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Oliva Tobacco Expands Havana Crop in Ecuador

Gregory Mottola
Posted: November 21, 2013

In an effort to meet the growing demand for Ecuador Havana wrapper, Oliva Tobacco Co. has purchased a new parcel of land in Ecuador dedicated to cultivating and curing more wrapper leaf for the industry. Previously an unused cattle ranch, the new 325 acre plot was purchased in April and was planted earlier this year with Cuban-seed wrapper, specifically the Havana 2000 and Corojo varietals.

"We really have to satisfy the increased need and demand for Cuban-seed wrappers," said company owner John Oliva Jr. "It also marks the natural expansion of the Oliva Tobacco Co. As far as tobacco goes, this was virgin land so all the tobacco coming out of the ground is our first harvest. The Corojo is turning out especially well and coming out of the barn beautifully after curing."

Cigar Insider was in Ecuador last week and witnessed the young tobacco plants in seedbeds that are going into the ground this week. Oliva is planting what will amount to about 10 acres of Corojo '99 tobacco on the new farm. The small, young plants have spent the last few weeks growing in greenhouses, but are now strong enough to take root in the ground.

The new farm is named La Lydia, after Oliva's grandmother, and is located up the road from a larger farm called La Mecca, which is situated at the foot of the Andes mountains in Ecuador's Guayas province. The family has owned the farm since 1979 but has only been growing Cuban-seed wrapper there since 2001. Because demand for this wrapper has blown up exponentially each year, most of Oliva's agricultural operation is now focused on the cultivation of Cuban-seed wrapper.

"We're going to try planting until January. Anything after mid-December is a gamble, but because it's been such a dry year, we're willing to take that chance," said Oliva.

With the new plot of land came new barns to cure the tobacco. Oliva has constructed four mammoth steel-frame curing barns on the La Lydia farm, each one over 125 meters long, which is longer than a football field. The large-capacity barns are enclosed in bamboo and topped with corrugated steel roofs. "Doing these barns in steel cost a lot more money than doing them in wood, but they're worth it and can withstand a lot," said Oliva.

In addition to Cuban-seed wrapper, the La Lydia farm also produces Sumatra leaf and a bit of Connecticut-seed wrapper that Oliva calls 8212. All the tobacco from this farm is cured on premises in the new barns before being packaged and shipped to Oliva's processing facility in Nicaragua where sorting and fermentation take place.

"We were also sure to expand capacity in our processing facility in Nicaragua to handle the additional tobacco," Oliva Jr. said. "Nothing that we grew this year will be on any cigars until 2015."

Oliva's wrappers are found on many brands, including Ashton Virgin Sun Grown (Sumatra), Arturo Fuente Rosado Sungrown Magnum R (Havana) and the Romeo by Romeo y Julieta, which placed as the No. 3 smoke in Cigar Aficionado's Top 25 cigars of 2012.

The Oliva Tobacco Co., based in Tampa, Florida, owns farms across Ecuador ranging from the Los Rios region near Quevedo to the Andes mountains where the family's original plantation still grows acres and acres of tobacco. It was started by Oliva's grandfather, Angel Oliva Sr., and is now operated by father and son John Oliva Sr. and John Oliva Jr. Oliva Tobacco Co. is unrelated to Oliva Cigar Co.

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