DR Cigar Fest—Into the Fields
Posted: Mar 7, 2008 5:18pm ET
Yesterday I headed out with the tour group to embark on ProCigar’s version of Cigar 101—trips to cigar factories and tobacco fields where the tour guides are some of the leading men in the cigar world. It was a gorgeous, sunny day and people were in a fine mood.
About 120 people signed up for this first festival, a little less than the organizers had hoped for but a good-sized crowd. To keep things manageable, the group had been broken up into three, each doing a different part of the agenda. One group went to Mao with General Cigar Co. and Angel Daniel Núñez, another to see the La Aurora factory with Guillermo León, then the Matasa factory with Manuel Quesada. The group I had been assigned to was slated to head to Jicomé, an agricultural town outside Santiago where Hendrik Kelner’s Tabacom group grows tobacco that’s used on Avo and Davidoff cigars.
The bus ride to Jicomé is about 50 minutes in morning traffic, so to make the ride go by quicker our tour guide Carla gave us a quick merengue lesson in the aisle. Here’s what I learned—as you move your hips to one side, you lift the heel of your opposite foot slightly off the ground, then repeat on the opposite side. Sounds easy, right? I’ll stick to writing—dancing to that type of beat just isn’t in my skill set.
We arrived in Jicomé at the tobacco farm, and were greeted by Kelner, who was holding a Davidoff Millennium. Standing next to him was a worker with a Davidoff humidor full of assorted cigars. The group—there were about 30 of us or so—dug into the humidor, lit up, and headed down the road to hear about growing tobacco. I’ve heard these lessons before, but to many in the group is was their first time in a tobacco field. Usually at this time of year, most of the tobacco in the Dominican Republic has been harvested, but many farmers planted late this year, or had to replant fields due to the pair of storms that hit the country in the fall. We were looking at a nice crop grown from a hybrid the Kelners developed from San Vicente seed (which is also a hybrid.) It’s a carefully maintained field, with a drip irrigation system and some encallado shading (shading around the perimeter) to fend off the wind, which can be strong this time of year.The tobacco looked very nice. Take a look:
Henke described the painstaking art of growing tobacco, how everything needs to be adjusted based upon the year-to-year differences in temperature, rainfall and various other changes, and what it takes to grow quality materials. A man walked up to me and said hello, and he looked familiar. Turns out it was Gerry Curry, a cigar smoker from San Diego who won the Super Roll at the Las Vegas Cigar Aficionado Big Smoke in 2005.
“It’s been fabulous,” Curry said of the trip. He smoked nine cigars on Wednesday and when I caught up with him at 10:30 am on Thursday he was already puffing his second of the day. “It’s a few more than I normally smoke,” he said with a smile.
To see as much as possible, before lunchtime I left my group to meet up with the group that began the day at La Aurora. They were having lunch at Rancho Steakhouse, probably Santiago’s best steakhouse. Guillermo León and Jose Blanco of La Aurora were co-hosting with Manuel Quesada of Matasa. I sat down at the table nearest the large humidor brimming with smokes made by both companies and tucked into my churassco steak.
I sat next to Joseph Bollo, who came from New York. He went down the typical day here. “Seven in the morning, you wake up, have a cigar and coffee, and from then on you have a cigar in your hand. Except on one bus.”
Apparently one of the buses shuttling everyone around is piloted by a driver who doesn’t like cigar smoke. Everywhere else smoking seems to be allowed, even encouraged.
The Festival planners packed quite a bit into each day, much like the first day of the Festival. Thursday ended with a big party that began by a Santiago landmark. I’ll have more on that in my next blog.
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