When Christian Eiroa looked into the crowd of cigar enthusiasts gathered at the Big Smoke Las Vegas and confessed “My father is a degenerate gambler,” he wasn't revealing a family secret about a weakness for the town’s gaming tables. The former Camacho Cigars president was describing his father's passion for creating the new tobacco hybrids that are improving the cigars we smoke.
Quesada, maker of Fonseca, and Nestor Andres Plasencia, of Plasencia
Tobacco, joined the younger Eiroa on the panel of the Saturday seminar
Today’s Hybrids: The Tobacco Used in Your Cigars. The focus was the wave
of new hybrids in the wake of the creation of Habana 2000, a
blue-mold-resistant tobacco strain that has improved yields.
Eiroa said that rewards of finding the next-greatest strain are alluring enough that his father endures years of time-intensive, painstaking and often frustrating work, betting that his efforts will pan out. However, “If you grow something that has white veins, you’ve just wasted two years of your life.”
Plasencia, who holds a degree in agricultural engineering, explained that it might take seven to eight years from the time the idea for making a specific hybrid is hatched until it is successfully planted in enough volume to create cigars from. A hybrid is a marriage of two tobacco strains in hopes of reproducing the best characteristics of each. The panelists said that the variable include such things as width, height, flavor and durability.
Plasencia said that Habana 2000 factored in hardy cigarette tobacco seed. “It would grow anywhere,” said Eiroa. “You could throw that stuff on the driveway and it would grow.” It was married, he said, to the disease susceptible Corojo seed. “This couldn’t have been done with traditional seeds. It needed to be a hybrid.”
Eiroa’s family grows tobacco in the Jamastran region of Honduras and
the Plasencias are the largest growers of tobacco in Central America,
with operations in Honduras and Nicaragua, Quesada was the only panelist focusing on manufacturing rather than farming. Thus, he said, “I have a lot to learn
from these young men,” and described how their advances had affected his
job as a cigar manufacturer. “There’s never been such a wide variety of
tobacco.” Choices he is faced with include different tastes, aromas and
strengths of body.
Variety, however, also creates challenges for the cigarmaker, Quesada said. He told of having to create new blends to accommodate the new tobaccos. “When you put leaves together, you don’t know what will happen. It could be successful. It could be the dumbest thing you ever did in your life.”
said that part of the hybrid-tobacco creator’s frustration comes from
inconsistent passing of desired characteristics when seeds are melded.
The unions require careful experimentation to insure success. “You have
to listen to the tobacco and learn what it is saying.” He added that the
hybrid plants themselves will not create seeds of the same quality, and
therefore the work of hybridizing the seeds as to be redone for each
Eiroa said that, while now prevalent, tobacco hybridization is nothing new. For an example, the Connecticut Shade wrapper strain that has long supplied the industry with elegant mild leaf is a hybrid. Because of the high price of wrapper tobacco, much of the focus of hybridizing is that direction, he said.
The tobacco grower’s son also described the relief provided to planters by strains resistant to fungus that is borne in the wind. “Blue mold can take your crop in a couple of days and it will take two to three years to redevelop.”
As well as designing tobacco for flavor and durability, Plasencia said, he can fine-tune a strain to take advantage of the soil conditions in the region it will grow in.