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A Connecticut Leaf in Cuba

Cuba is Growing Hundreds of Acres of Connecticut Seed Tobacco for Shade Wrappers
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95

(continued from page 1)

Another place where the new crop won't be used is in Cuba itself. "We could use the Connecticut wrapper grown here, but we won't," says Habanos' Martinez. "We will never do that, since it would change the character of the cigars. Our cigars have a unique character and this has not included Connecticut wrapper."

Traditionally, all premium Habanos made for export are produced with wrapper leaf called El Corojo. It is a special strain of tobacco developed in the 1920s and '30s at the famous estate of El Corojo in Cuba's premier growing region, the Vuelta Abajo (See Cigar Aficionado Summer 1995). It is grown under large cheesecloth tents called tapados, as is all shade-grown wrapper tobacco. The shade helps protect the leaves from direct sunlight, giving them a more even color and texture.

Collazo says that El Corojo wrapper is slightly smaller in size and richer in character than his Connecticut tobacco, although he hasn't found huge differences between the two tobacco types. It's also more expensive. Although most of the El Corojo crop comes from the Vuelta Abajo, a fair amount also comes from the Partido and is used for export cigars. "I am very pleased with the color of the Connecticut," says Collazo. "I have looked at U.S.-grown Connecticut tobacco, and I am impressed with the color. It is much deeper colored brown with an almost reddish hue." Given the way the mature plants appeared under the tapados in the Partido fields, the Connecticut variety is thriving in the hotter, tropical climate in Cuba.

Others who have tried the Cuban-grown Connecticut shade are less impressed. "It isn't bad. It isn't good," says one tobacco specialist familiar with the Cuban project and the global market for tobacco. "It doesn't taste like Cuban leaf and it doesn't taste like Connecticut. If you want to do Connecticut, why do it outside [the state]? There is so much land out there still to be planted in Connecticut, but everybody around the world is copying Connecticut. You can find it in Ecuador or wherever, even in Indonesia."

"The most generous thing I can say is that it is an honor and privilege having the Cubans recognize Connecticut as an important tobacco by planting it themselves," adds Austin McNamara, president of General Cigar Company, whose parent company, Culbro Corp., is a leader in U.S.-grown Connecticut shade tobacco. "However, it is hard to imagine that Connecticut shade grown in Cuba will have that sweet, medium body with a clean aftertaste which we get in our fields in Connecticut. Cuban tobacco is known for being much richer and more powerful."

Potentially, the Cubans could plant up to 2,000 acres of Connecticut tobacco--nearly the total shade leaf planting in the Connecticut Valley. "It all depends on the demand in the market," says Collazo, who adds that they exported 90 percent of the crop last year. "It is a commodity. This whole thing is totally commercial. It is clear, given the economic situation that we are in, that we need to find new sources for hard currency."

This year's Connecticut-tobacco crop in Cuba could bring in as much as U.S. top-grade Connecticut wrapper leaf, currently at $30 to $40 a pound. Although Collazo doesn't have a total figure yet, it will number in the millions of dollars--which is perhaps why he seems so full of glee every time he visits a tobacco barn filled with the curing leaves.

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