2002 the medium to full-bodied Quorum cigar, packed in bundles at a very affordable price. The filler is a blend of Nicaraguan, Dominican Republic and Honduran leaf. Although Filler, Binder and Wrapper leaves are grown in Nicaragua, wrapper leaf from Ecuador is used for these cigars. The coastal region of Ecuador has one of the best climates in the world for wrapper leaf. The soil is rich in minerals and natural components, the temperature is mild and cloudiness gives a natural cover that helps to produce bright, soft and elastic leaves. This wrapper helps to produce a smooth, medium-bodied cigar.
Smoke Magazine gave Quorum cigars a remarkable 9.2 out of 10 in the Spring, 2007 issue.

The other new Nicaraguan to reach our market is the Luis Martinez Silver Selection handmade in Esteli, Nicaragua. It is a flavourful blend of Nicaraguan and Honduran filler tobacco, finished with an Ecuador wrapper. We’ve “Googled” the cigar and found mixed reviews – although they all agree that the value is exceptional.
But the real test has come from our customers and sales.
Both tell us that the cigars are good, and good value.

You can read more about the effervescent cigar industry in Nicaragua on cigarfan.net and cigaraficionado.com

Because we can’t finish this without the promise of a “special” – we’ve had to think hard.

Fortunately, we found at stocktaking a box of the Combo Cases: Flask / Glass Cigar tube in a “Echte Leder” case with a belt loop.  The normal retail price is R300.00 – but for the period 30 September to 13 October 2010 you can buy this useful, quality set for only R225.00

Unfortunately we are not permitted to post cigars to distant customers in South Africa – so visit your nearest Wesley’s. I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed in the cigars or the case.

Colin Wesley
No.244 September 23, 2010

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No 245 - October 7, 2010

Savinelli Pipes 5 generations 135 years of tradition

“Behind every outstanding product, there is always a story”

We’ve recently returned from Dortmund, Germany – a visit to one of the largest Trade Shows for Tobacconist products in Europe. We meet up with nearly all of our suppliers, discuss new trends, and are introduced to new products – more of that at a future date.

While we were waiting for our appointment with Savinelli, we leafed through their newest booklet – and the description of the vision and spirit of the company was so real, exactly what we’ve experienced on our visits to the factory, that we felt we couldn’t do better than to re-produce it verbatim here.
You’ll note a few “Italiacisms” that don’t quite translate into English!

Savinelli is a company that has preserved through the years the commitment and the reliability in creating a high quality product design, neatness and innovation, maintaining the style of a family run company.
Certainly the founder Achille, that opened in 1876 a boutique in Via Orefici, in front of the Cathedral of Milan, couldn’t imagine what kind of changes would happen in the world: globalization, the space exploration and Internet.
And his nephew Achille, which opened the factory in “Molina di Barasso” at the end of the 1950’s, would be happy to know that, today like that time, the master craftsmen still make the pipes in the same traditional way, treating them with the unchanged passion and attention.
Today Giancarlo Savinelli has the duty to look after this hand-crafted heritage, and hand it down untouched to his son Achille, which will continue to be the “ambassador” of quality, reliability and elegance that has always distinguished the name of his family.

The manufacturing
The briar is selected from only the best “plateaux” and seasoned for many years. The selection of the briar is a very important and complicated phase, possible only from a huge experience, which distinguish the value of each pipe.
The workmanship is carried on by our skilled artisans who, through their exceptional manual ability, are able to take the best from the raw material. During all the production process they use only ecological finishes and waxes, in order to let the wood “breath”.
Savinelli pipes are not industrially sprayed, but they are singularly colored using natural paints purpose-made by us.
The brand-marking of the pipe is manually done through many steps, using several stamps, furthermore also the mouthpiece is entirely customized.
The strictly final quality control allow us to offer to our customer a real exceptional product.

