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The Dominican Republic—Day Three

Today I saw a brilliant tobacco field, watched my co-worker learn how to roll a cigar, ate more than my fill and saw the biggest collection of cigar ashes I have ever witnessed.

We started at La Aurora, the oldest cigarmaker in the Dominican Republic. The company recently moved from Santiago to Guazumal, a part of Tamboril, where La Auroras were first rolled in 1903. Jose Blanco, the company’s director of sales, met us at the Gran Almirante early in the morning.

Our first stop was in Santiago, where La Aurora makes all of its Preferido cigars. Preferidos are those bulbous perfectos that look like little bombs. They’re great smokes, and La Aurora makes them in a special little factory that’s also a tourist destination, located on the grounds of the Santiago Cultural Center. We stepped inside and watched the small group of rollers make the difficult shape. Michael Moretti, manager of Cigar Aficionado Online, took some great video of the operation, which you’ll see soon in our Cigar Cinema section.

Next it was off to Guazumal to see the new Aurora facility. First stop was Jose’s office, which has a three-gallon cigar ashtray that is entirely full of cigar ashes. Take a look.

When Jose got this ashtray (made, appropriately, by a guy named Stinky) he took it as a challenge to fill it in less than a year. This pile took him ten months, and he swears it contains only cigar ashes—no butts, no garbage. Jose has a lot of great ideas about cigars, but this one doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I think he's working too hard! We had a good laugh over Jose’s pet ash project before moving into the factory proper.

It was my turn to take the camera, and Michael got a lesson in how to make a cigar for another video you’ll see online soon. (It isn’t nearly as easy as it looks.) He bunched, he rolled, and the end product was good enough for him to light it up.

We headed to Jose’s house for lunch, which is always a big affair. Jose’s lovely wife is one of the best cooks I know, and she made quite a feast—guinea hen, pork, rice and beans, sweet plantain and fried yucca, followed by about seven tastes of homemade dessert, including candied tomato. All of it was amazing. There’s no way I’m losing any weight on this trip.

We headed back to Tamboril to meet up with Litto Gomez, maker of La Flor Dominicanas. We did a tour of the factory and checked out one of his new cigars, a Coronado by La Flor Lancero, which is coming out in three months. It’s stronger than the Coronado Double Corona (last year’s No. 2 Cigar of the Year), because the 38 ring gauge cigar gives you a heavier influence from the Nicaraguan wrapper leaf. Great stuff.

After the factory, we drove to La Canela, where Litto grows tobacco. This was quite different from what we saw in Jacagua—this field was teeming with healthy, tall plants, many of them about five feet high or taller. The tobacco looked great. The rainstorms didn’t have much of an impact on this tobacco farm. Litto had to replant a small plot of land that was about three days old, but other than that the crop was outstanding. We spent a good hour walking through rows of tobacco leaves, which were pointing toward the sunny sky.

It’s shaping up to be a bumper crop, but Litto is still worried. Today began cloudy, and cool by Dominican standards—some moisture could bring dreaded blue mold, which could ruin a field in short time.

Michael and I went to dinner with Litto at a great Santiago restaurant called Papparazzo, where we started with a Dominican appetizer called carnita frita, or fried beef. This is addictive stuff—imagine a strip of beef, cured with some spices and lots of garlic, heavily salted and fried. It has a touch of crunch and a lot of chew. I dubbed it beef potato chips, because they went down like a bag of Lay's. Someone needs to send me a few hundred pounds of this for Sunday’s Giants game.

For post dinner there was a LG Diez Chisel with some age on it as well as the Coronado Lancero. We didn’t get back to the hotel until midnight. It was another long day, and we have another one coming up on Thursday.
Jose Blanco January 18, 2008 10:05am ET
Dave and Mike glad that you had a great time.
Jorge Armenteros Princeton, NJ January 18, 2008 10:52am ET
First, I thought the ashtray was a Visual Illusion... now I am getting ready to place an order with Stinky... Jose Blanco... genius? eccentric? or both?...
DAVE Savona January 18, 2008 6:05pm ET
Jose we had a wonderful time. Thanks for inviting us into your home. Jorge, I think you're right on both counts--he's an eccentric genius!

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