A Lot of Tobacco
Posted: Feb 19, 2010 11:49am ET
Some people collect stamps, others collect fine wines, but the cigarmakers in the Dominican Republic collect cigar tobacco. The big companies that roll cigars here tend to have amazing stocks of tobacco—bale upon bale upon bale.
Catching up from my last update, I spent Wednesday at General Cigar Dominicana, one of the biggest cigar factories in the Dominican Republic. I sat down with Benji Menendez, a tobacco man with knowledge stretching back to the days of pre-Castro Cuba, and did a Q&A with him for an upcoming feature in Cigar Aficionado magazine. I don’t want to give away any details, but it was a wide-ranging conversation that covered a lot of ground and taught me quite a bit that I didn’t already know about Benji. He and his team are riding high after the success of their Benji Menendez Partagas Master Series Majestuoso (our No. 15 cigar of 2009).
As for Wednesday’s dinner, I was spared returning to the stage to do the merengue, but Gordon Mott wasn’t so lucky. The ProCigar guys have a sick sense of humor when it comes to getting their guests on stage, and Gordon was in the line of fire this year. I’ll say no more.
For Thursday I got an early start, as we were heading out to Davidoff’s tobacco farm and warehousing operation in Jicome. Tuesday night the clouds opened up and it rained very hard, and the morning was cloudy and wet, hardly ideal for tobacco. We went out to the fields and saw Hendrik “Henke” Kelner’s hybrid crop, which looked in fine shape. The leaves are meant to be binder, if they are harvested whole; the ones that are damaged end up as filler.
Later, I walked with Henke (and Cigar Aficionado’s Gregory Mottola) through his warehouse, and we separated from the rest of the group. Henke got caught up showing us tobacco, a lot of tobacco. I asked him how many cigars he was making a year, and the answer was well north of 20 million cigars a year. That takes a lot of tobacco. Check out this footage of one of his rooms with tobacco aging in bales, just a small part of the $40 million in inventory Henke says he has.
That’s a lot of tobacco. And that gives you a small idea of how big an investment it takes to do this type of thing properly.
Thursday night was a fun one, with a white party (everyone was supposed to wear a white shirt) held at the big monument at the center of Santiago. The fun went well into the night. Everyone is looking forward to Friday—the Quesadas are unveiling a new cigar. Stay tuned for more.
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