A Leaf of Their Own
Dominican Republic cigarmakers are following the example of Fuente Fuente OpusX and growing their own wrapper tobacco
From the Print Edition:
Cuban Spy Scandal, May/Jun 02
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"If you want to have something unique, you need to grow it yourself," says Edgar M. Cullman Jr., president of General. "Once you work with the dealers, whatever is developed can be developed for other manufacturers as well." General has grown wrapper for decades, primarily the Connecticut-shade leaves used on Macanudos. Since 1974, the company has also grown wrapper in the Dominican Republic, but it has been mostly candela, the green leaves used on cheap cigars.
The wrapper unveiled last year for Ramon Allones, like Fuente's, is dark, hearty and oily. General grows it in Jíma, about a 10- to 15-mile drive from El Caribe. Fuente grows a Cuban seed, while General's is a hybrid, containing parts of Connecticut shade, Dominican piloto Cubano and Cuban corojo. The Fuentes grow their wrappers under shade, while General grows in the open sunlight, with a perimeter of cheesecloth meant to blunt the impact of wind. The latter method of growing is known as encallado.
"We tried it different ways: shade, sun and encallado," says Angel Daniel Núñez, the executive vice president of tobacco and manufacturing for General and the company's main tobacco man. "Our best results were with encallado."
General gets more from the Dominican Republic than wrappers: the Dominican Republic is, in essence, its winter tobacco home, a place to continue research begun in the tobacco fields up north.
"It's a very time-consuming process to develop [tobacco] seeds," says Cullman. First a grower finds a desirable plant, then bags the large flower that grows at its top. The flower contains seeds, which are the size of grains of sand. The bag keeps birds away, and keeps the plant from pollinating with another plant. The grower might pollinate under controlled conditions, then grow that seed in the following season. Having only Connecticut to work with would mean waiting an entire year between crops. Having Dominican farms adds a cycle to the year. The growing season ends in Connecticut in the summer, right before a new season is set to begin in the Dominican Republic.
"When we develop seeds in Connecticut," explains Cullman, "we are able to have a second crop, quite frankly, in the Dominican Republic."
General had an easier time breaking into the wrapper-growing field in the Dominican Republic, given its Connecticut and candela experience. Its workforce was trained in the fields of Bloomfield, Connecticut, some of the best wrapper tobacco land on earth. "We developed a team of people that work and grow wrapper tobacco—which is different from growing filler tobacco. It requires a great deal more attention to the practices, to the farming practices, to make sure that your yields are good enough to make it worthwhile," says Cullman.
Cullman is big on the Ramon Allones launch, a limited- production brand that he says is doing well. "The market continues to be very accepting of new products—as long as, of course, they're legitimate new things. I think there has to be a story behind it," he says. "We will always come out with new products. That is our mantra."
Oddly, General doesn't use the Dominican image as a selling point in its Ramon Allones ads, opting rather to promote its impressive value. The cigars come in four sizes, and retail for no more than $4 apiece.
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