Interview: A Conversation with Henke Kelner
by David "Doc" Diaz
Friday, May 14, 2010
Hendrik Kelner Sr. ("Henke") and his son Hendrik made their first trip to the West Coast of the U.S. to promote their newly released cigar line: Davidoff Puro d'Oro. The event was held at Antonello Ristorante and was sponsored by the Tinderbox of Costa Mesa (South Coast Plaza). This was the third stop on a nationwide tour that will take the Davidoff entourage from coast to coast with over 15 stops in between.
I was on hand early and got the chance to catch up with my friend Hendrik Kelner and to interview his father. We covered a lot of ground in the interview and I hope you enjoy reading the words of this master of cigars.
Below: Doc interviewing Henke Kelner
DOC: What is it about this new cigar line [Puro d'Oro] that is different or unique from other Davidoff cigars?
HENKE: This cigar is not only different from other Davidoff cigars, but also from every other cigar that is made. The reason for such a special taste is because of the wrapper. The wrapper comes from one seed that was created from different seeds; a hybrid seed that was developed over many, many years. Also special is the soil: the seeds were grown in the Yamasá Valley. It is not the traditional soil of the Dominican Republic. It's a different type of soil with a lot of minerals including iron and aluminum and with a low pH level. And it's a soil with maximum capacity to create great wrappers.
It is this Yamasá wrapper that gives the cigar its special taste. It's a cigar with absolutely more flavor than strength. People are sometimes confused with the difference between strength and flavor. Now it is more popular to have strength with no flavor, but the Puro d'Oro has lots of flavor and lots of strength, no question.
Below: Davidoff Puro d'Oro cigars were in plentiful supply
And, another special characteristic of these new cigars is the aftertaste. It's more prolonged and very different. When the tobacco is growing and the pH is lower and there are sufficient minerals, the result is a cigar with that unique flavor profile. It's because of the chemical composition of the final smoke. And, people like that long finish. People want to "continue to smoke" long after each puff.
DOC: This cigar is from the Yamasá region, which is not a well-known region for growing cigar tobacco. What made you experiment with growing tobacco in this region?
HENKE: I've worked for a little more than 40-years in growing tobacco. We are constantly experimenting with fermentation, with tobacco growing techniques, with blending, and with creating new seeds. But my real dream was to create a Dominican wrapper that was better than any other. And we've tried to achieve this for many years and in different areas.
Finally, we found that there was one region that was very special. The weather and conditions were perfect for growing wrapper. We were lucky because the weather and conditions that we like to find were finally realized in the Yamasá region.
Below: Everyone had their photo taken with the Kelner's
Of course, this was not a traditional tobacco area. The problem was not that they had never grown tobacco, but that there was no "tobacco culture." We needed to create a tobacco culture there. That means a normal job: A lot of work, but also a lot of passion.
When we planted the first crop there, I knew that we had something special. But we had some problems. We needed to better understand the conditions of the soil and how to work with the soil. And finally, we did understand it. We named the soil "The Stallion," a wild horse because we either needed to dominate or domesticate it and finally we domesticated it and now we can ride the stallion. [Laughter] I am sure that year to year we will improve the crops because now we will work together. The soil and my team will work together to give the leaves the best flavor and the best cigars.
DOC: So, the wrapper is from Yamasá, but what about the binder and filler?
HENKE: Of course, it's a puro: 100% Dominican tobacco. And we combine the tobaccos into different blends to try and get the tobaccos to play together; like musicians in a symphony. We currently have 4 different sizes in the Puro d'Oro and we have 4 different blends. But all of these blends have the Yamasá wrapper and this is a tobacco that is dominant, yet all of the four blends have distinctive tastes.
DOC: And, do the flavors affect the entire palate from the tip of the tongue to the sides to the back of the palate?
HENKE: We create the blend to give a complete stimulation of the palate. And the aftertaste complements a cup of coffee or a single malt scotch. For example, when you smoke after dinner you start with a good coffee followed by single malt and the residual aftertaste is similar to good coffee and single malt.
DOC: You said that each cigar has a different blend. So do these blends use the same tobacco and just different percentages or do you use different tobaccos too?
HENKE: Both. We use different tobaccos and different percentages. We have tried to make a cigar for any person and any occasion. We have 4 different sizes, but none of them are really big cigars. Even though the cigars are smaller, the flavors and the satisfaction that one derives from smoking a smaller cigar is enough: especially in a fast-paced world where people don't have a lot of time to sit and enjoy a smoke.
For example, either the Deliciosos (4.875 x 43) or the Sublimes (4.2 x 38) are perfect for in the morning and, because of the long aftertaste, you will continue to enjoy the cigar.
