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Heart of Darkness

Rugged, dark Connecticut broadleaf is getting increasing respect as a wrapper for handmade, premium cigars
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Stanley Tucci, September/October 2013

“I got my fingers crossed,” says Bill Dunn. He slowly turns his head, white hair sticking out from under an olive-drab cap, and moves it around until the stubby, dark cigar in the corner of his mouth is pointing up at the sky. It’s not the prettiest of scenes. A mix of thick gray clouds, some of their bottoms streaked dark with charcoal, float above. Dunn, who doesn’t light his cigar, stares for a bit longer. The weatherman is calling for more rain, and it looks like this time his forecast is right.

Dunn is a Connecticut broadleaf man, has been nearly all his 87 years. He and his partner Jon Foster own Dunn & Foster LLC, a South Windsor, Connecticut company that grows and brokers broadleaf. They’re heading out to the fields in the Connecticut River Valley with friend and client Chris Topper of the Topper cigar brand for a look at some of the 40 acres of broadleaf being grown this year for their use.

Dark and rugged, earthy and sweet, Connecticut broadleaf goes around many of the cigar world’s favorite premium cigars, particularly maduros. Not only are such age-old favorites as Ashton Aged Maduro, Henry Clay and Punch Maduro swathed in it, but so are popular newer smokes such as La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero Maduro, La Riqueza, La Dueña, Rocky Patel Private Cellar and rarities like Arturo Fuente Añejo, sought after by collectors who await their annual release. Drew Estate’s bold and strong Liga Privada brand, recently named the most requested cigar in high-end tobacco shops by Cigar Insider newsletter, has a Connecticut broadleaf wrapper. The leaf is also used as a binder on many premium cigars, and it’s the heart of such bargain-priced cigars as Topper and Muniemaker and wraps more than a billion machine-made Backwoods every year.

Broadleaf has been around for a long time, but in the world of premium cigars it has taken a back seat to Connecticut shade. The two both grow in the effluvial soil of this fertile valley, sometimes right across the street from one another, but they are polar opposites. If the tobaccos were cups of coffee, broadleaf would be served black and shade would come with extra cream. Shade is prized for its neutral taste and light color, while homely broadleaf becomes dark brown to almost black, with heavy wrinkles and veins. Its flavor is a combination of earthy, steely qualities with a raisiny sweetness, and the ugly but tasty leaf has a growing appeal ignited by cigar lovers who want a special flavor that no other leaf can mimic.

 

Click Image to Enlarge

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Thick leaves of Connecticut broadleaf bask in the sun of the Connecticut River Valley during an East Coast heatwave.

Photograph by Brad DeCecco

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Brokers Bill Dunn (sitting) and Jon Foster in a warehouse surrounded by aging leaf.

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Broadleaf has some of the tobacco world’s biggest leaves, but the plants are relatively short.

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The crop begins quite small, yet it grows quickly.

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Fermented broadleaf is packed in paper, like bouquets of flowers.

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The tobacco ages well, and the journey from field to smoke takes three years or more.

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Chris Topper’s Topper brand has been wrapped in broadleaf since 1896.

“I call broadleaf ‘sweet dirt,’ ” says Pete Johnson, owner of the Tatuaje brand. “It has the earthiness, but also the sweet. In its truest form, it can be one of the best-tasting wrappers.”

“Some of the best maduros in the history of cigars come from broadleaf,” says Litto Gomez, who makes La Flor Dominicana cigars. “It’s great wrapper. It’s great tasting.”

“I personally love broadleaf,” says Steve Saka, the former chief executive officer of Drew Estate. Liga Privada, which is always in short supply, began as Saka’s private blend. The mix of Nicaraguan binder and filler with dark Connecticut broadleaf has been a game-changer for Drew Estate, showing the cigar world that the company can make extremely serious smokes. “I’ve always been a broadleaf fan,” says Saka. “It’s sweet, it’s earthy, it’s pungent.”

General Cigar Co. uses plenty of broadleaf, from its La Gloria Cubana Serie R cigars to Punch and Hoyo maduros from Honduras and its new CAO Flathead line. “It adds sweet and sour,” says Michael Giannini of General. “It’s a really nice component to the blends.”

Broadleaf has legions of fans in the cigar industry, but it’s a high-maintenance animal. It takes roughly three years from field to cigar for broadleaf to be ready, far longer than other wrappers. And while it’s cheaper per pound than many competing tobaccos, its yields are low. A cigarmaker gets far fewer useable leaves and much more waste when working with broadleaf, making it quite expensive on a per cigar basis.


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