Montecristo Cigars



In 1935, amid busy hands perfumed with rich tobacco and dancing Chavettas (tobacco cutting knives), Montecristo CIGARS was born in La Habana, Cuba. Alonso Menéndez and José “Pepe” García had just purchased the Particulares Cigar Factory, and each day a Lector (reader) would read to the Torcedores (cigar makers) as they crafted the cigars: the newspaper in the morning and a novel in the afternoon. The oft requested favorite novel of the Torcedores was Alexandre Dumas’ literary classic, The Count of Monte Cristo.
The Torcedores loved the epic tale so much that a new line of cigars was created in its honor named Montecristo, the name of the small Tuscan island where the novels hero, Edmond Dantès, found his mentor’s buried treasure after escaping prison in a sack that was thrown into the sea by guards, subsequently buying the island and becoming the Count. The novel’s influence can still be seen in the logos, with the fleur de lis and crossed swords adorning each cigar label and box.
Alonso and José founded the Menéndez García Y Cía firm, and found such success with Montecristo that, in 1937, Menéndez García Y Cía purchased the esteemed H. Upmann from J. R. Freeman & Son, and manufacturing of Montecristo was moved to the renowned H. Upmann factory, the then largest cigar factory in Cuba.
Montecristo became beloved for the original five numbered vitolas, No. 1 through No.5, of their classic blend, and quickly earned prestige of its own.
With the rise of Fidel Castro in the early 1960s, however, came the nationalization of companies all across Cuba, including Menéndez García Y Cía and all the company’s assets. The military of the new regime came into the factory on September 15, 1960, locked the safe, stopped the owners from entering, and forced Alonso and José to sign a paper stating, among other things, that they had fled the country.
The nationalization, like with many cigarmakers, left the Menéndez family with nothing. All their assets were frozen, their other companies were also nationalized, and what money they had saved was in virtually worthless Cuban pesos.
It was at that point that Alonso’s son, Benjamin Menéndez, with his family by his side and just seven dollars in his pocket, moved to the United States to reestablish his family legacy. He moved to Miami and sold PHILLIP MORRIS cigarettes, living in a small apartment with eleven other family members, but the landlord evicted the family on Christmas Eve.
Benjamin then moved to New York, working at a Brooklyn foundry learning how to make cigars, but he yearned to make cigars, just like in the factories he had worked with his family at as a child.
In 1961, with his father as an investor, Benjamin opened Compania Insular Tabacalera S.A. in Las Palmas, Canary Islands, and created a line of cigars for the American market called Montecruz that, from the logo to the name, were blatant call backs to the brand that had been usurped by the Castro regime.
Montecruz became one of the best-selling premium cigar brands in the United States, aided by distribution from the Alfred Dunhill Company. Production eventually moved to La Romana in the United States possession of the Dominican Republic, where Jose García had re-established himself by opening Tabacalera García.
The Menendez family sold Compania Insular Tabacalera S.A. in the 1970s to Gulf + Western, and with through a subsequent line of ownership, and U.S. not recognizing the Cuban governments grasp on the name, Montecruz was reborn as Montecristo.
Today, Montecristo for the U.S. rests within the Altadis family of brands, the same family to which the original Cuban Montecristo also belongs. Both are celebrated for their own distinct flavors and rich history. Montecristo for the U.S. is still hand rolled at Tabacalera García in the Dominican Republic and is lauded for being a smooth, classic smoke; a cigar that even Edmond Dantes himself would be proud to enjoy.
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