While it seems that so much of the premium cigar industry is turning to Nicaragua for its tobacco, Philip Wynn, owner of the Felipe Gregorio cigar brand, is looking to Costa Rica. He's contracted 80 acres of land in Costa Rica to grow tobacco, built a factory and reblended three of his brands with nothing but Costa Rican leaf.
It isn't a leap of faith nor merely a matter of convenience for Wynn. He has an unapologetic love for Costa Rican leaf and believes it to have distinction and character of all its own.
"The best tobacco that I have ever found was not in Cuba or Nicaragua, but in Honduras," Wynn told Cigar Aficionado. "It was in the Copan region and the Jamastran variety was amazing. After Hurricane Mitch destroyed the fields [in 1998], the tobacco was never the same."
Since then, that's exactly the type of tobacco Wynn has been trying to find again and replicate, and he believes that he's finally done it in Costa Rica. "I grow tobacco from seven varieties of ancestral Cuban seeds," said Wynn. " The primary strain is Pelo de Oro, a variety that was popular in Cuba during the 1950s. I also use Cola de Gallo (rooster tail), Havana 34 and Havana 44."
Using this tobacco, Wynn has taken three of his existing brands and reblended them into Costa Rican puros.
His once Nicaraguan Felipe Gregorio core line is now purely Costa Rican. It's also made in Costa Rica at Wynn's Fabrica de Tabacos Santa Marta factory, which he built near his curing barns. When he constructed this factory, Wynn brought a Dominican roller to train the new employees, all of whom are locals. Wynn currently has six pairs of rollers producing cigars in the factory.
In addition to the Felipe Gregorio brand, Wynn also migrated his Pelo de Oro line and limited-edition Power brand from the Dominican Republic to Costa Rica. His other brands—Refusion, Black Pedro, Minotaur and Petrus—are still made in the Dominican Republic.
Wynn has clearly grown fond of cigar tobacco from Costa Rica.
"What I like in particular about this tobacco is that we grow it at high altitudes, so we don't have to use any pesticides," Wynn said. "At that altitude, you don't get the bugs or diseases that tobacco farmers normally encounter. It rains almost every day, but because of the sloping hills, the drainage is great. Plus there's always cloud cover like in Ecuador, so the leaves are large without many veins."
The farm is located in Costa Rica's Cordillera Central, which is a volcanic mountain range. Although he has contracted 80 acres of land, Wynn is only growing on approximately 24 acres. He intends to expand in the future.
Wynn introduced the three newly blended Costa Rican brands last month at the IPCPR trade show.
"So many factories are popping up in Estelí, Nicaragua," said Wynn. "Getting the highest quality tobacco there is very difficult. I've been using Costa Rican tobacco for years. Now, I have control of the volume, the fermentation and the quality."
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