Page last updated at 04:02 GMT, Sunday, 18 April 2010 05:02 UK

Cuban cigar legend Alejandro Robaina dies aged 91

Alejandro Robaina
Robaina was an ambassador for the cigar industry

Cuba's most famous cigar maker, Alejandro Robaina, has died aged 91.

Mr Robaina, the only grower to have a brand of Cuban cigars named after him, had been a roving ambassador for the country's state-run cigar industry.

But more typically, he could be found on his small farm in the Vuelta Abajo region of western Cuba, tending his beloved tobacco plants.

He was famous for their quality and always told visitors: you have to love the land and care for it.

If Cuba's hugely profitable state-run cigar industry had a face in recent years, it was that of Don Alejandro Robaina, says the BBC's Danny Aeberhard.

Veils of cotton

And what a face this venerable gentleman had - bronzed and deeply wrinkled, like one of his prized, dried tobacco leaves, he adds.

Although he met kings and celebrities, this modest man was perhaps more comfortable greeting visitors to his smallholding in Vuelta Abajo.

There he would show people how to nurture the plants, protecting them from the fierce glare of the Cuban sun with veils of cotton cloth.

Their quality was legendary. When the tobacco grows, he said, it talks to you, telling you what it needs - and you must listen.

Your comments and memories of Mr Robaina:

I met Mr Robaina during a visit to Cuba in 2003. We were shown round the tobacco farm and storage sheds. Wonderful gentleman. A lifetime of smoking cigars did not seem to do him much harm, but I guess the anti smokers would say he'd have lived to 100 as a non smoker. But what pleasure he would have missed and what pleasure he has given to many thousands. I'll smoke a cigar in his memory tonight. RIP.
David Watts, Chiang Mai Thailand

My friends and I had the pleasure of having a private audience with Robaina last summer (July 2009). When I called the plantation and asked if we could visit, the family member who answered said yes! The day before we drove to see him, I called to reconfirm. When I asked if he'd be there, he responded "as long as I'm not dead I'll be here" (translated). When we arrived, he was having a nap so we were given a tour of the plantation until he awoke. When we met him, he was in good spirits, was very pleased that two Canadians and one Brit had driven all the way from Havana to meet him. He offered each of us home-rolled cigars and proceeded to cut and light them for us. He asked us questions and talked to us about him family and plantation. We have some great photos with him and some wonderful memories. He was a pleasant, jovial man. I am saddened by the loss.
Shaun Henriksen, Ottawa, Canada

I was born in Vuelta Abajo (Pinar del Rio). My father is a cigar lover, but in Cuba, just the people with money can have a taste of our good cigars, and my father just makes $15.00 a month. After years living outside Cuba, I went to visit my family, and I took my father to Vinales and to Mr Robaina's farm. I told Mr Robaina about my father and he just closed his eyes and said to my father... "Oh my god! You are a lucky man, here... have one of mine, they are the best ones, trust me." We had a great time with him. Just a nice man and an honest human being. He will be miss by all the Vueltabajersos (people from the province of Pinar del Rio).
Radan Hernandez, Victoria, BC, Canada

I met Mr Robaina in Pinar del Rio province in 2004. We were driving into Pinar del Rio to visit the local cigar factory. Two guys on bicycles were waiting at the entrance of the town, saying that the cigar factory was closed but they know of a better place. Thinking this was all a big hoax, but with nothing to lose, we agreed. They hopped in the car, and we drove a while away to this farm. Still thinking this was all a hoax, we were given a tour and then introduced to Mr Robaina (and of course offered to buy a box of Unicos). When I got home, I googled the brand and of course, there he was! Lucky we had met him in his own farm. Just goes to show sometimes its nice to trust the local people and put away some of your mistrust when travelling!
Mike Pasoff, Montreal, Quebec

I'm very sad to hear this news. I met Alejandro Robaina last summer at his home in Cuba. We were incredibly lucky to see him as he wasn't seeing visitors to his farm at the time but we'd come a long way from Havana and he graciously agreed to meet us. He was an extremely warm, gentle man giving us cigars from his own collection and even lighting them for us. Spending half an hour with him was the highlight of the trip and I'm grateful I had the chance to meet a legend in the cigar world before he passed away.
Lee Mulliss, Muscat, Oman

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