Episode “Il top dell’associazionismo” (The top of the cigar association life) is recorded in Italian. You will find a translated summary below.
We interviewed Francesco Minetti:
- President of the Cigar Club Matelica since 2005
- Organizer of the Encuentro Amigos de Partagas
- President of the Cigar Club Association (CCA) since 2010
- Hombre Habano Award 2017 – for the communication category
- CCA Man award in 2019
- Lecturer for Entrenamiento Basico and Catadores courses since 2005
Listen to podcast episode 37, “Il top dell’associazionismo”:
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Translation of interview summary
Francesco fell in love with cigars in 1986. He “decided to stop smoking cigarettes. I started to smoke all sorts of cigars. In 1988-89 I started enjoying premium cigars, with a Macanudo. I now smoke 2-4 cigars per day, which gives me a huge joy, even when the cigar is not good.”
The Cigar Club Association (CCA) was born in 1999, thanks to the intuition of Paolo Trevisani, Angelo Bigi and Massimiliano Cimino. They understood the need to create an association that would serve the clubs. CCA is, in fact like an empty box, filled with content supplied to the associated clubs. A club would never manage to do what a number of clubs can do together. Two examples are the specialist courses for Catadores, which introduce passionados to slow tobacco and help them deepen their knowledge, and the magazine ‘Sigari!’, which in these years of smoking bans still enables to swipe real paper. “We also have a website, a Facebook group and an Instagram account. The association had an impressive growth, especially in the last 10 years: we grew from 15 to 83 clubs. I hope by the end of the year we will exceed 100 associated clubs, as we are discussing with foreign clubs. This demonstrates the great transversability of CCA, which is fundamental. We do not get involved in the peculiarities and characteristics of every club, we let them have their history and tradition, vision, modus operandi. We just try to let these peculiarities flow and allow anybody to join a club or group of friends that represent their own style. There are super-elegant, less-elegant clubs, some that deep-dive into the cigar culture, others that simply gather for dinner and share the pleasure together. We are open to every vision and every cigar type from any country. A few years ago we were blamed to be too Cuban oriented, today this is no longer the case. We are now facing a historical moment, as we need a breakthrough and think bigger, make CCA more international. We are the only association in the world with such an international nature.”
Francesco has “always been quite a lone wolf. The big change for me was when I met Massimo De Giovanni, whom you were lucky enough to know. He was the one who coined the Cuban term ‘compartir’, which today is somewhat abused. In fact, the term does not just mean smoking together, it is a much wider term meaning being together: eat, drink, chat, share a passion, talk about different things. I started to travel to Cuba with Massimo. We started to make a lot of friends, also thanks to his special personality. We had the idea to create a club in Matelica, an little town located in the Marche countryside. In the first year we counted over 100 members, the club became a reference point in the center of Italy and I started to participate more actively.
The most dramatic thing that you see happen is when this passion turns into business. If you have the ability, which rarely happens – in your case with Cigar Sense it did happen – to separate passion from business, but make them coexist, there is no problem. It is a way to yield from what you love. The problem exists when one of the two dominates. I always said that as long as I am president of CCA I will not do any cigar related business. When you have an institutional role you can’t afford to play with others’ passion. This doesn’t mean that if I do business I don’t have passion, but you need to balance the two.
I think that Italy is a very young country from a cigar perspective, it didn’t have the opportunity to take advantage of the relationship between cigar and business. I believe that abroad there is still more of an Anglo-Saxon approach. If you read the cigar history, from 1800 to 2000, the cigar was not the protagonist, but rather an accompaniment in a situation. Businessmen used to meet and discuss business while smoking cigars and drinking spirits. The cigar was a secondary reason for getting together. In Italy, on the contrary, it’s the cigar that is the impetus allowing people to meet. We want to acquire more technical knowledge and so we went from the cigar being a status-symbol object to something for anybody. I have a lot of respect for Diadema, ITA (Italian distributors) or Claudio Sgroi because they have been able to clear the cigar from the Anglo-Saxon vision. It’s not because we don’t agree with such vision, but because it was not our world.
This is why I am thinking about an international CCA. I believe that in many foreign countries there is a lot of opening for abandoning the selective approach of the cigar as a status-symbol. This is not the nature of the cigar, which is much less about what you represent in society, but rather about who you are as a person. For us ‘to be’ is much more important.
In Italy many people build their own locker at home, we don’t go to the tobacconist to buy one cigar to smoke immediately. Many Italian tobacconists are real passionados, who don’t just focus on selling with their 10% margin. They listen, also to learn from you to grow professionally. There is an exchange that happens.”
The same concept that leads us to see the cigar playing a predominant role in the cigar social and cultural life is found in the International Association of Cigar Sommeliers (IACS): when they design pairings they also consider the cigar as the protagonist. “I have had several contacts with Miguel Macias. They have managed to internationalize their concepts through the education of professionals. We haven’t managed to join forces yet but, if I get re-elected at CCA, I would like to bring this forward. There is a way to complement each other. Also the sensory analysis has an enormous potential that can be developed. We would need a vision and look way far ahead. We have a lot of knowledge in Italy, it is however sometimes difficult to share it internationally. This is why my wish has always been to offer international courses.”
