Tobacco Land: The Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic Has Some of the World's Best Growing Regions for Premium Cigar Tobacco
From the Print Edition:
Demi Moore, Autumn 96
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"I must be out of my mind," says Carlos Fuente Jr., the president of Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia., one of the most prestigious cigar names in the Dominican Republic. Fuente was just a few miles away from the gates of Chateau de la Fuente, his family's showcase farm and the island's only superpremium wrapper tobacco plantation.
"I have so much riding on these 65 acres of tobacco," he says, biting on a smoldering Opus X pyramid-shaped cigar while driving his gray Mitsubishi four-wheel-drive through the lush tropical countryside. "It's like having your own private garden. There is so much tension."
Fuente may be slightly exaggerating his situation. He has nothing to prove anymore. Sure, the skeptics gave him a pretty good tongue-lashing back in 1993. Some openly said that he couldn't seriously grow piloto Cubano, the legendary tobacco variety from Cuba's Vuelta Abajo, as wrapper on his picturesque farm about two hours' drive southeast of the city of Santiago. Even he was slightly worried about what the results would be. Wrapper tobacco had been, and still is, grown on the island, but it has been essentially Connecticut seed for cheap candela (green-colored) cigars. Fuente had much bigger ideas about growing wrapper in the Dominican Republic.
No one now, especially himself, is doubting the potential and quality of Dominican wrapper, considering the high-quality crops the estate is pulling in every year. Opus X, his company's flagship brand that receives the best wrappers from Chateau de la Fuente, may be proof that the Dominican Republic can produce some of the greatest wrappers in the world and, consequently, the greatest cigars. In fact, Opus X gets part of its name from what the Fuentes and friends first called the estate: "Project X from Planet X." The four Opus X cigars tested by Cigar Aficionado have received scores of 90 points or above.
After arriving at the estate and walking through the tobacco barns and visitors buildings, Fuente admits, "I am very happy with the results. How couldn't I be? But I know that we can do better. We are really just starting out with this wrapper project."
The entire property encompasses 85 acres, which includes not only the well-manicured tobacco fields but also tobacco drying barns as well as a couple of brightly painted buildings for entertaining guests. Chateau de la Fuente is rightly named; it is the first tobacco estate designed to welcome guests and show them how a properly functioning finca goes about its day-to-day business.
"This is what my grandfather used to talk to me about as a young boy," says Fuente, gesturing to the fields of tobacco around him, covered with cheesecloth, or tapados, to assure that the tobacco leaves receive the proper amount of sunlight. The property also grows wrapper leaf in direct sunlight as "sun-grown piloto." "When I was a child growing up in Tampa [Florida], my grandfather and other old Cubans used to always speak of las fincas, the farms."
The 65 acres of tobacco fields are divided into eight plots: Hoyo de Elena, El Mango, El Porvenir, Las Palmas, Esperanza, La Palmas II, Las Casita and Rancho Nuevo. All the tobacco from each part of the property is kept separate during the picking and processing. A further selection is made through the handful of pickings or primings of each section. The entire plantation is organically farmed. Fuente is also growing tobacco on another 28 acres leased nearby.
"I produced and marketed the Opus X cigars earlier than I wanted to, because some people didn't believe we could get quality wrappers from here," he says. "I wanted to wait two more years but I had to come out. Some people still don't believe that this property exists."
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