March 2000

Cabaņas, one of many new introductions by Consolidated Cigar that features the Habana2000 wrapper.
Habana 2000:
The next BIG NAME
in Wrappers?
Bob Ashley

The Habana 2000 cigar wrapper has slowly crept into humidors over the past year, shrouded by a good dose of mystery and confusion. Is it a plant? Or is it a brand name? The answer is ...

By all accounts, the new Habana2000 wrapper, a durable Cuban-seed hybrid developed by Nestor Plasencia in Nicaragua, is rich, bold, and flavorful.

By Lew Rothman's account, you'll only see the name Habana2000 on cigars that his company and Consolidated Cigar Corp., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., manufacture and distribute. Rothman's publicly traded 800-JR Cigar Inc., Whippany, N.J., has the trademark on the name Habana2000 and has licensed it to Consolidated, according to Rothman. Others are misusing his company's trademark, which Rothman vows to enforce.

"I don't believe I can stop people from saying that the tobacco is grown from the Habana2000 seed," Rothman said. "But they cannot use the name Habana2000 on the outside of the package or in their advertising. We have a trademark that we are going to vigorously enforce. People are using it without permission and without acknowledging our ownership."

The Cuban-seed hybrid leaf has also caught the attention of boutique manufacturers, and is featured on brands by from Indian Tabac (Indian Tabac Habana 2000 Classic, shown at left), Tony Borhani Cigars (Ecuadorian-grown on the reblended Bahia Trinidad line), and Cupido Cigars (in a double-fermented, Nicaraguan-grown maduro version on its Toro Negro).
That is news to Rocky Patel, president of Indian Tabac Cigar Co. Inc., Naples, Fla., who has developed several lines of cigars using tobacco grown from Plasencia's Habana2000 crop.

"I've never seen proof that he holds the trademark," Patel said. "I don't see any harm calling it Habana2000 when you are describing the wrapper itself. He may own a trademark, but I can say Habana2000 is the tobacco that is in my cigars. We are describing one leaf in the cigar. We are not calling the cigar a Habana2000."

The developing trademark controversy to the contrary, Rothman, Patel, and others suggest that Habana2000 is a breakthrough wrapper because of its size, flavor, and resistance to blue mold, a scourge on tobacco crops in climates that stay warm year around.

"The main reason I like Habana2000 is because it has a very big leaf," Rothman said. "It lets you make the larger size cigars that are in demand today. It is a wonderful color too - rust red. And because it is such a durable leaf, we don't have a lot of problems with it cracking and splitting in the winter when we sell to customers in the north."

Patel said the hardiness of the leaf also is its weakness. "The knock on it is that it doesn't burn well sometimes because of the denseness of the leaf," Patel said. "It is very oily and has a great flavor."

Patel is using the Habana2000 wrapper on Indian Tabac's Classic and box-pressed Super Fuerte brands and plans to develop a Gourmet Millennium Series that will be sold in corona and Churchill sizes in a tube.

"Most people claim it is a hybrid between a Connecticut shade and a Cuban wrapper," Patel said. "That is not true. It is cross-pollinated between two Cuban seeds. Because it is a hybrid, it comes in many colors. I've seen it as light as Connecticut, but sometimes it looks like maduro. The key is being very careful when selecting it."

According to Rothman, "Habana2000 is grown in shade just like Connecticut shade, except that it is a hybrid."

Patel said he had to go to great lengths to find blends that fit well with the bold wrapper. "We had to work on 50 different blends to get something that worked," Patel said. "If the blend isn't right, the cigars tastes bitter and tart."

James L. Colucci, Consolidated's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said the characteristics of the Habana2000 leaf should appeal to cigar smokers with mature tastes.

"It has some rich characteristics in taste and spiciness," Colucci said. "The way it married with some of the blends, Habana2000 gave the cigars a bolder taste. A lot of people who are used to smoking strong blends, even the ones grown south of us, seem to like the Habana2000."

Some, though, aren't yet convinced that consumers are ready to embrace the Habana2000, whether called by that name or another.

While several manufacturers and distributors have touted it as a great new wrapper, others are skeptical that the consumer has really made up his mind yet. They see the benefits belonging mostly to the manufacturers, because of the leaf's mold resistance and durability.

Manufacturers incorporating the hybrid leaf into new blends generally agree they could do without the Habana2000 name if necessary. Time will tell if that will be necessary.

Patel said he buys Habana2000 from Plasencia and that Indian Tabac is committed to producing cigars with the Habana2000 wrapper, even if he has to switch to another name.

Lew Rothman, whose Cigars by Santa Clara wholesale operation distributes numerous brands featuring Habana2000, says he holds trademark ownership of the name.
"I don't have a problem not using the name Habana2000 if push comes to shove," Patel said. "Mystery about what is in a cigar often helps more than hurts.

"We are definitely committed to it. It is unique. If you can handle that it's not always going to burn the best, it's got more flavor than any other wrapper. I think it's going to catch on if people learn how to blend it. You really have to work with it."

Consolidated is planning for the leaf to catch on, and Colucci said Consolidated developed special blends for some of the cigars wrapped with Habana2000.

Consolidated, he said, is using Habana2000 on a special H. Upmann 2000 series, and its Cabanas, Henry Clay, Santa Damiana, and Por Larranga brands. The company also has resurrected the Flamenco Las Palmas brand with a Habana2000 wrapper and is manufacturing a Montecristo Habana2000 that is only available through Rothman.

"Lew is selling a lot of it," Colucci said. "The Connecticut shade wrapper for the Montecristo has been short. Lew came up with the suggestion to give him a Montecristo with a Habana2000 wrapper. "It's a little stronger blend. Hopefully, it is helping us grow the Montecristo brand. The Por Larranga that we created with the Habana2000 wrapper is probably the strongest blend we've ever made."

In the Cabanas line, Consolidated has created four shapes with the first maduro Habana2000 wrapper. "It probably is doing the best for us," Colucci said.

Rothman said he has no plans to license the Habana2000 name to companies other than Consolidated. "We have gone about as far as we can go with it," Rothman said. "Consumers are looking for different cigars with different tastes. You can't make everything so that it tastes the same.

"We've taken historically light-bodied cigars and put a heavy wrapper on them. "We will use the lower and lighter leaves for other cigars, but not under the trademark Habana2000. We will use some of the upper leaves for binder to give a cigar with more oomph."

The intricacies of American trademark law will determine who can call what Habana2000.

Plasencia and principals of Oliva Tobacco Co., Tampa, Fla., which also has planted a crop of Habana2000 in Ecuador, according to Rothman, could not be reached for comment.

Although Habana2000 is the name of the seed hybrid, Rothman contends the trademark name applies to only the fifth leaf, or priming, of the Habana2000 plant. "It has a certain quality, a certain look," Rothman said. "We want to control the look of the cigar so that when customers are looking for a Habana2000 cigar they will find a particular color and particular quality. What other people are calling Habana2000, is not what we are calling Habana2000."

Rothman distributes the Consolidated brands in addition to his brands, Maria Mancini and La Rosa Especial.

SMOKESHOP - February 2000