Meet Blanca Alsogaray, The First Woman To Win Cuba's "Oscar Of Cigars"
For the first time, Cuba's prestigious annual cigar festival recognized a woman, Alsogaray, owner of an iconic cigar shop in Buenos Aires, as the top representative of this celebrated lifeline of the Cuban economy.
BUENOS AIRES — Cigars are traditionally reserved for a man's world. But this year, for the first time, a Latin American woman has won one of three awards given at the 23rd Habano Festival in Cuba.
Every year since 2000, the Festival has gathered the top players in the world of Cuban cigars including sellers, distributors, specialists and aficionados. A prize is given to an outstanding personality in one of three areas: production, communication and sales. The latter went to Blanca Alsogaray, owner of the Buenos Aires shop La Casa del Habano. She says these prizes are not unlike the "Oscars of cigars."
"It's a sexist world for sure, but I won," she said of a prize which was called "Habano Man" (Hombre habano) until this year, when the word was changed for her.
"It recognizes a lifetime's work, which I consider so important as Argentina isn't an easy place for business, and less so being a woman." She was competing with two men. "In truth," she added. "I really do deserve it."
Alsogaray opened her shop in 1993. At the time there were only two sellers anywhere of Cuba's premium, hand-rolled cigars, the other one being in Mexico. Now habanos are sold in 150 outlets worldwide. "I want to celebrate these 30 years, and the prize. We're going to have a big party," she said. The firm celebrated its 30th anniversary on May 16.
Alsogaray loves Cuban cigars, which remind her of her big childhood home in the city's Belgrano district. Her father Miguel, a pilot, smoked them, and at the age of 15 she and her younger brother would steal and smoke some.
"Boy, we'd get dizzy!" she recalls. Her children have done the same, she adds. She has two sons and two daughters, and the girls inherited their mother's taste for cigars. One, Ana, runs a tobacco shop, and the other, Lucía, while a physician, did a masters course in Cuba on cigars and now runs classes and workshops at La Casa del Habano. She teaches people how to smoke a cigar.
While most of Blanca's customers are men, she says women are learning to smoke cigars 'well,' which means, she says, "Choosing an excellent cigar, not for the label but its taste, and taking into account the moment or the occasion. You start by smoking smooth cigars, not the expensive ones. Because if you don't like them you stop. But if it's expensive, you'll smoke it all. You go from the smoothest to the strongest ones."
Cigars, in fact, helped me give up cigarettes.
Some people start their day with a cigar, says Blanca, but she prefers to start smoking a little later. Some days she can smoke three, or she may go a week without smoking one. She claims they are not addictive like cigarettes, and says that "Cigars, in fact, helped me give up cigarettes."
A person works in the girdling of a limited edition tobacco for the 50th anniversary of Cohiba.
When Blanca finished secondary school, there was nothing in particular she wanted to study. She began working, hopping from one job to another, then married and had four children. Then, she decided to try to earn a living from her passion for cigars. It was the 1980s. She and a partner spoke to people in the know from Cuba, and became distributors of habano cigars in Argentina.
People had more time; they were at home.
She did not close her shop during the COVID-19 pandemic, when sales and home deliveries increased. "Consumption increased at that moment. People had more time; they were at home," she says, adding that stress also contributed: "As my daughter, the doctor, says, today's illness is stress, and the habano reduces it."