Smokin’ Out The Cuban Mystique

Invariably, whenever cigars are handed out – whether over cocktails at an SCI Convention or around a campfire after a hunt – someone will ask, “Are these Cuban?”

Sometimes it’s in jest, but often it’s out of curiosity. After all, ever since the February 7, 1962 embargo, which the Cubans refer to as el bloqueo (the blockade), Havana cigars have been illegal for U.S. citizens to purchase or possess. But because we want what we can’t have, the embargo has put Cuban cigars on everybody’s “most wanted” list. But then, Cuban cigars have been in vogue ever since Columbus sailed into the Bahia de Gibara and discovered this fabled leaf being smoked by Taino Indians.

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Until Castro’s nationalization of Cuba’s cigar industry forced families to flee their homeland and reestablish cigar-making in other countries, practically every cigar – even inexpensive machine made stogies – was made with at least some Cuban tobacco. Of course, hand rolled premium cigars with wrappers, binders and fillers composed of 100% Cuban leaf represented society’s most sophisticated smoke. Names such as Punch, Partagás, and Montecristo were de rigueur in the humidors of connoisseurs.

There is usually an earthy sweetness to Cuban tobacco, and the texture of the leaf and construction of the cigar should be flawless.
There is usually an earthy sweetness to Cuban tobacco, and the texture of the leaf and construction of the cigar should be flawless.

The embargo changed all that practically overnight, and Cuban cigars still remaining on tobacconists’ shelves were quickly snatched up. Many non-Cuban cigar companies, caught off guard, began paying dramatically higher prices for what few bales of Cuban tobacco were still stored in American warehouses. As an example, before the embargo, Cuban tobacco sold for $150 a bale. After 1962, the price shot up to $1,000.  Other companies, having suspected an embargo was imminent, had begun stockpiling Cuban tobacco and began judiciously rationing it for their non-Cuban brands. As an example, until the early 1970s, the post-embargo Honduran-made Hoyo de Monterrey (not to be confused with the older Cuban cigar of the same name) still advertised “real Cuban tobacco” in its filler blend. Of course, in time, all of this pre-embargo leaf was depleted.

The result has been that while the rest of the world can obtain Cuban cigars, American citizens cannot. Not legally, that is. Which is why one of the first things many cigar smokers seek out while away from their native soil is a Cuban cigar. It’s no secret that goose hunters returning to the U.S. from Canada will pay highly taxed prices just to obtain a Cohiba Esplendido, and hope they don’t get pinched at the border by the local gen’darms. Coming back from a dove hunt in Mexico, however, unless you buy your Cubans from a reputable source such as Cuba’s La Casa del Habano franchises, there’s a good chance your “Havanas” will be counterfeit, made with non-Cuban tobaccos.

dryAll of this, spurred on by the embargo, has created a thriving black market in America for both real and not-so-real Cuban cigars. After all, while most of us can spot a reblued rifle, after more than fifty years of the embargo, there are now multiple generations of cigar smokers who have never tasted an authentic Cuban cigar, and consequently, don’t know how to spot a fake. As a result, the majority of “Cuban” cigars brought into the US are phonies.

So how do you tell? First, Cuban cigars are made of one hundred percent Cuban leaf with different tastes and strengths, ranging from the relatively mild Cuaba to the thundering Bolivar. Plus, there is usually an earthy sweetness to Cuban tobacco. And the texture of the leaf and the construction of the cigar should be flawless. But the fact is, not all Cuban cigars are created equal. Because Cuba is a Communist country and cigars represent 25% of that nation’s income, there is pressure to produce as many cigars as possible to satisfy worldwide demand. That means some cigars may be rolled too tightly, or composed of tobacco that hasn’t been properly aged. And should you possess such a cigar in America – unlike Dominican or Honduran products, for example – you can’t return or exchange it because Havanas are contraband. That means they will be confiscated by customs if spotted when you are reentering the U.S., and you could be flagged as a “smuggler.” Of course, many take the risk, noting that there are no Cuban tobacco-sniffing dogs employed by U.S. Customs.

You didn’t read this here, but the best places to buy Cuban cigars are London, Geneva, and Spain, which get the best selections. But be sure to buy from a reputable tobacconist, as it is even possible to find counterfeit Havanas in Cuba. Stay away from street vendors and it doesn’t hurt to be a little suspicious of the hotel doorman as well.

Even with these caveats, the lure of the Havana cigar is too strong for many to resist, for just as there are those who will only drink French wine, much of the world will only smoke Cuban cigars. Consequently, Havana has priced their exclusive product accordingly, with most brands selling for $20-$40 each. By contrast, premium non-Cuban cigars sell, on average, for $8-$15 apiece. Thus, if you want to smoke a Havana, you literally have to pay the price.

cuban-farmAnd yet, there is nothing quite like firing up a Cuban cigar to celebrate a successful hunt, a good scotch, or a winning game. For when they are good, Cuban cigars represent the epitome of the cigar roller’s art. But when poorly made, they are an abomination of a 500-year-old craft.

