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Nicaragua: The New Start for Nicaragua

This Central America country makes a strong comeback in the cigar business
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Gen. Tommy Franks, Nov/Dec 03

(continued from page 5)

There isn't much room left. The tables for the first row of workers are pressed nearly up to the front wall. "It's close to maxed out," says Toraño, as he and Ozgener look about the room, as if they're trying to imagine other ways to add space. "We may have to change that, Charlie," says Ozgener with his ever-present smile. "I need those maduros."


A Focus on Growing

Back in Ocotál, Ozgener and Toraño are examining the leaves put before them by Plasencia Jr., who is describing the company's new method of tobacco fermentation. Typically tobacco is aged in primings—groups of three tobacco leaves that define different heights on the plant. The higher up the plant, the stronger the tobacco. Plasencia uses a more exacting method of sorting that takes into account that different varieties of tobacco and different methods of cultivation create different ratios of the three categories if the tobacco is defined by strength of flavor. Those types are seco, the mildest type of tobacco; viso, stronger leaves that grow higher on the plant; and ligero, the most powerful variety. While they generally appear in ascending order on the plant, some plants may have larger or smaller segments of each type. The new method separates leaves by these three types, and each is fermented separately.

"People say the first priming is seco," Nestor Plasencia Sr. says in his typical enthusiastic, staccato voice. "No, no, no, no, no. It depends." Seed variety, the time the plant is put into the ground, the amount of rain that falls as the crop grows, the soil and fertilization, and at what point—if at all—the flower bud is removed from the top all can change the ratio of tobaccos on a plant.

The Plasencias also make a considerable number of cigars on both sides of the border, including the Bering brand, which the company owns, as well as the Indian Tabac brand, made under contract for Rocky Patel, of Naples, Florida. But growing tobacco is the heart of their business. By having technicians sort the crop early and determine what is what, seco can ferment with seco, viso with viso, and so on. Seco needs the least work to treat; ligero the most. The Plasencias have been doing it this way for the past two years. Now, in addition to making what the Plasencias believe is better tobacco, the extended sorting even allows the company to offer customers three tones within each color style, along with all the varieties in strength, from filler to binder to wrapper.

Ten years ago, the Plasencias primarily grew filler. Today, they've switched their focus to wrapper, which commands a far higher price. The business is booming. Much like Nicaragua itself.

"If you want to keep in this business," says Plasencia Jr., "you have to improve all the time."

Photos by Angelo Cavalli

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