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The Power Train

Strong Cigars Fuel the Industry's Hottest Trend.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Spacey, Jan/Feb 02

(continued from page 2)

"It's giving me a headache right now," says Litto Gomez, chuckling as he puffs away on a Ligero. "I made the mistake of smoking it this morning."

Gomez, who co-owns the La Flor Dominicana brand with his wife, Ines Lorenzo-Gomez, admits that the Ligero is not for everyone. He uses a liberal dose of ligero from his tobacco farm in La Canella, a windswept part of the Dominican Republic known for producing strong tobacco, to make the cigar.

The Ligero is the latest step in Gomez's transformation as a cigarmaker. When he first began making cigars under the Los Libertadores name in 1994, the cigars were typical of the time: they sported pale, Connecticut-shade wrappers and unaggressive Dominican filler and binder tobacco. They weren't bad, but they weren't distinctive.

Gomez, a driven innovator, kept working at his blends. Now using the brand name La Flor Dominicana, he created a powerful little sparkplug called the El Jocko Perfecto No. 1. Wrapped in Connecticut broadleaf and powered with a hearty dose of Nicaraguan tobacco, the cigar (a bulbous perfecto then unique to the market) was a huge success. He later created a strong line of tubos, using his farm tobacco and Ecuadoran wrapper, and now he's introduced the Ligero, his strongest cigar yet, wrapped in Ecuadoran Sumatra.

"Normally, to make a fuller-bodied blend you need tobacco from Nicaragua or Honduras, but we've been able to do without it," says Gomez. "If somebody thinks Dominican cigars are mild, think again."

Strength was one of the primary reasons why Gomez invested in a tobacco farm. Tobacco brokers consistently disappointed Gomez with the quality of their Dominican product; much of their purported ligero didn't have the kick he was seeking.

"We were looking for more power in the cigar," he says. "I found the only way to do that was to go into farming."

Growing strong tobacco is not in the best interests of farmers, especially in the Dominican Republic. One of the country's best cigar tobaccos is piloto Cubano, a smallish plant that grows few leaves but delivers maximum flavor. However, farmers prefer to grow a hybrid known as San Vicente. The plants grow larger and have more leaves, increasing a farmer's yield per acre.

The harvesting method also determines the strength of tobacco. Getting it right can be time-consuming. Leaves ripen from the bottom of the plant up, and good farmers allow each row to become fully ripe before harvesting. The higher a leaf grows on a plant, the stronger the taste. The upper leaves take the longest to ripen. Some farmers speed the process by picking leaves before they are ready.

It takes a patient farmer and ugly leaves to make the strongest cigar tobacco. Picture the tobacco plant, almost entirely harvested. The flower has been pruned long before to force the plant to concentrate power in the leaves. The plant is now nothing more than a ravaged stem, scars pocking the entire length where leaves have been removed, one by one. But there, at the very top, sits a small, withered, thick leaf, wrinkling like a raisin in the tropical sun. Growing stronger. More flavorful.

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