The Dominican Republic—Day Two

I spent the day looking at tobacco fields and cigar factories here in Santiago. It was a bright, warm and sunny day, as this is the heart of tobacco growing season in the Dominican Republic.

Before I left on this trip, I asked you for questions that you would like answered in my blogs, which will appear all week here on Some of you inquired about the state of the crop, due to the heavy rains that fell in the fall and winter—tropical storms hit the country in October and December, doing damage to the fields.

I saw the results of the damage firsthand on my first stop, a tobacco field in Jacagua owned by cigarmaker Jochi Blanco of Tabacalera La Palma S.A. This time of year tobacco should be about four feet tall, but this field had plants that were only a few inches high. “We had too much rain in December,” said Blanco. “Some of the tobacco was destroyed.”

Jochi replanted the field about three weeks ago. Take a look in this video clip.

Jochi thinks the tobacco will end up just fine—the weather has been great lately, and Jochi says the current sunny weather is better for growing wrapper tobacco. It’s not just his field that was hurt—many fields throughout the country were impacted. Some people think the entire crop will be down 20 to 40 percent compared to what was harvested last year.

Jochi’s tobacco is going to supply the future demand of Mike Chiusano, owner of Cusano cigars. Mike has big plans for the Dominican Republic.

“I’ve changed,” says Mike. “My tastes have grown.” He gave me an early version of a Cameroon-wrapped cigar. It was balanced and delicious, with just a smattering of spice. This is going to be Cusano Cameroon, which replaces Killer Cameroon, which went off the market about three years ago. “Killer attracted guys who wanted their heads blown off,” says Mike. “And the balanced guys who would have liked it were afraid of it.”

After touring the tobacco field, we went to Villa Gonzalez (about 15 minutes away) to the Davidoff free trade zone, home to Cigars Davidoff, OK Cigars and Occidental Kelner cigars, all run by Hendrik (Henke) Kelner, who makes Davidoffs, Avos, the Griffin’s and Cusanos. I shot a short video of Mike and Henke inside Occidental Cigars. Here’s what they had to say.

I asked Henke and Mike another question posed by you readers—what size cigar do these professional cigarmakers like to smoke best?

“My favorite cigar is a robusto,” says Henke. “I like, very much, the Anniversario No. 3, a six-inch toro. But sometimes I don’t have time for it.” Why the robusto? “With a 50 ring gauge cigar, you can make a good blend. You can put four different fillers, sometimes five. It’s more complex.”

Mike prefers thinner cigars. “I taste everything in a corona size. I love coronas. I’ve always loved them,” says Mike. “If it was up to me, I’d smoke lanceros, petit coronas and coronas all the time.”

I asked Gene Arganese the same question when he stopped by for lunch, which consisted of steak. He likes bigger cigars. “I like a 54 ring gauge,” he said. “I’m a bigger guy. It fits me. I like the taste of a 54 [ring cigar] too.”

At day’s end, Michael Moretti went with Gene to see his factory and I went with Cusano to see the massive facility that will become his future factory. It looks like a fortress—I was thinking Moria, from the Lord of the Rings—and it will give him plenty of room to make cigars. Is it too big? “It’s huge,” said Mike. “but I’ve gone through four buildings already.”

We all went back to the Gran Almirante, and for awhile there it was cigar central—in addition to Arganese and Chiusano, there was the La Flor Dominicana sales team and I saw Larry Palombo from Altadis again.

We all chatted for a short while, then I headed to the room to get ready for dinner. Tonight it’s steaks at Rancho Steakhouse—for those of you counting, that’s my third steak meal of the trip—and tomorrow we have another busy day lined up.
Jorge Armenteros Princeton, NJ January 16, 2008 1:38pm ET
as long as you're there David, can you find out if it is true that Jose Blanco saves all of the ashes from every cigar he smokes? and if so, why?
DAVE Savona January 16, 2008 6:12pm ET
Funny you mentioned that. I met with Jose Blanco today. (Jose is Jochi's cousin.) You'll see a video of some of his ash collection tomorrow.
Luis J Falto Mayaguez, Puerto Rico January 17, 2008 4:42am ET
Do you try private smaller brands from these factories, other than their main brands?
Nelson Boronat Atlanta,GA January 17, 2008 9:20am ET
David,WIll you be visiting the Fuentes, and are there any new cigars on the horizon from the fuentes.
DAVE Savona January 18, 2008 6:06pm ET
Luis, yes, I try all kinds of cigars from the various factories, not only the major ones.
DAVE Savona January 18, 2008 6:07pm ET
Nelson, yes, we visited the Fuentes on our last day. The blog and video are now live. Check out day four.
Geraldo Scotto S?Paulo/Brazil March 14, 2008 12:18pm ET
Dear Mr.Savona,I believe you have already about our company, Menendez Amerino, which produces hand made premium cigars. One of our brands is very recoginized in US market, Dona Flor. I am writting this message to invite you to come to visit huge exhibition to be held here in S¿Paulo/Brazil, on the end of April 2008, where we will be exposing all our products portfolio on our own booth (almost 200 square meters).It will be a pleasure to have you with us, to explain to the audiences your option and knowlodge about cigars. You do not need to be worry about your tickets, hotel or food, it will be covereged by us. Please just let us know, as soon as possible, about your availability to allow us to book your tickets and hotel. Regards,Geraldo C.Scotto - Export Director.

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