Twelve hours before he declared the Cuban embargo, President Kennedy sent his press secretary, Pierre Salinger out to round up one thousand H. Upmann Petite Coronas. Once the boxes were obtained, Kennedy signed his historic executive order. One wonders if today the President wouldn’t have had Salinger go out and buy some boxes of Nicaraguan cigars instead. That way, if any were defective, he could return them.– Richard Carleton Hacker

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The Safari Club Bounce

Reflecting on Reno, looking ahead to Las Vegas, collectors say SCI is place for fine art.

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As I strolled the makeshift avenues at the 2013 Convention, I saw a bullish sentiment for art that we haven’t seen in half a decade. SCI Artist of the Year, Fred Boyer’s “Limiting Out” had a retail price of $36,000, but commanded a closing bid of $43,000. Boyer, a lifelong hunter and bronzeman from Anaconda, MT, said that based upon demand at his booth, he had “an excellent show,” but the exclamation point for rebounding sales was the performance of “Limiting Out.”

“The sense I get is that more people are encouraged about the economy,” Boyer said. “Then again, Safari Club has always been a place where quality art is appreciated.”

With the retraction of the general art market, SCI has solidified its reputation for being the largest and premier venue for sporting art under one roof.

Day of Reckoning--Laurel Barbieri
Day of Reckoning–Laurel Barbieri

Laurel Barbieri first became an exhibitor at SCI in 2009, which was arguably the worst time to be trying to exert a presence.  “But every year that I’ve been at Safari Club, my sales have grown,” the 48-year-old from Portland, OR, says. “The people who have been purchasing my work have been in their 30s, 40s and 50s,” she says.  “What this tells me is that there’s a range of art connoisseurs. There are older collectors who prefer work that is more tightly rendered and then there’s a new generation of SCI members who are decorating their homes with more contemporary, more modern, expressions of the animals they love. I feel like, with these collectors, we’re growing up together and I look forward to my interactions with them in the decades ahead.”

A true youngster, Zimbabwe-born Maxine Bone, said SCI is her most important meeting with collectors every year. The daughter of artist Craig Bone, who once set a sales record at SCI auction for his work “Year of the Leopard,” Maxine and her painting sister, Lauren, are making names for themselves in America.

“I wasn’t expecting the show to go that well this year with all the uncertainty that exists out there, but it turned out to be great,” Bone said.  Her large oil, “Beneath the African Sun,” which portrays an African elephant, was one of several she sold.  “For my family, SCI is the main show we do and allows us to interact directly with the people who buy our work.”

The Old Guard--Walt Matia
The Old Guard–Walt Matia

SCI again attracted an international clientele, collectors from as far as away as the Middle East and Asia. As Fred Boyer attests, it’s not just big game that appeals to discriminating buyers.  His small-edition pheasant casting, “Flushed” brought avid interest from bird hunters. Not far away, Maria Hajic, senior curator with the Gerald Peters Gallery based in Santa Fe, was visiting with collectors interested in acquiring sporting sculptor Walt Matia’s new setter piece, “The Old Guard.”

“We value the diverse flavor that fine art always brings,” says SCI CEO Phil DeLone.  “We know that the tens of thousands of hunters and anglers who attend our convention are wild about art, and we appreciate that the sale of art has helped us fulfill our mission of protecting wildlife, its habitat and bolstering our Hunter Defense Fund.”

DeLone adds,  “SCI is all about honoring those who proudly view hunting as a lifestyle.  But it’s not limited just to people who hunt. What we’ve found over the years is that dramatic artistic portrayals of game animals, be they the Big Five from Africa or iconic species in North and South America, Europe or Asia, family members enjoy having art in their lives as much as the hunters do.”

DeLone and SCI president-elect Craig Kauffman made a point of meeting with as many artists and gallery owners as possible.  A couple of takeaways from SCI 2013:

First, it’s now a buyer’s market for collectible art. Rising prices for works by many living artists have actually slowed and deals are there to be had. Second, many painters and sculptors, knowing that not as many people can afford large pieces, are making more smaller works available for sale. Third, hunters are waking up to the fact that original art is a perfect heirloom to pass down to the next generation. Fourth, there’s a dramatic shift occurring among collectors who are choosing original paintings and sculptures over limited edition prints.

