Meerapfel, the venerable Cameroonian tobacco grower, is reviving an ancient craft by creating a brand of cigars bearing the family name. The Belgian company is now launching the Meerapfel cigar, a brand that aims to be extremely high-end, starting with a line called Richard, in honor of one of the most influential cigar makers in the world of cigars.
The Meerapfels are tobacco growers who have long specialized in the leaves of the West African nation of Cameroon, a wrapper prized for its rarity, flavor and distinctively toothy exterior. Richard Meerapfel, who died in 2003, is widely credited with saving Cameroonian tobacco from the brink of extinction.
His son Jeremiah, who is the president of Meerapfel, says his plans for the cigar brand date back almost 20 years to the death of his father.
“This project was born the day my father died,” says the 44-year-old, who was only 25 when his father died. Meerapfel set out to create a cigar that spared no detail in terms of luxury, and also sought to redefine some of the traditional ways of making and presenting a cigar. The result is a cigar made with some of the company’s oldest leaves, tobacco it has saved for a considerable amount of time.
Jeremiah Meerapfel, shedding light on the new Meerapfel Richard Double Robusto.
The Meerapfels have worked with tobacco for hundreds of years, dating back to the 1600s. They were tobacco growers in Germany, and in 1876 they started making cigars in a town called Untergrombac, northeast of Stuttgart and not far from the French border. The family rolled cigars by hand there for about 150 years, a story that came to an abrupt end during World War II.
“During the war, the factory was destroyed and the Meerapfel cigar disappeared”, says Jeremiah Meerapfel. The cigars launched today mark a throwback to the old days of Meerapfels. “This is the time when we can dig into our past,” says Meerapfel, “and resurface a tradition that is very, very important to us.”
The new cigars are striking, with exceptional detail brought to the presentation. Meerapfel sought to create a cigar to be compared to Bugatti automobiles or Panerai watches, with European styling and craftsmanship. The bands are particularly ornate, designed by a Belgian lacemaker and produced by Van Tintelen Printing Art BV in the Netherlands. Its intricate patterns let the Cameroon leaf shine through with striking effect. The bands in the boxes are handmade, the boxes themselves made from durable and considerably lightweight wood.
The first size in the Richard line is a Double Robusto (5 3/4 inches long by 52 rings) made with an ornate flag cap. The cigars are displayed in dazzling red and gold coffins, decorative trays that double as chic ashtrays. These are the most expensive cigars in the Meerapfel range, with suggested retail prices of $86 per cigar in the United States, 94 euros in Belgium, and 95 Swiss francs in Switzerland.
Meerapfel smoked one of the cigars in a video shot by cigar lovertalking about the brand launch, which you can see below.
The Double Robusto will be followed by six other sizes, which are packaged in wooden chests of 25. Corona Gorda (5 1/2 by 46); Lancero (7 1/2 by 40); Robusto (4 7/8 by 50); Lonsdale (6 3/4 by 43); Churchill (7 by 47) and Pyramid (6 1/8 by 52). The prices of these cigarettes will be 38 to 63 dollars in the United States and 41 to 68 euros in Belgium.
Meerapfel was coy about what’s inside the cigars, admitting the Cameroon wrapper but remaining tight-lipped about other blend details. He reluctantly revealed that the cigarettes were made with considerably old packaging, believable age claims given Meerapfel’s long history and presence. “For us, twenty-year-old tobacco is not so bad,” he says.
The cigars are rolled in the Dominican Republic, but again Meerapfel declined to go into detail or name the cigar company behind the brand. Meerapfel has a long relationship with the Fuente family, supplying them with the Cameroon leaf used on the Don Carlos and Hemingway blends, and Fuente is known for making cigars with elaborate buds similar to the Richard Double Robusto.
All Meerapfel cigars will have a rather limited scope, with only 613 boxes (which the company calls “chests”) per year per cigar size.
The cigars are intended to be sold in high-end boutiques around the world. “The first batches are ready to ship,” Meerapfel said.
Future mixes will honor other members of the Meerapfel family, including Jeremiah’s grandfather, Heller.