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A Quick Harvest of Gold

This year's Cuban crop looks ripe as workers rush wrappers to production

Posted March 31, 2000, 3 p.m. e.s.t.

It was extremely hot and stuffy under the expansive tent of cheese cloth as I walked among the five-foot high wrapper tobacco of the Pancho Cuba plantation on a sunny afternoon in mid-February. The finca, located in the heart of Cuba's tobacco country, is near the town of San Juan y Martinez, the Holy Grail for wrapper leaf in the Vuelta Abajo region.

The massive tobacco leaves on the thousands of plants under the tent were 20 to 30 inches in length and a bright, almost iridescent, green. They were velvety and sticky to the touch. It was almost hard to believe that in a few months these leaves would be lying in burlap bales and sent on to key cigar export factories throughout Cuba to be used for finished smokes.

But that's exactly what is going to happen. The Cubans are in a bind due to a shortage of wrapper leaf. They have already reduced the output of cigars from many of their key factories. Some even closed for a period of time this year. Factory officials, however, say that they can rush part of this year's wrapper crop into production in the next few months.

Traditionally, it takes slightly less than a year to properly cure, select, ferment and age wrapper leaf tobacco. Thanks to new varieties currently planted in the Vuelta Abajo, (tobacco types such as Habanos 2000, Criollo '98 and '99 and Corojo '99) wrapper tobacco can be more quickly processed, according to the Cuban tobacco experts in the field. Jose Redonet of the Tobacco Research Institute in the Vuelta Abajo says that there is no discernible difference in the quality or flavor of these new varieties compared to the old favorite of growers, El Corojo. In addition, the new tobacco types are less susceptible to diseases such as black shank and blue mold.

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