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Gift Wrapper

For a small-town farmer in the Vuelta Abajo, making quality cigar wrappers is all in the family
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Bacon, May/Jun 00

(continued from page 1)

In hopes of producing more high-quality tobacco, the local tobacco research center near Milian has been developing other tobacco types, even better ones than Habana2000, according to officials at the center. The two types most in favor now are called corojo 99 and criollo 98. They apparently are even more resistant to blue mold than Habana2000 and produce even better formed leaves. Milian has tried them both.  

"I am very happy with the results. Look at this leaf," he says as he holds up a 30-inch-long piece of tobacco that slightly resembles the end of a canoe paddle. It is criollo 98. "This is what we have to achieve. We can use it for a Montecristo 'A' [a colossal smoke measuring 9 1/4 inches by 47 ring gauge] or a petit corona [a small cigar that's 4 inches by 42 ring gauge]. It's a crime to think about burning this leaf as a wrapper one day. It's just too beautiful."  

It is getting hot and stuffy under the cheesecloth as Milian describes how he grows his tobacco. But there is also a sense of peace at being under the eight-foot-high tent and the seemingly endless rows of soon-to-be picked tobacco leaves. The light casts a soft shadow, giving the tobacco a more uniformed color and texture. That's why it's called shade-grown tobacco, or tabaco tapado (cheesecloth tobacco). Sun-grown, or tabaco sol, is much coarser, richer in nicotine and uneven in color. It's seldom used for cigar wrappers.  

Once we leave the fields and examine the tobacco in the curing barns, Milian speaks about the importance of picking his tobacco between the half moons of each month. I must admit that I don't understand much. I probably wouldn't have understood better if he had been speaking in English.

Yet, I appreciate his enthusiasm and dedication to tobacco. If he believes that some sort of mystical power improves his tobacco, I am all for it as long as the results are outstanding.  

Another thing to like about Milian is that he enjoys a good smoke. He smokes a cigarette during most of my visit, but admits that there isn't anything much better in this world than a good cigar. "I don't like to smoke a cigar when I am working in the finca," he says, puffing on one of his black tobacco, filterless cigarettes. "You need to relax with a cigar. I like to smoke one after a good meal when I am sitting out on the porch with my friends drinking rum."  

He tells me that his grandmother Guadalupe Diaz Duque also enjoyed a good smoke and even the occasional glass of rum. "I don't think I ever saw my grandmother without a cigar in her mouth," he says, brightly. "She lived to be 102 years old. So forget about cigars being bad for your health."


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