For readers, you’ll be seeing more art-related feature stories and interviews in Safari publications, DeLone says.  Among some of the other possibilities in the works: a brand new miniature art show, following the trends of similar shows launched by museums and galleries, featuring works by some of the world’s top wildlife artists who happen to be SCI regulars; a pre-convention luncheon for artists and galleries operating art booths; and a special “artwalk map” that will help art lovers navigate the conference facilities in Las Vegas.

“We’ve had an excellent run in Reno.  The city’s been a great partner. We expect even bigger things next year in Las Vegas,“ DeLone says.  “If you are a wildlife artist and a person who collects wildlife art, we want to re-affirm the fact that Safari Club is the place where you need to be.” DeLone has just one recommendation to the SCI faithful: spread the word.– Todd Wilkinson

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Limiting Out–Fred Boyer

Darwin “Huck” Spaulding Dies

115417[1]Long time Life Member and supporter of the International Wildlife Museum construction Darwin “Huck” Spaulding, 84, passed away Feb. 1, 2013 at Albany Memorial Hospital after a lengthy illness. Born Dec. 5, 1928, Spaulding lived in the Voorheesville, NY, area for many years. He was a veteran of the US Merchant Marines and the US Army. He started Spaulding and Rogers Mfg. in the late 1950s, and was the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of tattooing equipment. Spaulding enjoyed hunting, trapping and stock car racing in his younger years. He traveled the world, and became an award winning big game hunter and a classic car enthusiast in later years. He was a big man who lived a big life, but the thing he was most proud of was his family. Spaulding is survived by his wife of 63 years, Josephine; as well as their four children, Rita (Joseph) Peptis, Jay Spaulding, Bobbie (Joseph) DeFranco and Tommy (Mary) Spaulding; 12 grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; his sister, Margaret Verlander and several nieces and nephews.

New Meopta MeoStar 3-12×56 RGD DualZone Riflescope

Meopta USA expands its flagship MeoStar line with the introduction of the new MeoStar 3-12×56 RGD DualZone 30mm riflescope.  Positioned at the top of the premium riflescope segment, the MeoStar series is unanimously praised for its superior lowlight optical abilities, precision mechanics and ultimate reliability in adverse conditions.

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Meopta incorporated its innovative DualZone red/green illuminated reticle system into the new MeoStar 3-12×56 RGD creating a riflescope capable of handling any hunting situation one might encounter. Like all other MeoStar riflescopes, the new 3-12×56 RGD DualZone is made in Europe at Meopta’s state-of-the art Czech Republic headquarters.

“Our new MeoStar 3-12×56 RD is a super-versatile riflescope, destined to be one of our best sellers ever,” said Reinhard Seipp, general manager and COO of Meopta USA. “The addition of our innovative DualZone red/green dot reticle to this 3-12×56 model takes an already great scope to the next level by ensuring exceptional illuminated reticle performance in the brightest sun or lowest light.  This advanced reticle system, combined with our Twilight Optimized Optics and 56mm objective, makes this new scope a ‘must see’ for serious hunters.”

MeoStar-RGD-TurretThe MeoStar 3-12×56 RGD DualZone is the ideal choice for hunters shooting at mid- to long-range distances who hunt in rapidly changing, bright daylight to dark of night and every condition in between. Reticle options: 4CRGD illuminated in the first focal plane.

MeoStar 3-12×56 RGD DualZone Key Features:

  • Made in the Czech Republic at Meopta’s European headquarters.
  • TO2 (Twilight Optimized Optics) system delivers the highest light transmission when you need it most–in the low light of dawn and dusk.
  • Proprietary multilayer ion-assisted lens coatings. MeoBright coating eliminates glare and reflections and delivers incredibly bright and sharp images across the field of view. MeoShield coating protects external lens surfaces from abrasions and scratches.
  • DualZone illumination system. Highly defined red and green illumination with 7 levels of reticle intensity to match harsh daylight to dead of night conditions. The red dot illumination excels in twilight to nighttime conditions while the green dot illumination is easy to see in very bright daylight conditions. A low profile third turret control is quick to use yet stays out of the way. Intermediate off positions between every setting lets hunters find their preferred illumination setting quickly.
  • MeoTrak II posi-click finger adjustable windage and elevation turrets deliver precise click adjustment with superior repeatability and unparalleled tracking capability and ultimate accuracy. Positive tactile and audible clicks ensure accurate zeroing and adjustability in the field.
  • MeoQuick fast-focus eyepiece rapidly brings your target into sharp focus and provides extra diopter travel to accommodate a wider range of visual acuity variations.
  • The 30mm, one-piece aircraft grade aluminum tube is hard anodized. Nitrogen purged, fog-proof and shock-proof for life.
  • Covered by Meopta’s North American Lifetime Transferable Warranty.
  • Available in late Spring 2013.
  • MSRP:  $1,439.99

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