Despite thunderstorms Saturday, dozens of people attended Havana Cigar Days—a signature event to celebrate this area’s history as the “Shade Tobacco Capital of the World.”
Cigar Days was held at the Shade Tobacco Museum in Havana. Many of the activities took place outside, on the museum’s porch, and under the pavilion. The scent of cigar smoke wafted through the air.
The event, which attracted guests of all ages, kicked off at 10a.m., with more than 70 people attending the first presentation. That presentation, titled “The Making of a Fine Cigar” was led by Cristal Blackwell-Lastra, and John Oliva, both representing JC Newman Cigar Company, and John Oliva, Jr. of Oliva Tobacco Company.
All three have ties to Gadsden County. The two Olivas are also cousins.
“A lot of people now collect cigars like people collect wine,” Oliva said during the panel discussion.
Oliva, Jr. said that the flavor of Cigars come from essential oils. He revealed some of his secrets to properly enjoying a cigar.
“It’s best to not let cigars go through that stress of being dried out,” Oliva, Jr. noted.
Between presentations, guides gave tours of the museum throughout the day. Patrons were also welcomed to explore on their own, if they chose to do so. Cigar aficionados were available to help with cigar selection.
Blackwell-Lastra gave insight on how her love for the tobacco industry began.
“It’s a male-dominated industry, but women have always been a part of it,” Blackwell-Lastra said.
She said her mother, who graduated from Gadsden County High School in 1951, got her first job at the age of 12. She said her mother carried tobacco for $12 a week.
“She said it was fun,” Blackwell-Lastra added.
Blackwell-Lastra said her mother worked from “sunrise to sunset.”
“Tobacco is amazingly in our blood…everybody on this stage,” Blackwell-Lastra said.
Blackwell-Lastra and Oliva both said JC Newman welcomes cigar lovers to visit their headquarters, located in Tampa.
Oliva said JC Newman is housed in a 110-year-old building.
“Anyone here can come down and tour the building, and can see all the cigars being made,” Oliva told the crowd.
The company’s “crown jewel” is an American handmade cigar.
“It’s 100 percent done the old school way, by hand—there’s not a machine involved,” Oliva said. “It’s a long process. You can’t short cut it.”
He said the American cigars are rolled on the third floor.
“It’s our crown jewel, so it’s only befitting that we dedicate a space for it on the third floor,” Oliva said.
Master cigar roller Luis Gonzalez sat on the porch and rolled dozens of cigars, as onlookers watched. Gonzalez said he typically rolls 100 to 120 cigars in a 7-hour workday. He said after the cigars are rolled, they are stored from 12-18 months, before being sold.
The museum had a variety of cigars for sale Saturday, however the American cigar was not one of them.
Other activities included a demonstration of a stringing machine. Collard greens were used, due to the absence of Tobacco.
The day concluded with a panel discussion from four of the “original area growers.” During the program titled “100-Year History of Shade tobacco 1880-1980,and now,” Fount May, Marcus Edwards, Stewart Suber and Bobby Durden, took listeners back through time as reminisced about the days the shade tobacco industry was prominent in Gadsden County. They also told listeners their memories of the demise of the industry, and discussed business ventures they made once shade tobacco was no longer profitable in Gadsden County.
Those who missed Cigar Days this past weekend may get another chance to enjoy the experience.
Bill Piotrowski, co-chair of the Shade Tobacco Museum, said he hopes Havana Cigar Days becomes an annual event, adding that Saturday’s event was very successful.