The Hombre Habano prize is an important yearly international recognition for 3 categories: sales, production and communication. Among all nominations made through distributors in the world 3 people who will compete in receiving the prize. Francesco was awarded as Hombre Habano in 2017. “For me it meant a lot. The prize I received is a prize for Italy, not for me. I was somehow in the right place, at the right moment and in the right condition to accept the prize. It represents how much Italy grew in the last years, in terms of quality, knowledge, investment, clubs growth, high-profile events. This is not just about the Matelica event, the Encuentro Amigos de Partagas en Italia, which became the second world event of the Cuban cigar. It is about Mole di Fumo of Turin, Primera Emocion of Ischia, the Termoli event, Ottobrata Romana, … all these movements have been awarded. All the great personalities, like Massimo De Giovanni, Salvatore Parisi, Andrea Molinari,… have also been rewarded. How can you give awards to everyone? It’s been decided to recognize one person representing all. If I wasn’t there, it would have been Massimo. In fact, I don’t keep the trophy in my home, it’s in the Matelica club. It is a prize for Italy.
Everybody thinks the highest recognition in Cuba is the Hombre Habano. However, another moment in which I was mostly touched in Cuba was for an unknown prize: the Tertulia. It is a public debate held in the beautiful Palacio Obra Pia, concerning a person. Two persons who have a reputation to be candidates are on stage and cannot talk nor contradict what the respective sponsors, and then the public, say about them. It is the maximum recognition that the Cuban people award to personalities. I received the Tertulia prize in the same year in which I received the Hombre Habano one. I cried like a child. It is very moving to see so many people talking about you and knowing what you did.”
When we talk about cigar smoking rights, obviously we not only talk about national taxes but also about bans recommended at European level. “We were invited for the Italian representation at Cigar Rights of Europe. Unfortunately we were not able to participate: our English speaking representative, Stjep Markulin, could not make it. Also, we are confronted with the CCA charter that commits to not oppose legislation, we have a cultural promotion purpose. Taking a clear position in defense of consumers seemed against the mandate. However, I would like to deepen the understanding of this topic.”
There is also the need to educate legislators. “We have, after all, a valid approach to a better life quality and we should share this vision more. There is a movement that is going into that direction and a big organization such as CCA should be a partner in this.”
Another type of smoker discrimination comes from insurance companies. “The technical norms for insurance companies talks about tobacco use in general. There is no difference between cigarette and cigar smokers from a life insurance perspective. Policies for smokers cost 7% more than for non smokers. This emphasizes the need to educate legislators but also actuarial experts on the cigar domain, which is not well known. The world of cigars needs to be re-evaluated also for its economic importance.”
What’s next at CCA? “There will be elections of the board members on 1 October. There are two candidate teams and we don’t know what will happen. I believe it will be a very democratic moment that CCA needed. When we were 20-30 clubs, it was sufficient to gather a small group of volunteers, it was different. Now we represent a movement of over 80 clubs and it is correct that there are more points of view. I presented a project that completely changes the projection of the association in the increase of cultural and educational activities. There is a solution that allows to manage a master with the collaboration of industry representatives. We also want to introduce certification renewal classes for current Catadores. And there will be online classes, because we want to internationalize the services. Until a few months ago the magazine Sigari! was only in Italian. Now the magazine is also in English.
The true customers are not tobacconists, but consumers. It’s true that importers and distributors measure their success through sales, but we want to approach this differently. I am strongly goal oriented.”
Let’s talk about the Encuentro Amigos de Partagas en Italia… “It was created in Cuba in 1996 by Abel Expósito Diaz of La Casa del Habano (at the Partagás Cigar Factory). It was meant to recognize, unite and meet the various customers. I started to participate in 2000, thanks to Massimo De Giovanni, and was included in the organization of this event. Initially it took place 3 times a year: November, April and August. Then, in Cuba, there have been budget cuts and the event only happened once a year. Abel asked if we wanted to organize an Italian version. My first answer was no. But I had after thoughts. And we started in 2005 our first edition, with about 100-120 people in one day. Then the voice spread, iconic guests were available to come to Italy, which brought many more people. It grew by itself, our only duty was to bring that feeling, that way of experiencing such a transversal moment without obligation, without dress code. Today it is very big and the event’s commemorative jars became cult objects. The event of 2020, due to Covid-19, has been postponed to next year. Here is a sneak peek of the program:
- A champagne master class with 3 1998 champagnes paired with Romeo y Julieta Churchill of 1998
- Tasting and seminar of the Liliputano, a rare petit salomones that used to be made for Batista’s diplomatic meetings. Cueto (José Castelar Cairo), who used to make them, and Valerio Cornale, were the only people aware of this 1952 cigar.
- Fiesta Latina will be present
There will be, again, a winter edition from 30 Dec to 1 Jan and we will smoke in the spa.”
More information, as well as past events’ videos and photos, including this years’ two virtual events, are at amigodepartagas.it