Slideshow: Harvesting Connecticut Wrapper
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The sandy, loamy soil of the Connecticut River Valley and its warm microclimate provide fertile ground for flavorful tobacco and August is harvest time for both shade-grown wrapper and its thicker, darker cousin, broadleaf. Cigar Aficionado's Greg Mottola headed up to Ellington, Connecticut, to check out this year’s crop of wrapper leaves. Most of the shade-grown farms are owned by O.J. Thrall Inc., a private company renowned for its vast acreage of shade-grown tobacco, and the primary supplier to General Cigar Co.
Photos by Sarina Finkelstein
This picturesque plot of broadleaf on the J. Foster Ellington farm has yet to be harvested. The leaves are thick and robust, growing only a few feet high at maturity. Each plant is stalk cut—chopped at the base with a hatchet, the leaves left on the stalk during the curing process.
Immediately after chopping, the cut broadleaf plants are then set on the ground to wilt in the field for pliability and easy hanging. These wilted broadleaf plants are hung here as if in a wardrobe, and wheeled into the curing barn.
Notice the thick stalks as the broadleaf hangs in the barn. The leaves stay on the stalk during the curing process for added nutrients and flavor. They will stay in the barn for 70 to 80 days.
Acres of weaved netting provide a giant tent for this plot of shade-grown tobacco. The netting filters the sun, simulating cloud cover for a thinner, lighter, more delicate wrapper leaf. All of these stalks have been freshly picked.
The accommodations required to successfully cultivate shade-grown wrapper leaves (shown here) are very expensive. The harvest time for each shade-grown plant is stretched over a period of weeks, priming by priming, leaf by leaf. By comparison, the entire broadleaf plant is cut and hung on the same day, requiring less labor.
Workers pick off the upper primings of shade-grown tobacco in the afternoon. When the plants are completely de-leafed, the bare stalks are plowed back under the ground.
Most of the shade-grown tobacco under this tent has been picked. You can tell by the nearly leafless stalks. Eventually, this plot will be covered with topsoil and rested for the winter.
Under the tent, the shade-grown tobacco plants can grow up to 12 feet high. A field worker carefully harvests some of the higher primings of the plant.
In the curing barn, gas burners on the ground are ignited for 5 to 6 days in order to dry the leaves slowly for desired color. These Connecticut shade leaves are still quite green and have a few more weeks of curing ahead of them.
This curing barn is full to the rafters with shade tobacco. Here it will stay for no less than 50 days before being shipped to General Cigar’s factory in the Dominican Republic where fermentation can begin. A barn full of cured tobacco smells like honey.
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