Q & A with Walter Saens, Winner of the 14th Habanosommelier Contest


“I’ve studied a lot to be in Cuba. I’ve been through some moments of strain and I didn’t know what could happen once I was here. I was quite at sea about the contest. After the preliminary round held on Monday Feb. 23, I was calmer because I knew I’d done a good job. But when the grand finale came, they changed everything. I had an idea of how things were going to play out, but when we were presented with the different sets of situations and requirements we were supposed to cope with, everything was different, more different than I’d imagined. I got keyed up and my emotions started running wild. Then I settled down and ended up being pleased with the presentation I’d made.

“There’s tremendous passion for Cuba tobacco in Brazil. There are four Casas del Habano there. I’ve worked in some of them and I also teach on the culture of tobacco.”

What are the skills a good habano sommelier must develop?

“A habano sommelier must know the 27 brands and the whole history of each and every one of them. Many habano sommeliers think that knowing the top brands puts them in the know and they’re wrong. They have to know all the brands. Another element you can’t ignore is the need to know the vitola portfolios in depth.

Another major experience is the knowledge of the tobacco plantations. This is my sixth year here and I’ve always taken the grand tour around the fields. That’s a chance to take a closer look at the plantations, the features of the seeds, the placing of cigars in their boxes and the process of hand-rolling the habanos in the factories”.