The products
Savinelli pipes an extremely wide set of offers.
During the years Savinelli has produced more than 140/150 series of pipes, sometimes in 90 different models. From 6 to 8 new series of pipes are proposed every year.
Substantially our pipes are divided in two main groups: The pipes with a defined shape and the pipes shaped by hand.

Defined shape
The pipes with a defined shape are flared following fixed models, but this does not mean the pipes are industrially made. Their production is rigorously made by hand. There are three different sizes: regular (tobacco capacity 2.5-3grams), King Size (tobacco capacity 3.5-4grams) and Extraordinaire (tobacco capacity 4.5-5grams).

Shaped by hand
These pipes are created according to the characteristics of the raw material, the briar, and as a consequence their shapes are affected by the necessity and the creativeness. Practically they are all unique.

Then the pipes differ by model (see Shape Chart) and by finishing: smooth, rustic and sandblast.

We carry the Classic (defined) shapes in the series “Champagne”, “Siena”, “Punto Oro Fume” and the budget “Capitol Smooth or Rustic”; plus Designer finishes and Collectibles “Leonardo da Vinci”, “Pipe of the Year”.
But the most popular is still the unique “Dry System”.
We also have just a few of the 10 minute Mini Churchwarden and Bent Bob – sadly, we were told at our meeting that these are now discontinued.

Because we are so convinced of the quality of Savinelli, and because the only way you can find out is to try one, we are making these pipes the subject of a special offer next week.
If you’ve been eyeing one of these for some time – the time has come.

From 14 - 27 October, 2010
Buy any Savinelli pipe for 25% less than the normal price
Normal prices range from R259.50 (Mini) and R535.00 (Capitol)

We can’t say it better:
 “Achille Savinelli in the 60’s made the pipe object accessible / available / affordable to everybody and he spread the Savinelli Italian brand, synonym of quality and reliability, all over the world.”

Colin Wesley
No.245 October 7 - 20, 2010

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No 246 - October 21, 2010
Ageing Cigars

I received a question from DB across the “email counter” a few weeks back:
“should I be smoking my cigars within, say, a month from buying them, or if kept in a humidor etc they will last indefinitely?
Valid questions – and the answer is a guarded “yes / but”

Yes”, because the premium cigars we receive have all been through the basic ageing felt necessary by the skilled people who have made them.
But” that doesn’t mean that some cigars won’t improve with extra ageing.


You can make this scientific, as suggested by cigar guru Rick Hacker :
He suggests you smoke one from the box, note on paper your comments on feel, aroma and taste, and the conditions under which you smoked it. Then seal the box and put it away in a humidified place for 6 months. Then try another one.
Compare notes, and if you don’t notice a significant improvement, abort the exercise and put the cigars into your “smoke now” humidor.
Some cigars are offered at their prime and may even start to go downhill. “Edicion Limitada” cigars may be an example of this.

Or you can be lucky, as Neil was when he celebrated attaining his Degree by smoking a 40 year old cigar from a box of Ritmeester given to his grandfather by his father: “The cigars were not dried out at all. They were springy to the touch, the band was not sliding off and they did not smoke harsh at all.”
It seems that these cigars had aged really gracefully.

I was fortunate enough to have been given a few “pre-Castro” Davidoff cigars some years ago. They’ve been sitting quietly in their box in my humidor. I have smoked a few and they are quite stunning.

Very young cigars may be harsh / bitter. If you recognise this, then definitely put the box away – possibly the manufacturer has cut corners and the cigars were not left long enough for the flavours to marry and mature. (Or maybe the cigars were just contrary – it happens.)
The premium brands we sell, matured for 2 to 3 years, are unlikely to have this problem.

