Montecristo is one of the most storied names in tobacco. It dates from the mid-1930s when Alonso Menéndez Garcia bought a cigar factory in Cuba — long before Castro’s revolution — and renamed the place after Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo.
The cigar rollers, he had learned, liked the book a great deal — especially when a “lector” would read it to them over a loudspeaker while they worked. Cigar rolling was boring stuff, and no one had iPods yet. Novels were among the workers’ only escapes from the socialist newspapers and other trade-union propaganda that their shop stewards ordinarily read to them all day.
Today, Montecristo cigars are divided into two lines. The Cuban variety is produced for Habanos SA, the state-owned tobacco company. It’s their best seller by far, and therefore the most widely smoked Cuban cigar brand in the world.
The others are made in the Dominican Republic, by Altadis SA, the Franco-Spanish company that also makes such — ahem — “interesting” cigar choices as Backwoods, Phillie Blunts and Dutch Masters. After Castro nationalized the cigar industry in 1961, Garcia’s family established the parallel company so they could sell to Americans. And also as a middle finger to El Jefe Máximo.
What a choice: supporting Castro, or feeding the beasts who put machine-made smokes in 7-11 stores. Of course, Cuban cigars are contraband in Virginia, even though tobacco may as well be the state flower. It’s not like I really have a choice.