Montecristo: The Count and the Cigar That Became a Legend
Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo is a swashbuckling tale or revenge and redemption that has captivated the World since it was first published in 1845. And it was this amazing story that helped to give rise to one of the greatest cigars of all time: Montecristo.
When Cuban businessman Alonso Menendez acquired the Particulares cigar operation in 1935, he set out to create a brand new cigar unlike any other on the market. Traditionally a lector (or reader) would read books or newspapers aloud to cigar rollers while they plied their trade.
Cigar mythology tells us that The Count of Monte Cristo was a favorite amongst the workers and so Menendez struck on the idea to use the ‘Monte Cristo’ name for his new cigar. However it began, the line of Montecristo cigars would become one of the most recognized brands in the World, a title it still carries today.
Once Menendez and his business partner formed Menendez, Garcia y Cia and acquired the illustrious, but then-troubled H. Upmann factory in 1937, they moved all Montecristo operations to the Upmann factory. Soaring to the heights of the cigar elite, by the time of the Cuban revolution Montecristo was the most famous of all Cuban cigars.
By 1961, however, Cuban leader Fidel Casto’s nationalization programs had forced Menendez to take his beloved Montecristo operation to the Canary Islands. Before the brand barely had time to reemerge, Cubatabaco, the arm of the Cuban government that oversees the cigar industry and owners of the Cuban Montecristo trademark, blocked Menendez, Garcia y Cia from using the Montecristo name in Europe, one of Cuba’s biggest markets. And so once again Menendez and his Montecristo cigars were without a home.
Finding his way to the Dominican Republic in the 1970s, Menendez struck upon the idea of creating Montecristo cigars solely for the US market. Cuba had no legal claim to the Montecristo name in the United States, due to the wide-reaching trade embargo that had been in place as punishment to Castro’s regime.
And so a new era of Montecristo cigars was born.
Made in the southern Dominican city of La Romana, these new Montecristo cigars rose to equal status with their older Cuban twin, delivering a now-famous smooth and delicious smoke known throughout the World.
These Dominican offerings came to be regarded, as they are to this day, the measuring stick by which all milder, smoother smokes are compared. Line extensions in recent years have broadened the spectrum of body and taste to include cigars of greater strength, yet it is and will probably always be the original that carries the Dominican Montecristo banner.
These savory cigars are still crafted in La Romana today under the auspices of mega-giant Altadis S.A., who coincidentally also produce that other storied brand once owned by Menendez, Garcia y Cia, the equally tasty Dominican H. Upmann.
While Menendez and company were finding their way, the Cuban Montecristo cigars continued to rise in prestige under the guidance of famed cigar man Jose Manuel Gonzalez.
While Cuban Cohibas were made to represent the new confident Cuba, Montecristo cigars managed to strike a balance between this modern Cuba born out of chaos and the understated elegance of a bygone era when Americans flocked to the island to soak up the delights of the tropical playground and enjoy the anything but understated excesses of the seductive Havana nights.
And yet with those glory days long since passed, Montecristo still maintains its nostalgic character, its quiet opulence and its supple, awe-inspiring flavor.
From the Montecristo No.2, the connoisseur cigar to end all connoisseur cigars, to the Montecristo Open Series, the newest addition to the Montecristo family that was inspired by outdoor life, Montecristo is firmly entrenched atop the very pinnacle of the cigar world.
The short answer is hopefully soon, yet the longer answer is a little more complicated.
The future is somewhat muddled, as once again the issue of trademarking will undoubtedly rear its ugly head. As with the battle for the rights over Cuban Cohibas, Cubatabaco has a firm grip on the world-wide trademark of Montecristo and is committed to garnering the American rights as well without compromise.
Will the trademark and licensing issues be resolved quickly?
Will the Dominican Montecristo go through a name change or fade away?
Only time will tell which direction the Montecristo cigars will go, but one thing is certain: The legend of Montecristo cigars will continue to grow.
And perhaps while we await the outcome, there is nothing more apropos than the closing lines of the storied cigar’s namesake The Count of Monte Cristo:
“… has not the Count just told us that all human wisdom is summed up in two words? – ‘Wait and hope.’”
Thanks for reading!
If you enjoyed this article, say Hello On: