Talking Tobacco with Nestor Andrés Plasencia

As a fifth-generation tobacco man, there was never much doubt that Nestor Plasencia Jr. would continue in the family business.
Photo/Matt Furman
As a fifth-generation tobacco man, there was never much doubt that Nestor Plasencia Jr. would continue in the family business.

Vice president, Plasencia Cigars S.A. and Plasencia Tobacco S.A.

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Q: Is it wrapper?
A: Filler.
Q: You get some wrapper from Costa Rica?
A: Yes, and it’s very rich.
Q: Tell me about the quality of your recent crops in Central America.
A: Amazing. Last year’s crop, we just finished the harvest three weeks ago.
Q: That would be the 2012/2013 harvest?
A: Yes. It’s an amazing crop. The weather has been very helpful for us. It wasn’t raining during the soil preparation, and the rainy season started late. Amazing crop. High yield and high quality.
Q: And that’s in both Nicaragua and Honduras?
A: Yes. It’s a very good thing.
Q: When will that be made into cigars?
A: Most of that, three years from now.
Q: You grow a large variety of wrapper types right now. Which one of them is in the highest demand?
A: Habano from Jalapa. Grown under shade.
Q: I know you focus on wrapper in Nicaragua and Honduras. Do you grow any filler there?
A: Yes, in Estelí. We’re trying to be creative. We’re trying to have some innovation in the business. Every crop is different. And what you can do with that tobacco is amazing. My dad always said, there are two challenges in the fields: in the field, and in the curing barn.
Q: You’ve been one of the pioneers outside of Cuba incorporating the calfrisa system of controlled, mechanized heating and humidity systems inside tobacco curing barns. Can you talk about bringing new technology to an old business?
A: We were learning about how we can increase our wrapper yield, and we started reading and seeing what people were doing in Cuba and Brazil, and we went to Brazil to learn how the system works. What you need during curing are three things: temperature control, humidity control and air movement. When you can control those without worrying about what’s going on outside the curing barn, you can do amazing stuff with the tobacco. Some people think [the calfrisa is] an artificial process that changes the flavor, but no. The first 15 days in the curing barns, you get the color that you want. But the central vein is still green. In the end, it’s not that you’ve sped up the process, but you have a better, even color. In the curing barns we have four sections. Two sections are with the calfrisas [the temperature and humidity controlled systems] and the two sections in the middle are without the calfrisas. When the tobacco has 15 days in the calfrisa, we move it to the other section. You’re just helping the leaves.
Q: Are those first 15 days the most delicate times for the leaf?
A: The first five days. They are the most important days. When you harvest tobacco leaves, they are about 85 percent water. You need a place to release that water. If you don’t, the tobacco can rot very fast. You can lose the best tobacco in one day if you don’t pay attention.
Q: What percent is it when it is done?
A: About 25 percent. You need to manage the leaves. You don’t want to take the leaves out too dry, because they will break. Then you make the pilóne [a large pile of tobacco leaves for fermentation]. And now, with the wrapper, we have made some changes. We put it into mulling before fermentation. We used to have pilónes of 2,000 pounds, and the weight made little water spots on the leaves of the tobacco at the end, because of the humidity that it has.
Q: On the bottom level of the pilóne?
A: Yes, so what we do this year, we took 100-pound boxes, and put the tobacco into mulling for three months, just three months. Because it releases a lot of essential oils, and that moisture and weight made you see water spots on the leaves. So we put it in the mulling for three months, let it release excess moisture, then put it into the pilóne for regular fermentation.
Q: So even after all these years, generations of doing this, you are still making changes in the way you do business?
A: It’s learning. If you say I know everything about tobacco, I won’t speak to you anymore. Tobacco is a beautiful thing, and you’re always learning. We are five generations in the cigar business, and we are just beginning. We are motivated. This is a beautiful industry.
Q: What about the sixth generation?
A: I have two sons and one daughter. I hope one of them will join us. We have tobacco in the blood. The beautiful thing is my father never forced us. This is very demanding. A lot of hours, a lot of time away from your family. You have to love it.
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