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James Suckling

Day 6: Robaina's New Wrapper

Posted: Feb 11, 2008 10:17am ET
The tobacco in Robaina's fields looked so good last week. It was bright green, large sized, clean, and ripe. Hiroshi Robaina, 32, the grandson of the legendary tobacco grower Alejandro Romania, said that it was the best tobacco the family had seen in their fields in the last 15 years. Check out the video.





Granted, I have heard such hyperbole before, especially from Alejandro. I don’t think he is a bullshiter. He is just excited about his crop. And last year’s apparently was not very good for him or anyone else in Pinar del Río. So he was very keen about this year’s harvest. The 2006/2007 growing season was just too hot to grow tobacco properly. So the crop, particularly wrapper, was very short. Only God knows what that means for cigar production this year or next. Getting a straight answer on the subject from Habanos S.A., the global distribution and marketing company, is almost impossible. Sometimes it’s almost easier talking to a paint-peeling wall in Old Havana.

This year’s tobacco crop should make up for the 2006/2007 shortfalls, assuming the good weather holds out. It’s been near-perfect for the entire growing season since the bad rains in October and November. But the rains were worse in the center of the island, where floods were prevalent. The wet weather in Pinar simply delayed some of the planting. The Robainas expected to finish their harvest in the next two weeks. Yields should be at record levels.

I was amazed how beautiful the new hybrid tobacco looked in their fields. Capero No. 1 was first planted on a large scale last year, and the Robainas, and other growers, are very happy with the results. Look for yourself at the video. The leaves on the top of the plant look as large as Conneticut leaf. Unbelievable. Although the Robainas planted some Corojo 99, about four-fifths of the plantation is in Capero No. 1. It is a cross of Habanos 2000, Corojo '99 and Criollo '98.

With Capero No. 1, the plants have two or three more leaves than other hybrids. In addition, the leaves are larger and the resistance to tobacco diseases such as blue mould and black shank is much stronger. One other point is that the Capero No. 1 does not produce flowers and, therefore, seeds. The Cubans have been very unhappy how seeds of Corojo 99 and Criollo 98 have found their way to fields outside of Cuba. For example, they are widely planted in Nicaragua at the moment.

The government’s tobacco institute can control all the seed on the island, in theory. I don’t see what the big deal is, if some Capero No. 1 managed to find its way into unwanted hands. Where ever it goes, the climate and soils are not the same as in Pinar del Río. Capero No. 1 could not deliver the same character in other parts of the world. It’s like grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot from Bordeaux produce a completely different product in Northern California or South Australia.

Hiroshi says that the Capero No. 1 is easy to dry and later process, and he says that the flavor is excellent as well. I remember when Habanos 2000 came out and it was too thick and didn’t ferment properly. The flavor was good but it didn’t burn. It later became very susceptible to blue mould. Luckily, the same doesn’t appear to be true with Capero No. 1 – for the moment.

It was really hot under the tapado as I walked through a small part of the plantation with Hiroshi just after lunch. You can see that all the primings of leaves had been picked, except for the corona, or top part of the plant. They had left them an extra week to assure proper ripening. These are the leaves that often find their ways on dark wrapper cigars such as Edición Limitadas or Cohiba Maduro 5s.

In any case, Hiroshi is doing a wonderful job running the estate with the help of his grandfather, father and uncle and a small army of workers. Can’t wait to smoke some of their wrappers from this year in the not too distant future. Capero No. 1 looks like it is here to stay for a while.

Comments   1 comment(s)

Colin Walsh — Red Deer, Alberta —  February 12, 2008 5:47pm ET



Wow! Good job James, best video yet!

I hope to get to see those plants first hand next week.Colin



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