DOC: Until dinner! [Laughter]
HENKE: You are an optimist. [More Laughter]
DOC: When you blend a cigar, what kind of a cigar would you blend that you like? What kind of tobaccos?
HENKE: My philosophy of blending cigars is to make them complete and balanced. And positive, of course, where each type of tobacco makes a positive contribution to the flavor of the cigar according to the type of tobacco.
Normally I use San Vicente (Dominican) especially from Jicomé because it provides stimulation on the palate and the acid maintains the saliva in the mouth.
I also like the Piloto, the real Piloto from the Piloto region (Dominican) because it gives the distinctive taste of a Dominican Republic varietal and then we complement the blend with another kind of tobacco.
We create a hybrid wrapper each year, like this Yamasá, which is our newest hybrid. We like to use it to complete the stimulation of the salty and sweet areas of the tongue. I also like to work with Connecticut seed grown in Ecuador and our hybrid wrappers grown in Ecuador. We use our special hybrid in the Limited Edition Selección 702 because people are always expecting something new and we try to provide something special. Something special with a different taste.
Below: 2009 Limited Edition Selección 702
Our philosophy is to create a consistent cigar and provide a consistent taste. If you don't like the taste of our cigars in the beginning, you won't like them ever. But if you like them, you will like them forever. [Laughter]
Our cigars are not for everyone. But maybe for cigar lovers that appreciate the taste more than all the other characteristics of the cigars.
DOC: The quality of the Davidoff cigar has always been fabulous. How do you achieve such high quality?
HENKE: When you talk about quality, there are many different aspects of quality. When you talk about quality in taste, in flavor, in stimulation– that quality is achieved when you maintain consistency.
Of course, in order to have a consistent cigar you must have all aspects of production under control. Only when you have control over the creation of the seeds, planting and growing of the tobacco, fermentation, curing, aging and production, do you really have the ability to achieve consistency. We have this kind of control because our organization is vertically integrated.
Another aspect of quality is construction, which is very important. We have two different levels of quality control in the factory. We have supervisors in the factory who are looking for uniformity and consistency of the finished cigars. But we prefer to eliminate mistakes in production prior to observation by the supervisors. Because we can never control 100% of the problems after the cigars are made.
So quality control for us is a question of passion. It is the responsibility of a big name like Davidoff. We take pride in our product and we make sure that we have the control day by day. We work with real people, human beings, and we need to understand that people work in different ways on Mondays than Wednesdays.
DOC: And Fridays. [Laughter]
HENKE: Especially Fridays. [More laughter] And we need to have double- and triple-checks. That is the only way.
Below: Puro d'Oro Notables
DOC: So, what's the future for Davidoff? The economy in the United States is very weak right now. How does Davidoff address the future in light of the current economy?
HENKE: I believe the economy right now is worse in Europe. The U.S.A. has always responded positively to times of crisis. The U.S. is a country with high potential with people that work hard and in time of crisis this country always wakes up and strives to get ahead and the condition of the economy is worldwide, not just here. The market of course is always a question. But when you have less time to smoke and the cost is higher, the smart decision is to consume the best. For this reason we are very optimistic about the future. We like to say, "When you eat, eat less, but eat the best. When you drink, drink less, but the best. And when you smoke, smoke less, but smoke Davidoff." [Loud laughter]
DOC: That is just fantastic. Well listen, I've visited your factory on several occasions and every time I visit I learn something new. Whether it's in the fields and farms or the factories, I always learn something new. And like you said, when you approach the taste of Davidoff, some people like it and some people don't, but for me, I prefer the taste of Davidoff. And when it comes to the quality of construction, there can be no disagreement: there is no finer organization than Davidoff. Many cigar manufacturers look to Davidoff as the standard for quality in construction. So, that's a testament to the control that you have over the processes and to the quality of your cigars. Thank you again for taking the time to speak with us.
HENKE: Thank you for the interview. I hope that many people will have the opportunity to visit us. We have an open factory and we are always ready to show our organization. We do not have any secrets because our only secret is to work hard. That's our secret.
[Editor's Note: Because of language differences and because of the use of some Spanish language during the interview, the author has paraphrased large portions of the interview. The author took many hours to listen to the recorded interview and to check and recheck all the facts. But in the case of errors in the interpretation of Henke Kelner's spoken words, the author will take full responsibility for such errors and will edit and update the foregoing article, accordingly.]
About the Author
David "Doc" Diaz is the publisher and the editor of the Stogie Fresh Cigar Publications. He has served as an educator, researcher and writer and has taught in the Health Education and Health Science field for over 30 years. He possesses an earned doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. Doc is a Certified Master Tobacconist (CMT), having received this certification from the Tobacconist University and is a member and Ambassador of Cigar Rights of America (CRA).blog comments powered by Disqus