Made In the Shade: Connecticut Shade

For A century, Connecticut farmers have grown some of the world's finest cigar wrapper tobacco

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Consolidated Cigar, which once grew 2,600 acres of Connecticut shade (1,800 on its own land, and 800 acres under contract) pulled out in 1981, as it moved to sheet tobacco for some of its nonpremium cigars. "There was a period in the 1980s, when it went down to 700, 800 acres of shade in the valley," says Merwin Brown, another member of the family.  
The cigar boom has led to an increase in the plantings of Connecticut shade, but barn prices and limited amounts of available real estate have kept the rate of increase much smaller than in the Caribbean. This year, about 2,000 acres were planted, compared with about 1,600 in 1992, prior to the boom. The biggest growers are Windsor Shade, whose members planted an estimated 750 acres in 1999, and General Cigar, which planted more than 400 acres. In 1998, Consolidated returned to the valley, and today it plants a modest 150 acres a year. One day, Folz hopes to use it on his Montecristo cigars, among others.   No verdict can be rendered on tobacco until it has been cured and aged, but the growers in the valley are optimistic about the 1999 harvest. They like what they see, and believe they might be sitting on a bumper crop.  
In Bloomfield, Nuñez is walking through one of General's fields. He is almost lost in the sea of green, dwarfed by nine- to 10-foot plants that are reaching for the tents above, as his shoulders are caressed by the soft tobacco that brushes against him as he walks.  
Nuñez pauses, droplets of sweat sparkling on his forehead. He takes a wide, green leaf of Connecticut shade in his hands and peers at its shiny face. It seems virtually flawless, full of life and the energy of the sun.  
"I don't think I've ever had it better than this," he says.
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