The Dominican Republic—Day Four
Posted: Jan 18, 2008 1:15am ET
Today we headed out to the Bonao region of the Dominican Republic, an agricultural area about halfway between Santiago and Santo Domingo. We were heading to Chateau de la Fuente, the tobacco farm that gave birth to the Fuente Fuente OpusX brand.
I wasn’t sure what we would see. The two storms that slammed the Dominican Republic this year hit the farm hard. In October, Carlos couldn’t even get to the property until the road was cleared of debris.
We took the turn off the main road and headed down toward the farm. In about ten minutes, we saw pristine rows of young tobacco underneath vast stretches of shade. The tobacco looked great, in neat, even rows of equal height, with no sign of mortality or disease. Several areas were fallow. “All this was a lake,” said Carlos. “The water came up to the office.” He drove his car past a field to a ridge, where we saw a few bulldozers moving earth below. The ridge wasn’t there on my last visit—the flooding cascaded down the mountains, pushing soil with it, and the field that had been half planted had to be smoothed by the earth movers.
The flooding had some benefits, bringing in new soil that refreshed the land, but it required heavy labor to carve the land back into flat plots in many areas of the farm. That’s expensive work, and it’s still underway. The crop Carlos planted, some 90 acres worth of tobacco, is only about 60 percent as large as a typical planting.
“I really needed to grow this year,” he said. Last season’s crop was of normal size, but there was no crop here in 2005-06, as he let the land rest. Still, he’s happy to even have tobacco this year. When the storms hit, he feared the worst.
I’ve been coming to Chateau de la Fuente since 1996. I’ve seen the farm grow and smoked the cigars that come from here for 12 years now. Every now and then I hear someone say that the farm doesn’t exist, or that the Fuentes are using some other type of tobacco instead of Dominican wrapper, which is simply ridiculous. There are dozens of massive tobacco curing barns, acres of crops (even in this down year) and an attention to detail that I haven’t seen on any tobacco plantation anywhere in the world, and I’ve been to a lot of tobacco farms. It’s a special place that yields great cigar tobacco.
Carlos brought out a few cigars that he has been working on for special projects, including the biggest OpusX I’ve ever seen, which I got on video. Take a look:
That’s almost too big to smoke—almost. One day when I’m feeling brave I’ll give it a try.
After looking over the farm, visiting the Cigar Family School and doing a long interview, we drove back from Bonao (it’s about a 45 minute to one hour drive, depending on traffic) and made a quick stop at Carlos’ house. He apologized—he had to make an emergency trip to the U.S. and had just flown back the previous night, so he hadn’t stopped by the factory, where his main cigar stash is located. He rooted around for a bit, and came downstairs with a pair of Fuente Fuente OpusX Maduro Lanceros that were about five years old. Sure, I can work with that.
We headed to Il Pasticcio, a great Italian restaurant owned by Paolo Modolo. I was in the mood for Italian, having eaten plenty of great beef during the trip, and this was the ideal place. After a pile of appetizers, including arugula with parmesan, capers and oil, some salami, proscuitto and mozzarella, we embarked on a tasting menu of pasta. If you’re ever in Santiago, Il Pasticcio is where you want to eat. And cigars are welcome.
After the meal was finished, we reached for our cigars. Carlos lit up an experimental Fuente Fuente OpusX—a shorter, fatter robusto with about a 56 ring gauge—and Michael and I lit up the Opus Maduros. These are strong, rich cigars with lots of bittersweet cocoa flavor and a leather finish, an ideal cigar for the end of this trip.
Carlos, Michael and I smoked and talked into the night, hearing stories of the old days in the Dominican Republic. By the time our cigars were down to short stubs, we were the only people left in the restaurant, and it was about one in the morning. We headed out to go back to our hotel for a little sleep. Work was over—on Friday we head back home.
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