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Havana Corner: Factories, Pigs and Politicians

Reports from a trip to cigar country in Central America
Posted: January 11, 2007

"Mi fabrica es su fabrica." That's what Francisco Santiago F. Perez of Nicarao Cigars S.A. said to Rocky Patel yesterday during a quick visit to the two factories Rocky uses in Estelí for some new bargain brands that you will see in a very short time, such as the R4 and the Counterfeit Edge. Nicarao is the bigger of the two, with about 100 or so rollers. About half of the rollers make cigars for Rocky in a separate area on the second floor.

Rocky seems to have lots of "mis fabricas son sus fabricas." We visited four of them yesterday -- two in Estelí and two around Danlí, Honduras. These factories essentially make his cigars for him…a rent-a-factory-and-workers special.

In my opinion, his best stuff is coming out of the factory called El Paraiso, owned by Nestor Plasencia and family. Plasencia is the leaf czar of the region. He is to tobacco growing what Jay-Z is to hip-hop. They make a lot of noise in their respected fields (obviously, tobacco fields for Plasencia).

Workers at Paraiso factory sort tobacco for Rocky Patel cigars.
We went around the Paraiso factory just outside of Danlí with Nestor Plasencia Jr., and the facility was very impressive. It was organized and clean and. The rollers were talking their time and rolling well, mostly arrugado style, which means wrinkled, the accordion method. It is what most quality factories use to assure that the bunch draws well. Rocky said that all of his cigars also go through drawing machines that measure the actual draw of every bunch to a given standard before wrappers are applied to them. "All our cigars should smoke beautifully," he said.

Whether they do beautifully or not depends on a lot more than the perfect draw. A great cigar is like a beautiful woman. She may be gorgeous to look at, but if she isn't beautiful inside as well, it's not true beauty. It's what's inside that counts, with a woman or a cigar. The later is all about the blend, la liga.

Rocky Patel (right) and Francisco Santiago Perez of Nicarao Cigars S.A. in Estelí.
And to make a great liga you need two things: lots of excellent tobacco and the knowledge to create a blend. Rocky definitely has the first part right. He has the entire stock of the Plasencias' tobacco to choose from, which is like having first choice on everything when you are shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue or Barneys. He's working on the second part. So far, I liked best his blend with his natural-wrapped Olde World Reserve line. It is refined with excellent flavor and length.

I also like Rocky's enthusiasm and creativity, whether devising a new blend or creating a new package. It keeps his line fresh and interesting. Another impressive thing is that he regularly brings over retailers and cigar smokers for three- to four-day trips to his factories in Danlí and Estelí. He says that the goodwill he has with his guests translates into large gains in sales. He said that last year he sold close to 16 million cigars under both his brands and private labels for customers.

Small factory of Tabacalera Fernandez de Nicaragua that produces cigars for Rocky Patel in Estelí.
Savona and I left Rocky and Nestor Jr. literally by the pool in DanIí after a quick lunch and a couple of glasses of 1996 Dom Perignon -- Rocky's house is probably the only one in town with its own pool and pool bar. Anyway, we got back in our 4x4 and headed to Estelí. We had a pig to eat….

We got back by about 6 p.m. to a huge smoke cloud floating over the Padrón factory. I didn't know if we should call the fire department or not! Or perhaps it was just Jorge Padrón and his, father Orlando, smoking their new and outrageously good 80th Anniversary perfecto?

But it was a 70-pound pig that was smoking in a specially made barbecue that resembled a rubbish bin more than anything else.

Jorge Padrón (left) and Joaquim Gomez remove the pig from the fire.
The body came out of the oven at about 7 p.m. It had been butterflied before going in, and cooked, it looked dark and crisp. In fact, the crispy skin is the best part to eat. The dozen or so friends of the Padróns dug into the roasted pork and it was fabulous…moist, rich and decadent, especially with the rice and black beans, boiled yucca and fried plantinos. Another friend brought some 2002 Blagny from Joseph Matrot (an excellent red Burgundy) and we were more than covered for the night, not to mention another puff on the 80th Anniversary. I hope the Padrón's have some left to sell this year…

We finished the night watching President Ortega's acceptance speech with Hugo Chavez lurking in the background like the evil emperor in Star Wars. We didn't want to ruin a fabulous day thinking too much about his speech, which seemed to hark back to his last term as his country's leader. Not good.

I decided to reflect on the good quality of cigars from Nicaragua than politics of the country.

Click here to read James Suckling's third day from his Central America trip.

Check back this week for more from James Suckling in Central America.


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