Jonathan Drew

Blog Two – The Year of the Festivals

by Jonathan Drew

My second blog is dedicated to Xola Rosa, who passed away last year on this date, February, 28th at the young age of 6 years old.

As I begin to write my second blog, “The Year of the Festivals,” I find myself deeply unsettled and emotional.  Festivals are supposed to be Festive – and blogs about Festivals should obviously be festive too.  But we’ll get to Happy in a few paragraphs … for the next hundred words or so, I need to bleed a bit, contemplate, and express my pain poetic on paper, which will always burn at this time of the year for our crew in Esteli, Nicaragua.

Xola Rosa was the daughter of Nicholas Melillo and Tashi King.  She was born with TriSemi 13, a chromosome misfunction that effects a child in every way imaginable.  She was a beautiful, little stomper foot, big dog laughing girl who refused to quit.  By the time I located Nicholas in Japan and convinced him to accept the job in Esteli, his wife Tashi was already pregnant.  I remember the day that we picked them up at the airport, almost 8 years ago, and brought them to Casa del Café for their first meal in Nicaragua.  I vividly remember that we were talking about names for the baby.  I suggested “Esperanza,” “Hope” in Spanish.  Maybe it was a bit of a foreshadowing for things to come.  In either event, Xola taught us many lessons – humility, patience, honor, and more humility.  You will always be in our hearts, Xola Rosa.

Pause – just for a moment – while I gather my thoughts regarding the two historic cigar festivals that I have attended over the past three months.  One in Nicaragua, and one in the Dominican Republic.

As many of you know, Nestor Andres Placensia is our wise, young leader of the Tobacco Guilders Association in Esteli, Nicaragua.  Nestor is a hard working, tobacco loving man, who is just like his father – intense.  Amongst all of the operations that the Placensia Group own and operate, he had graciously accepted the position of Presidente of the Guilders, as well as the workload that it entails.  But when it came to putting together a festival, he drew the line and asked the Cigar Safari/Subculture Studio Crew – to create a show that we could all be proud of.

Well, well, well.   (snickering)

Of course we accepted the task.  Of course we were going to make it great, exciting and all those “fajunct” adjectives.  Just one problem, of course, none of us had ever been to a festival before, not in the Dominican Republic, not in Havana … not anywhere …!  So we did what we do best at Drew Estate and just baked up some bullshit.  Turned out fuckin excellent … go figure … LOL

The actual date of the Nicaraguan Cigar Festival, December 4th, 5th and 6th was selected by the Nicaraguan government.  Even though it was not the best date, as retailers are not going to travel right before Christmas, plus the CAA (Cigar Association of America) was the exact same dates, and to make matters worse, Altadis had its yearly event going on in La Romana, Dominican Republic.  However, it was probably the best thing in the long run, as we really needed a test-run Festival anyway.

While putting this thing together, I often wondered what the Cubans were thinking when they put their first Festival together, and who were the specific Cuban individuals tasked with organizing it.  Was it some yellow tinted glasses cigar manufacturer, or Raul, or maybe even Fidel himself?  Hmmm.  Either way, at least they knew that people would definitely show up – for God’s sake – it’s Cuba ….!!!!!!

For us, however, I just kept thinking – “Damn, someone better fuckin show up to this thing, or I’ma look like fuckin shithead look.”  And with only one month to put the whole thing together, some miracles needed to happen.  And they did – 80 of them – including Rocky Patel, Dion Giolito (Illusione), Daniel Nunez (GCC), Modesta (GCC – D.R.), Pete Johnson (Tatuaje), Manuel Quesada (Fonseca), Jorge Almenteros (Tobacconist University & Little Taste of Cuba), Cigar Aficionado, ECCJ, Arthur Zaretsky (Famous), Alex Svenson (, Cigar Masters (Boston), Gary Pesche (Tobacco Barn) as well as many other retailers from the U.S. and Europe, and many leaf growers and brokers from around the world.

All I can say is that everybody had a great time, we raised close to $20,000 for charity, (with the biggest donations coming from Pete and Dion for the Rocky Patel Dinners of $5k each), and that Orlando Padron gave a fiery, passionate, speech of a lifetime, that will always be remembered in cigar history.  Make your reservations early this year, cause judging from the first year success, we will certainly run out of hotel space very quickly for the 2010 Nicaraguan Festival of Tobacco.  Serious …!

Alright, IF YOU’RE STILL AWAKE AND READING THIS BLOG I SOLUTE YOU, cause there’s a whole lot more to report on.  I’ve already smoked a small Padron 1926, an Antano “Dark Corojo” corona, and making a decision between an Illusione 88 or an El Triunfador robusto.  Maybe I should do a Dominican in honor of their Festival?  Naaaaaa – maybe not.  Me addicted to that GOOD NICA STUFF ….!  What can I say?

But back to the Festival that kicked our arses.  Their show was organized, man!  The big venues, the big lights, the big cameras, the big Hooplah, and the big price tag (Wasn’t Cheap to attend.  Nicaragua was free) …!  I was amazed every night at the class and professionalism of the Dominican Cigar Festival.  Manuel Quesada (Fonseca) and Jose Blanco (La Araura) were the main hosts, (along with Henke Kellner (Davidoff), Dan Carr (GCC) and Jose Seijas (Altadis)).  I have always had tremendous respect for both of them as cigar makers and friends, but on this trip Jose and Manuel really shined and made the crowd feel like we were in Havana Cuba in the 1950’s.  Sadly, Ernesto Perez Carillo (EPC), Litto Gomez (La Flor Dominicana), and Carlito Fuente (Arturo Fuente) were not part of the Festival.

Each day we went to visit a different cigar factory (just as the groups did in Nicaragua), and we really enjoyed ourselves.  Steve Saka (President of DE), Jessi (Subculture Studios- Nicaragua) and I rented a Toyota Land Cruiser, and at night, we were flying all around Santiago, festive, shooting from one party to the next, laughing about some stupidity and always finishing each night off at Camp David (Hotel/Restaurant).  One of the very best moments was driving home from Camp David at 2.30AM with the car full, us three, plus Pete Johnson, Janny Garcia, and Gary Artz singing the song.

Peace to Mike Herklots from Davidoff, NYC.  I’ll be at your wedding on July 10th, son.  Peace to Manuel Quesada for being one of the greatest guys in our business.  And peace to Borris from Queens, Frank Seltzer (writer), Kurt Kendal (Twins), Mike Holman & Dan Porter (Tobacco Plaza), David Kitchens (Proprietor), Fritz Bossert, Angel (ASP), Thor & Sierra (Cigar Press), CA Team, and Jorge Alemteros (Tobacconist University & Little Taste of Cuba).

– Jonathan Drew