Most important for ageing:
During any ageing period, a few months or a few years, keep the humidity and temperature consistent – cigars don’t like drastic changes.
This may be difficult to control if you have only the one humidor, which is in constant use.
Possibly if you’re serious about ageing, you could keep those cigars separately in an airtight, humidity controlled container**, in a relatively cool place – and have your “ready to smoke” or “smoke now” cigars in a humidor close at hand.
** If you don’t use a cedar-lined humidor, keep the cigars in their original boxes (lid off??) or put some cedar sheets in with them. Cedar helps the “Marrying” process.

Read about “keeping cigars in good condition”. Find out about the new technology for maintaining humidity which means that you no longer have to rely on simple Hygrostats (analogue or digital). You can instead, once the humidor is prepared, rely on a Humidifying System from Paradigm, Dunhill, Savinelli or Passatore. These systems automatically release moisture when the ambient relative humidity is below 70% and stop releasing when 70% is reached.    

WK from a Cape Wine Estate tells me that he has no time to look at his cigars during the busy January-March seasons. He has found that he can trust the Paradigm System: when, after the harvest, he finally has time to check the stock in his Ageing Humidors (in cool wine cellars) the Relative Humidity is unchanged at 70%. “Ageing?” He is quite convinced that the cigars improve if they are given time to rest after buying. He says that the flavour develops, and the cigars offer a much smoother smoke.
He prepares his Humidors with simple “oasis” humidifiers; checks that they are at 70% with a digital hygrometer; and then maintains the humidity with the Paradigm which he finds needs refilling with distilled water only every 2 – 3 months.

The same should apply to the other Humidifying systems – maybe with slightly different refilling times. 

Remember too – don’t mix cigars from different countries in your maturing humidor – the natural flavours should be kept separate.

Because I guess that now is the appropriate time to encourage you to take control of the conditions in which you keep your cigars – here is a special offer on the Humidifying systems.
And just in case you want to keep a close eye on whether they are really doing their job – we’ll include the Digital Hygrostats in the offer. I’ve done such checking and I’m very impressed.

From 28 October – 10 November, 2010
25% off most Hygrostats and Humidifiers
15% off Dunhill Humidifying System or Savinelli Surface Active Liquid

We’ll include the Mini Brick, the Clay/Aluminium Freshener and the Dunhill Travel Humidifiers – designed to maintain the condition of previously humidified cigars.
And while you’re building your “cigar cellar” remember our Selections and Handy Packs
Excellent to experience the differences in size, strength and flavour.
Three new selections available now.

Colin Wesley
No.246 October 21 – November 3, 2010

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No 247 - November 4, 2010
First Pipe University Pipe
from Savinelli Pipes Logo

We try to visit our principal pipe suppliers early in each year to find out whether they have anything special planned for the year.
They usually do – but it is mostly aimed at the top end of the market:
Collectible Pipes, Pipe of the Year, etc.

But when visiting Savinelli in January this year they surprised us with their “Tops and Tails” programme.
Yes, they were producing the limited, numbered Pipe of the Year 2010, and the fourth in their Leonardo range.
At the tail end though they were planning something quite different.
The University Pipe Set, aimed as a first pipe set for a new pipe-smoking student , be he 21 or 61 or somewhere in between.
Now Savinelli do not produce “cheap” pipes, so this concept grabbed our attention: “Tell us more”.

But let’s go back to the beginning:
What is it that makes a good pipe?
Way back in 2001 we wrote about the fundamental processes of curing and drying, essential to producing a pipe that smokes well from the start. The bowls are finished according to the quality of the grain, but unless  the basics are taken care of, the manufacturer is wasting his time – the smoking qualities just won’t be there.
We spoke of the advantages of a good brand name – and used pictures of one shape from Savinelli to show how the different ranges all progress from the same roots.
Have a look at the pictures and see what we mean (but don’t look at the prices).

The University Pipes are chosen from the “Grezze” class, fitted with a mouthpiece to hold an optional 6mm balsa filter. Two shapes: straight shape 129 and bent 601. A Grezze bowl is normally a smooth pipe, completely natural finish – no polishing or staining.
The University pipe is given one light polishing to highlight the grain – warts and all.

