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One Tough Leaf

Dark cigars are hot, and that calls for dark, rugged Connecticut broadleaf
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Costner, Nov/Dec 00

(continued from page 1)

Just as Connecticut shade is prized for its mild, neutral flavors, broadleaf is becoming more appealing to smokers due to its heavy, muscular flavors. Smoke a cigar wrapped in broadleaf, and you're likely to taste leather, minerals and steel. It's not subtle.  

Broadleaf can be found on many machine-made brands, most notably Backwoods, made by Altadis U.S.A., and such all-tobacco machine-made cigars as Muniemakers and Toppers. But a host of premium cigarmakers have recently turned to broadleaf for handmade maduros. General, for example, has switched from Mexican San Andres Negro to Connecticut broadleaf for its Macanudo Maduro cigars. "It has more flavor," says Nuñez. "It delivers more of a rounder taste." Tabacalera A. Fuente released limited-edition Arturo Fuente Añejos this summer, Fonseca has come out with a new line of maduros, and Avo cigars are now available in maduro as well. All are made with Connecticut broadleaf, as are the majority of cigars in this issue's tasting.  

These days, if you smoke maduro cigars, odds are they were wrapped with either broadleaf or Mexican tobacco. If the leaf is thin and fairly dry, chances are it's Mexican. But if it's thick, oily and rugged, it's probably broadleaf.  

Connecticut shade and Connecticut broadleaf grow side-by-side throughout the Connecticut River Valley, but they are quite the odd couple. Shade is smooth and elegant, while broadleaf is grizzled and tough. Shade plants are tall and thin, reaching as high as 12 feet under their silky tents. Unlike its blueblood cousin, broadleaf grows in the open sunlight. Shade is picked carefully, leaf by leaf in a series of primings. The leaves are coddled throughout the harvest and sewn together in curing barns. Broadleaf is harvested like a caveman takes a bride--violently. Workers use hatchets to chop down the entire plant, then hang it, stalk and all, inside a curing barn.  

Charcoal fires or propane heaters inside the barns are sometimes lit to keep temperatures at the proper levels, but the rest of the curing process is left up to nature. Over a 45-day period, the thick, green, gummy tobacco leaves will lose their moisture to the air, all the while drawing nutrients from the stalk. Growers have tried to harvest broadleaf like shade, in leaf-by-leaf primings, but it didn't work. Broadleaf needs the stalk to get its trademark look and taste. The leaves grow increasingly dark in the barn, and prolonged fermentation and aging in tobacco warehouses make them nearly black.  

"This is the stage where tobacco needs the water," says William C. Dunn, squinting in the sun. "The buds are just starting to show." Dunn, 74, takes another look at the small field of tobacco in front of him, which seems to be barely making it out of the dusty tan soil. He scribbles some words into his ever-present notebook, observations on the tobacco that he will refer to later in the season, when he and the owner of the field have to negotiate a price.  

Dunn has been buying broadleaf for 50 years. His business card doesn't list a company name; it reads simply: William C. Dunn, Broadleaf Tobacco.  

"This is my office," he says with a smile, moving files off the seat of his dusty car. The wheel wells are coated with a permanent skin of dirt. He pulls a box of Ramon Allones cigars from his hatchback and puts one in his mouth. The storage area is more oven than humidor, and the dried-out wrapper (which is Connecticut shade, not broadleaf) soon splits in Dunn's mouth. He only chews his cigars anyway, so there's no chance of a bonfire setting the car ceiling alight as he drives.  

Before there was Connecticut broadleaf tobacco, farmers in the valley grew a narrow-leaf type of tobacco known as shoe string, according to a Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station bulletin, Growing Tobacco in Connecticut, by P. J. Anderson. In 1833, a Mr. B. P. Barbour of East Windsor, Connecticut, brought a new strain of Maryland tobacco seed to the valley and planted a crop. Locals were instantly taken with the plant's wide, thick leaves, and it soon muscled out shoe string. Bigger leaves meant bigger profits.  

Barbour's tobacco soon took his name, and even today people still grow Barbour broadleaf, though others use hybrids with different names. They all share the same characteristics--a squat plant that grows huge, thick and oily leaves.  

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