Perhaps no other organization in the world strives to demystify tobacco and the cigarmaking process as ardently as ProCigar, the united group of cigar producers in the Dominican Republic. Its annual festival is a week in the Dominican Republic where no doors are closed, cigars are plentiful and questions rarely go unanswered.
This year, the ninth ProCigar Festival started on the white sands of Punta Cana, ended in Santiago and raised more than $200,000 for charity. It was a cigar-centric celebration that immersed more than 300 guests from all over the world in the tobacco culture of the Dominican Republic.
From February 21 to 26, cigar manufacturers opened up their fields and factories for a casual yet educational tobacco tour that showcased the Dominican Republic's premium cigar industry. Each day was dedicated to cigar activity, while each night ended in a festive cocktail party or grand dinner.
The events began in Punta Cana at the Westin Punta Cana Resort & Club and wrapped up with a tour of the Tabacalera de Garcia factory, makers of the Dominican Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta brands. A ride across the country brought the group to Santiago, where most Dominican cigars are made, for the second leg of the event.
Guests had multiple options each day. One could choose to visit large cigar factories like General Cigar Dominicana and Davidoff, or opt for tours of mid-size to smaller operations such as Tabacalera Palma, Quesada Cigars, La Aurora (the oldest cigar factory in the Dominican Republic) and La Flor Dominicana. Other tours included Tabacalera Alianza (maker of E.P. Carrillo cigars) and De Los Reyes (makers of Saga). Carlos Fuente Jr. even hosted a field trip out to Bonao for a tour of Arturo Fuente's Cigar Family Charitable Foundation School as well as the Chateau de La Fuente tobacco farm.
"We make 5.5 billion cigars annually," said Hendrik Kelner, vice chairman of Tabadom Holding Inc. and president of ProCigar. "About 220 million of those cigar are premium. That equates to $610 million a year for the Dominican Republic and the employment of 20,000 workers."
According to Oettinger-Davidoff CEO Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard, 2015 turned out to be a tougher year for the Dominican Republic than anticipated. Growth in the U.S. was only 2 percent and Europe decreased by 5 percent. Asia was down too, thanks to what Hoejsgaard referred to as China's "antiluxury and antispending campaign."
A dry season in the Dominican Republic resulted in 20 percent less tobacco from the farms. Those who had their own irrigation were not nearly as affected. Nirka Reyes, president of De Los Reyes Cigars, added that the lack of rain this year has made the tobacco stronger and more full bodied.
The final dinner took place at the Centro Español, a banquet hall in Santiago, concluding with a live auction, cohosted by Manuel Quesada, president of Quesada Cigars, and Michael Herklots, vice president of retail and brand development of Nat Sherman. Highlights of the auction included a trunk humidor filled with limited-edition Davidoff smokes, most notably a set of 10 Oro Blanco cigars. It sold for $58,000—the highest-earning lot of the evening. And while a replica horse-and-buggy humidor from De Los Reyes filled with 70 cigars brought in $50,000, the most unusual auction item had nothing to do with cigars at all. In a bit of bizarre theater, Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana challenged Manuel Quesada to shave his mustache in front of the crowd. The bidding began at $4,700 ($100 for each year the mustache had been on Quesada's face), and through a group effort of contributions raised a total of $15,000.
The auction, which consisted of 14 lots donated by most of the ProCigar members, raised over $200,000, a record for organization. Proceeds went towards a hospice for the aging, or the Voluntariado Jesus con los Niños children's hospital.