The cigar czar

Updated: Jun 8 2014, 16:00pm hrs
Rakesh (Rocky) Patel is not a household name in India unless you happen to be a cigar aficionado. Originally a Hollywood attorney who represented several actors, including the cigar-chomping Arnold Schwarzenegger, Patel was intrigued by the smell of cigar smoke while he was dealing with his celebrity clients. He started reading up on the cigar industry and then sold his legal practice to move to Honduras learning about the cigar trade. That led to the Rocky Patel Premium Cigar Company based in Florida, which makes over 20 million cigars every year and has a turnover of $45 million. He has now turned his sights on the country of his birth, India, to introduce his brands over fine wines and the high-end lifestyle. Cigar evenings have been held in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore where the manager of the factory in Honduras was flown in to speak about the cigars and their award-winning provenance. Rocky Patel was born Rakesh Patel in Mumbai in 1961 and has taken the global cigar world by storm. His Rocky Patel cigars are famous. He first got noticed when he introduced the Indian Tabac blend in the mid-1990s. His company was called Indian Tabac, but, in 2002, changed its name to Rocky Patel Premium Cigars. In 2003, Patel launched the Vintage 1990 and Vintage 1992 cigars. The Vintage Series received Best of the Best accolades from Robb Report, the bible of the rich and famous. The Vintage 1990 Robusto was rated 92 by Cigar Aficianado, and the Vintage 1992 Torpedo was subsequently rated 90. In 2008, the Rocky Patel Decade cigar achieved a classic 95 rating in Cigar Aficionado. The Decade marked the 10th year of their business. Any score over 90 makes it an exceptional cigar. In 2011, he launched a new online store featuring a line of Rocky Patel lighters, including the collectible, individually-numbered Limited Edition Series.

In India, the company has launched cigars in the range of R750- R2,000 a cigar. Patel feels there could be an element of snobbery among Indians when accepting a premium luxury product that is named after an Indian who has created a global luxury brand. Indian consumers, he feels, have become very discerning about luxury brands and premium cigars are part of that high-end lifestyle. While the original preference among Indian connoisseurs was for Cuban cigars, new brands from Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama are finding buyers in the Indian market, which is growing at 30-35% annually, according to industry experts. Annually, some 2,00,000 cigars are sold in India. In 2010, ITC, the countrys largest cigarette-maker, tied up with La Aurora in the Dominican Republic to launch its own brand of premium hand-rolled cigars called Armenteros to take on the Havanas such as Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo, Partagas and Cohiba. Patel is hoping to change all that with his highly-rated cigar brands.