The Grezze bowl has travelled through all the same drying and curing processes as a Savinelli Punto Oro – it just doesn’t have the grain, and it does have the surface flaws.
But the smoking quality is there.
It should smoke well – and that is essential for a first pipe; far more so than the appearance.

What else?
Each pipe is supplied in a bag, and boxed together with a basic pipe tool, some pipe cleaners and a packet of 6mm balsa filters. There is also an adapter for use if the pipe is smoked without the balsa filter.

The cherry on the top - the package must retail at a specified Euro price – we were told.
The pricing required a little give and take on both sides but was soon settled.

The programme was confirmed in Dortmund in September and our first parcel of University Pipe Sets has arrived.  
Needless to say the pipes look very good and we are pleased to offer the complete package at R435.00
The extras alone would retail for R45.00 – you are in effect buying a Savinelli pipe for R390.00!
And the Grezze pipe would retail for about R500.00

All that is missing is a can of CGA Pipe Spray to keep the pipe fresh and clean

So – we will include a bonus can of CGA Pressurised Pipe Cleaner Spray
with any University Pipe bought between 11 - 24 November, while stocks last

Whether this will be your first pipe or 21st pipe, I urge you to at least take a look.
A genuine Savinelli for this price? Unheard of.

Colin Wesley
No.247 November 4 - 17, 2010

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No 248 - November 18, 2010
OK, OK Here it is!

Who would have thought that an article on “Ageing Cigars” would have raised so many questions about preparing and maintaining a Humidor
(Click here for “step-by-step”.)

Not only that, but so many interesting discussions, one of which led to the following article which I thought was worth sharing with you (with “Winemaker’s” permission).

