Smoke Signals From Davidoff

Just like Churchill, Austrians enjoy the good things in life

On The Town | Marlies Dachler | December 2008 / January 2009

Manfred Ainedter enjoying a cigar with a tea-butler (Photo: Rainter G. Eckharter)

With the spectre of a new smoking ban effective as of Jan. 1, 2009, cigar lovers from all over Vienna gathered on Nov. 6 to celebrate the launch of a new cigar line by Davidoff. The first Cuban cigar launch since the 1980s, the four new cigars have been named after Britain’s great wartime prime minister Winston Churchill, and are among the most exclusive of their kind.

So it was "British Night" at the Freudenau race track in Vienna’s 2nd District.  Visitors were greeted by chummy tang of cigar smoke, a slightly spicy aroma accompanied by a hint of coffee, and chocolate, suggesting the prosperous comfort of a winged chair and a crackling fire. The dim orange and purple light draped a mantle of elegance over the exclusive event, where whiskey, Twinnings tea and English meats accompanied the cigars. A fencing demonstration rounded out the honors to one of Britains’ most famous personalities.

"He was a man of simple taste…, easily satisfied with the best," a friend once said of Churchill, the aristocrat with a weakness for exquisite food, Champagne, Malt whiskey, and Cuban cigars. Over seventy years – he got into the habit of smoking during a stay in Havana, Cuba at the age of 21 – he is said to have smoked about 250,000 cigars altogether, a remarkable feat.

In fact, smoking was such a necessity to Churchill that he commissioned the construction of an oxygen mask for high-altitude flights in a non-pressurized cabin that would allow him to smoke while airborne. On another occasion, he succeeded in convincing the Saudi Arabian king, a man very much averse to smoking, that it was his sacred right to drink and smoke before, during, and after each meal.

In times of increased awareness of the dangers of smoking, one might wonder how such a man lived to the ripe old age of 91.

The reason might have been sports, or "no sports," as he sarcastically told a naïve journalist on the occasion of his 90th birthday. Even though he became famous for this statement, Churchill was a passionate sportsman in his youth, enjoying horseback riding – especially polo – boxing, and as we saw that evening, fencing.

Thus it was that former Olympian and European Champion Christoph Marik and world championship competitor Albin Rentenberger were engaged to perform for the guests, who were treated to the delicate maneuvers of the epee, perhaps to remind us that Churchill had also once said that "no hour spent with practicing sports is a lost one."

Founded by the Davidoff family, Jewish tobacco merchants from Imperial Russia, in Geneva in 1912; the Davidoff company began as a small tobacconists shop.  It grew into a successful enterprise during and after World War II. Neutrality spared Switzerland from most of the economic turmoil that brought the rest of Europe to its knees, and turned into a haven for the wealthy - in this case, the connoisseurs of good cigars.

After marketing Cuban cigars for decades, scion Zino Davidoff was approached in 1967 by Cubatabaco, the Cuban national tobacco monopoly, beginning a long partnership that  ended only in the late 1980’s with a dispute over quality. For the next two decades, Davidoff cigars were made exclusively in the Dominican Republic.

The Winston Churchill line, for which the company has acquired exclusive rights from the Churchill family, is more select that their other lines. Made of tobacco grown on plantations in the Dominican Republic, Peru, Nicaragua, and Ecuador from Cuban seeds, they are wrapped in dark, sun-grown tobacco leaves from Ecuador. It appears to be a happy partnership.

"Inspired by [Sir Winston’s] philosophy of life, I was fascinated by the idea to create an extraordinary cigar, one that would deserve to carry the name of probably the most famous cigar aficionado of all time," Winston Churchill’s grandson, Winston S. Churchill, explained.

"We are pleased with the Churchill family’s trust in us," DavidoffCEO Reto Cina said in a press release.

Winston Churchill cigars are available in four sizes, named after important places in the former British Prime Minster’s life. The "Blenheim" is named after the palace where Churchill was born in 1874; "No. 10" after the British Prime Minister’s residence on Downing Street, "Chequers" after the prime ministerial country estate, and "Marrakesh" after the Moroccan city, where Churchill loved to go to paint, explained Austrian representative of Davidoff, Isabella Benda to the assembled guests.

For Oettinger Davidoff, Winston Churchill represents the company’s values perfectly: indulgence, exclusive taste, and top quality.

"Austrians enjoy the positive things in life, just like Winston Churchill," Benda said. "We’ve noticed that Austrians, unlike customers in other countries, still treat themselves."

And that is why the Viennese were the first to light up the Churchill cigars.

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