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Cuba's 21st Century Factories

The world's most storied cigar producer is creating modern manufacturing sites for its premium hand-rolled products.
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Edgar Bronfman Jr., Mar/Apr 03

(continued from page 2)

• Pinar del Río (Francisco Donatién): Vegas Robaina and Vegueros

• Holguín: José L Piedra

• Cienfuegos: Quintero

 

The consolidation of Cuban cigar production is a critical change. I always wondered how quality and consistency could be properly maintained when a large majority of the brands were made in various factories. I had assumed that it was possible to make a consistent blend in a particular cigar and brand in different factories, but seeing the process with my own eyes gave me great doubts. This was especially true a few years back when unrealistically high production goals were set. How could the Cubans ever keep track of everything when cigar factories were making smokes at a feverish pace, often with many unskilled rollers?

Worse, I found many cigars tasted similar from about 1996 to 2000. Or at best, some very strong cigars such as Bolivar tasted rather insipid. I remember one cigar roller who had worked at Partagas. He recalled the floor manager telling him not to worry about what he was making. "It is all the same," the supervisor had said. "We will just change the bands."

Lopez argues that cigars were never made that way, but he admits that the blends may have suffered during the rapid production expansion. He said that the factories are now fine-tuning blends, even going back to old styles and characters of specific brands and sizes. "For a few years we've made some changes in some of the vitolas [sizes], but we're now at a stage where we are evaluating this situation and trying to go back to the original mix in those vitolas that traditionally had a different mix," he says. "The time and the raw materials are available, so now is the time to reevaluate those vitolas and go back to their
traditional flavors."

Of course, I never wanted to believe such stories of Cuban cigars all being the same except for the band. But many cigar aficionados remained keen on buying their cigars according to where they were produced, believing that some factories were better than others. That's one reason I broke the secret factory code several years ago to give everyone the opportunity to buy cigars from the factory of their choice. Today, factory codes are still printed on the bottom of every box, but they change periodically.

Obviously, some factories still produce better cigars than others. It's inevitable, because making cigars is not a classic industrial endeavor. People make the difference, whether it's a floor manager with a good attitude or a roller with great pride. People with the proper motivation make better cigars. There's no doubt about that. Rollers who can concentrate on one brand, or even one size, also tend to make better cigars.

Of course, all this may very soon be obvious to everyone when the new factories start functioning at full speed and the consolidation of brand production is completed. We should all be smoking much better quality Habanos very soon indeed.


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