                                                    THE WINEMAKER’S FRIEND
You will be forgiven if you thought that this was a misplaced article that deals with a topic of the alcoholic kind, but rest assured, when the smokescreen clears, you will truly understand that a winemaker also needs more than just one type of friend.
The classic “winemaker’s friend” is an ingenious little twin pronged device that was designed many years ago. It has the uncanny knack of removing  brittle old wine corks from your most precious old wines, the kind  that you matured for many years for that most special of occasions, without  the cork disintegrating to spoil the moment.
At this stage a short introduction is probably in order – I am a winemaker by trade and a lover of all things legal that trigger the senses of sight, smell, feel, taste and sound, amongst them high quality cigars and pipes. Yes I know that some people might frown upon the idea of a smoking winemaker, but remember that cigars and pipes do not count as smoking, after all we only puff!
For this reason I will remain anonymous, so simply call me “The Winemaker”.
Now when I first started smoking cigars, it was an occasional thing for me.  Then I started travelling abroad on a regular basis to do my part in marketing my wines and with a tight budget was forced to take the most affordable flights. This left me with many hours to pass in transit at international duty free shops all over the planet and so started my regular visits to the cigar shops located there. Not many of them are staffed by real cigar lovers, but with enough time at hand, I found a few real gems.
You will be surprised what interesting cigar conversation can be made in the middle of the night in a tiny cigar shop between two people with the same passion for what later became my quest to find the perfect cigar for each specific occasion! Many different single cigars found their way into my humidors via these trips and a good percentage of these became regular occupants after tasting them against the competition and so started my real love affair with the world of cigars.
With the investment of an ever growing number of great cigars in my humidors, I became increasingly frustrated with the inability of most humidifiers to maintain the correct relative humidity inside your humidor for any decent length of time.
 I found through trial and error that it is useless to use even distilled water in the normal oasis type of humidifier supplied with most humidors as they will simply over deliver moisture when full and then under deliver till they run dry. Being technically orientated (my boss calls me “the guy with suspenders and a belt”), I monitored this very carefully with the simultaneous use of both a carefully calibrated high quality Fischer German analog hygrometer and a little Passatore electronic hygrometer/thermometer which also monitors the minimum and maximum temperature and % relative humidity inside the humidor over any chosen time.  This problem became really evident in the dry Cape summers which peak during the three months of the wine grape harvest. This is the time of year when a winemaker works day and night for months at end without any break and 6-8 weeks can easily pass without the opening of any of my humidors, so I was in a state of panic.
I then found a solution (no pun intended), the Savinelli Surface Action Liquid that really helped those normal humidifiers to regulate the delivery of moisture over a longer period. This works really well for the person with a single humidor of modest size, but can be expensive in the long run for those of us with multiple large ones, as this is a specialized and fully imported product that comes at almost R 120-00 per 115 ml bottle! With this approach I may be at risk of being seen as stingy, but I simply like to always look for the most efficient product on a “cost per wear” basis that allows me to rather spend more on the cigars themselves!
Which eventually brings us to the featured topic of this article and a product that is my idea of a real winemaker’s friend – about a year ago while surfing the net for reviews and comparisons of various humidifiers, I found what seemed to be the perfect solution for my situation – a product called The Paradigm System Humidifier.  It is made in the USA by a company called Cigar Classics Inc and the good news is that it is available in South Africa through Wesley’s Tobacconist. I will not go into all the technical detail (you can find that on both the Wesley’s and Cigar Classics websites), but the long and the short of it is that it uses surgical foam to regulate the relative humidity in your humidor at 65 to70% with distilled water that you can get from your local lab or chemist at between R 3-00 and R 4-00 per litre!  Now that will leave you with some extra money for cigars!
I can attest to just how amazingly effective it actually is.  Come winter or summer, rain or drought, it regulates between 65 and 70% for up to three months on a single refill. This despite the fact that I use the model PSH2 with a rating of 25-75 cigars, in humidors that contain roughly 100 cigars each, ranging in size from half corona through corona gorda, belicossos, pyramides and even churchills! The reason I Paradigm in tandemchose the PSH2 as my first Paradigm, was a trial to see if I could use it in tandem with the existing two humidifiers that came fitted in my humidor, so it had to be small – so small that it comes in a box measuring 85 x 57 x 32 mm only!  When I tested it in conjunction with the original two they obviously over delivered after filling as I had switched in total to just distilled water, so I removed them to dry out and then replaced them in their empty state for purely cosmetic reason. The little Paradigm now does it all on its own in all my humidors.
 While on the topic of fitting things in a humidor, I replaced all the Velcro fasteners in my humidors with magnets, as in the humid conditions the velcro is stronger than the glue used and detaches itself from the cedar. A drop of superglue secures the magnets and after a few hours the smell is gone and you have the perfect fit for all your gadgets! Use a flexible tape backed magnet for your analog hygrometer, as a stronger magnetic field can influence accuracy!
In all fairness to even the best of humidifiers, I have to also urge you to keep your humidor in a cool place (say sub 20 degrees Celsius), as this will allow the humidifier to operate as designed and allow you maximum time between refills – it also minimise your risk of an uninvited visit by the dreaded tobacco beetle! When storing your humidor or wine for that matter, in an air conditioned room, make very sure that it is not programmed to remove moisture from the air and to make double sure, place a little bowl of water in the room to prevent it from drying out.
A few weeks ago Wesley’s ran a special on these little friends of mine, and they’ve said they will honour it for another fortnight. So do jump at the opportunity to allow one of my best friends into your humidor to look after your most precious cigars!   May all your cigars have the perfect draw!
“The Winemaker”

What could I say? So for the next offer we’ll repeat:

From 25 November to 8 December, 2010
25% off most Hygrostats and Humidifiers
15% off Dunhill Humidifying System or Savinelli Surface Active Liquid

A bonus for our customers: The air in much of South Africa is so dry, that we have decided to shorten your preparation time by pre-preparing the Humidors in most Wesley shops.

Colin Wesley
No.248 November 18 - December 1, 2010

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