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Dominican Dilemma

The Dominican Dilemma A dearth of quality tobacco may limit the future for the island's cigars
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Gen. Tommy Franks, Nov/Dec 03

(continued from page 1)

I always found it strange how most Dominican cigar producers consider their cigars a domestic product. Yes, Dominican cigars are manufactured on the island, but in my opinion they are not Dominican products unless a majority of Dominican tobacco is used. One hundred percent would be better. Cigarmakers may use some Dominican tobacco in their blends, but most manufacturers on the island use tobacco from all over the place. Perhaps one could argue that most of the island's cigar factories are located in duty-free zones, so they really are not part of the Dominican Republic, but that's not reality. Maybe they should be called Latin American cigars instead?

Cuban cigars are made in Cuba with 100 percent Cuban tobacco. And the top names in Nicaragua are the same, such as Padrón. The situation in the Dominican Republic would be like Bordeaux wine producers buying grapes in France, Spain and Italy and then calling it a wine of Bordeaux. This could theoretically happen, but the wine would have to be declassified to a simple European table wine, without a vintage on the label. It couldn't be labeled vintage Bordeaux. That's the law in the European Community and perhaps there should be a law like that in the Dominican Republic.

Think about it for a minute. Where would Cuba be if it had not stuck to a policy of making cigars with 100 percent domestic tobacco? It's written in the laws of the country (even before the revolution) that a Cuban cigar is not a Cuban cigar without 100 percent Cuban tobacco. It's why the Spanish call Cuban smokes puros, or pure. I believe this has been one of the main reasons why the Cubans have been able to maintain their positive image in the world market, despite some major problems with quality a few years ago.

I wouldn't suggest that all cigars made in the Dominican Republic should be made from 100 percent tobacco from the island. But I think that most of the premium cigars should be. In fact, the best cigar on the island already is. Look at the quality of the Fuente Fuente OpusX. Some people say that the cigar includes tobacco from other countries, but the Fuentes have always said it is made with 100 percent Dominican leaf, including the wrapper. The cigar proves that great quality can be achieved by blending the best Dominican tobacco—even wrappers. One could argue that only by using the best tobacco on the island can one achieve truly exceptional quality and unique character. How many cigars with Latin American blends have achieved the quality of OpusX?

The good news is that other leading producers are working very hard towards the great Dominican puro. For example, Litto Gomez, the dynamic owner of La Flor Dominicana, bought his own tobacco plantation near the town of La Canela a few years back. Already he is producing wrapper that is looking very similar to the great capa of Cuba's Vuelta Abajo. He hopes to have a Dominicana puro out in early 2004 in a blend similar to his high-quality Ligero line.

"It's the only way to go forward," Gomez says in front of his new tobacco curing barns. "The way to have the best quality is to control the process from the soil to the cigar. I am convinced that we can have the very best cigars, though only using our own tobacco."

Others are moving the same way, including Davidoff and General Cigar Co., which have small premium wrapper plantations in other regions of the island. But their ventures seem mostly cosmetic by comparison to the likes of Gomez and Fuente. La Aurora is making more of an effort, and the family company should have a Dominican puro late this year to celebrate its 100th anniversary. It's called La Aurora 100 Anos.

I spent a few hours walking through the tobacco fermentation rooms and sorting areas for Quisqueya. It was hard to judge how the fermentations were going. But the sorting was impressive. The workers were taking their time in selecting the leaves for strength and size—much better than what I saw five years ago in other packers' factories. There was a real sense of pride with González as he showed me the various processes and assured me that the company was doing everything possible for quality now. Unfortunately, his efforts and others' may all go to waste if something doesn't change very soon in the Dominican Republic.

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