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Seeds of Hope

The Fuente Family Bets On High-Quality Cigar Wrapper Grown in The Dominican Republic
Michael Frank
From the Print Edition:
Rush Limbaugh, Spring 94

(continued from page 3)

Fuente leans forward and says that naysayers just make him work harder. "Once we had a group of retailers here from Europe who said wrapper could never be grown in the Dominican Republic. That broke my heart. If there's one thing that's inspired me, it's that comment."

Fuente takes a puff, letting the smoke fill the room with a lovely aroma--the fruit of a long, passionate dream.

Of course, the cigar in Fuente's hand is wrapped in leaf that's too young for general release. Also, it still has some of the nicotine bite often found in cigars rushed to market. The Fuentes refuse to hurry their leaf, so it is unlikely that you'll see rosado wrapper before early '95. That's because tobacco for premium cigars generally must be fermented in bulks for months on end, then allowed to "sleep" and then be refermented. It takes more than a year to get the "bite" out, and usually, the longer a tobacco is allowed to ferment (sometimes more than two years), the smoother and mellower the tobacco becomes.

But Fuente claims that the potential in color, texture, burn, ash and taste--the chief indicators of a tobacco's style--are all fantastic for the El Caribe leaf.

The color is a deep, rich red; so red that it makes other supposedly colorado wrappers look matte brown or green. And the texture is very silky and elastic. Fuente says that when he first gave some wrapper to one of his master rollers he was ecstatic, asking for more because the wrapper was far oilier and malleable than what he was used to rolling.

The burn is harder to evaluate at such an early stage, but the cigar smokes slowly and evenly with an incredibly firm, white ash, which refuses to fall.

To Fuente, the most stunning aspect of this leaf is the taste. When Fuente says that it's like chocolate fudge on vanilla ice cream, he means that the taste of the wrapper changes the taste of the filler tobacco, enhancing rather than muting complexities. Leaving a spicy, warm taste on the palate, the young rosado wrapper still has too much bite, but there is that certain nuance in the aroma that is so much a signature of a fine cigar from a forbidden island very near the Dominican Republic.

* * *

At 11 a.m., the sun is strong and hot under the great tents of cheesecloth that cover several acres of the Fuente farm. The plants and the cloth create a kind of buffer, each plant a living, breathing argument against those who say that Dominican wrapper is an impossibility.

Fifty-day-old tobacco plants under the tents seem to radiate a surreal green glow, a sense magnified by their perfect alignment, with plots divided into subplots exactly 16 meters wide. Fuente explains: "Usually the rows are much wider, but we sacrificed acreage so that the tobacco could be harvested easily. If the harvesters don't have to walk as far, there'll be less breakage."


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