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The Infamous Davidoff Bonfire

While most cigar enthusiasts are familiar with the current production of Davidoff cigars in the Dominican Republic, the story of the Cuban Davidoff is one often left untold. Beginning in 1967, Cubatabaco - Cuba’s state-run tobacco enterprise - began manufacturing Davidoff cigars in their El Laguito factory. El Laguito was, at the time, producing Cohibas for Fidel Castro. Cuban Davidoffs were all made in Cuba prior to 1991 and remain some of the most sought-after cigars by serious vintage collectors.

The Davidoff and Cuba relationship flourished throughout the 1970s with around three million cigars sold each year until a dispute arose in the mid to late 1980s over the quality of the cigars as well as ownership rights. Davidoff claimed that Cuba was increasing the production volume which resulted in a decline in quality. In an effort to protect the value, integrity, and equity of the brand, Zino Davidoff went on French television in 1987 claiming the cigars did not meet their standards. What happened next was a shock to the cigar industry. Davidoff’s Head of Marketing Richard Krutick recalls, “In 1988, 131,000 cigars were officially burnt in Basel’s public incineration plant.”  Destroying these Cuban blends was done in the name of producing a quality product above all else. Krutick continued by saying, “Oettinger Davidoff’s crop-to-shop philosophy is an anchor of the company’s global strategy to guarantee our commitment to quality.  We have been pursuing this approach with our production in the Dominican Republic, controlling each and every step from the seeds to the blending and rolling of the cigars. With the recent acquisitions of farmland in Honduras and Nicaragua we are strengthening our strategy of vertical integration from the seeds to the cigar.”

In 1991, Davidoff and Cubatabaco signed an agreement to officially cut ties with each other. Although this display of the brands dedication to quality made its way into a few publications at the time, it remains largely unknown throughout today’s new generation of cigar enthusiasts. While admitting that the quality of Cuban cigars as a whole had diminished during part of the 1980s, representatives from Cubatabaco denied any quality issue in regards to the Davidoff dispute and claimed that the main reason for the breakup was due to differences regarding ownership of the brand. In as early as the mid- 1980s, Cubatabaco attempted to take over the distribution and marketing of the brand assuming it had rights, but eventually failed.

With the Dominican Republic produced Davidoff cigars now entering the market, the stock of Cuban Davidoff’s were quickly disappearing which led a number of clients, wisely anticipating the rise in value, to purchase them by the thousands wherever they could be found. The only remaining stock was on retail shelves and in people’s humidors. One noted case was from a Hong Kong resident who bought 7,000 Cuban versions from Davidoff of London while visiting the shop in 1993 as well as an additional 2,500 Davidoff Ambassadrice cigars.

Despite various accounts of the dispute, it was a prosperous ending for both parties. Cubatabaco, despite their loss of Davidoff production, continued to grow with brands like Cohiba continuing to rise in popularity throughout the world. Davidoff would eventually turn its attention to American opportunities during a time when the U.S. would experience an unprecedented boom in cigar sales. Richard Krutick adds, “Davidoff is the only real global cigar brand, selling in over 170 countries. With the re-launch of the brand in 2013 under the “Time Beautifully Filled” platform and the launch of Davidoff Nicaragua, a major step for Davidoff to expand to a new territory, we have clearly established that Davidoff is a brand, not a territory. Cigar Aficionados can expect more exciting news in the near future.” With a Davidoff of Geneva tobacco shop in New York City, and the new Dominican-made Davidoffs on the shelves, the blend’s smooth character and distinct aroma would become one of the most sought after luxury cigars in the world. Although a mysterious one at times, the Davidoff and Cuba relationship remains an interesting story within cigar history.