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Commentary: What’s on the Label?

12 Feb 2013

We’ve pontificated about the lack of information for many cigars before, but I recently came across this post about wine labels that got me thinking again about the state of cigar disclosures. Or more accurately, the terrible lack of information about cigars.

calera-labelIf you take a look at this wine label (which I’ll readily admit is hardly typical) you’ll see tons of information, virtually all of which could be just as easily at home on a cigar box: type of grapes (or tobacco), location of vineyards (or farms), yield per acre, year originally planted, date of harvest, aging information, blend information, date bottled (or boxed), and quantity made.

And yet, you won’t find that information on any cigar box. At most you’ll find a list of the countries where the tobacco comes from and a box date.

One rare exception is the Tatuaje La Vérité (the label can be seen here) which does contain virtually all available information: the farm that grew the tobacco, vintage of crops, tobacco varietals and percentages, factory where it was rolled, dates rolled, and quantity produced.

But perhaps it’s no coincidence that La Vérité is based off of a wine model (for better or worse including the futures model). For the other 99% of cigars, it seems like cigar makers give us only enough information as they feel they can get away with.

There are a few reasons why I think this lack of specific information persists for cigars. The one legitimate reason for the lack of disclosure regards protection of innovation. But even this is often cop-out, designed to give cigar makers the option of changing the blend later if they can’t secure enough tobacco from the same tobacco farms down the line.

More generally, I suspect it’s a laziness on the part of of cigar makers who’d rather shroud their creations in mystery instead of explaining why their blend is superior. While wine tends to get more specific as the price goes up (buy a First Growth Bordeaux, for example, and you know exactly what small plot of land the grapes were grown on and in which year), there exists an inverse correlation between cigar cost and the availability of cigar information. Expensive cigars are usually aged significantly before they come to market, but the years of harvest, rolling, or boxing are rarely divulged.

Aesthetically, I have great respect for making cigar boxes look good, and I understand that too much text clutters up a good-looking cigar box (let alone a cigar band). But even on cigar makers’ websites, it’s too hard to come by more than just the general information about a specific cigar blend.

To that end, I think cigar makers grossly underestimate cigar smokers’ thirst for more information. (And the millions of visitors we’ve had to suggest I’m right.) So here’s to hoping cigar makers will start increasing the information they make available about their cigars. Because a critical part of enjoying a cigar is learning why you enjoy it.

Patrick S

photo credit: Dr. Vino

12 Responses to “Commentary: What’s on the Label?”

  1. Mike Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    Great article! I think it would help cigar makers more than hinder them. I, for one, love that kind of information. It just gives the end product more of a personal touch to it. Kind of like a diary recording the life of that particular cigar (or box of cigars) from seed to stick.

  2. Cigar Seeker Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    I support, and applaud, your efforts to increase the information given on cigar boxes (which could go on the bottom of the box if the manufacturer is concerned about appearances). But in a world in which cigar sellers tout reviews that can be a decade or more old, it would appear there may be motivations to inhibit information, rather than make it more readily available, whether we are talking about sellers or manufacturers.

  3. Scott Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

    Very good post Patrick. I can't help but be very suspicious about why cigar manufacturers continue to fight this battle. We've been told premium cigars are 100 percent tobacco, but it seems naive to actually believe this. What is added to most maduros to achieve that look? Are these unique flavors the product of tobacco only? I believe additives are fairly common, but not one of us can say for sure. (this post doesn't refer to ACIDs, Tatianas, and the like.)

    • @stogieguys Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

      I'm not as cynical as you. With the exception of obviously "flavored" or "infused" cigars, I don't think handmade cigars are widely manipulated the way you imply. (My visits to factories only strengthens my belief.)

      To the extent the tobacco is "manipulated" it is using natural and traditional means: sprayed with water, or perhaps water with a tiny bit of wine (I know one cigar maker who does this), or aged in rum, cognac or bourbon barrels. I suppose some lesser makers may use chemical dyes, but I think and hope this is rare.

      • Ashburn Dave Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

        I don't have reason to believe there's anything nefarious being added to cigars, but I too have read a lot of articles and comments raising suspicion regarding colouring agents in the lower-tiered maduros. Wouldn't mind that going away, if for nothing other than purist ideals.

  4. George E Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    I've always found it interesting that so many cigar makers talk about the art of the blender, the skill of the torcedors, the farmers' devotion, the careful fermentation and aging of raw tobacco, and yet they seem to be afraid to give out a little information for fear someone could recreate the cigar as easily as they might duplicate sandpaper

  5. Ashburn Dave Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

    Well said. A number of craft breweries like Rogue and Sierra Nevada bucked the "trade secret" trend and surely aren't hurting for it.

  6. Foe Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    Doc Diaz at Stogie Fresh has been lobbying for this very change for years. Welcome to the club, finally.

    • @stogieguys Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

      I've agreed with Doc that more disclosure is desirable ever since he launched a petition to that effect many years ago.

      However, some people have suggested that these standards should be set by the government. I strongly disagree with that sentiment, as we need less, not more intrusion from federal bureaucrats into our cigars. My belief is the market (cigar smokers) would reward good cigarmakers who disclose more.

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  8. Ken Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    Sounds innocent enough. But, once the Feds see the "ingredients" label then FDA will step in and …….. Let's leave things as they are. Do we really need more federal oversight?

    • @stogieguys Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

      As I said below, this is not a call for government standards. I think the market will reward cigar makers who provide more information to cigar smokers. I hope some will try and see if I'm right, but if they don't the last thing I'd call for is more interference from government busybodies.