For some, it’s that first glimpse of the lush, green fields sprawling beneath the wings of the 767 as ocean turns to land. For others, it’s the first sniff of aged tobacco leaves, flat and waiting to be rolled into cigars. For me, it’s that moment when you step from the airplane door into the gangway and feel the tropical heat and humidity hug your body in an embrace that says, “Welcome back, you’re in the Dominican Republic, cigar country."
I left my home yesterday long before the sun rose and landed in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, around noon to join the 6th annual ProCigar Festival. This weeklong event brings cigar retailers and enthusiasts from around the United States and the world for immersion in the glorious world of handmade, Dominican cigars.
I’ve been coming to the Dominican Republic for 17 years, and I always enjoy coming here. Some of the cigar world’s best-known brands are made here, by members of the association known as ProCigar: Arturo Fuente, Davidoff, Macanudo, Romeo y Julieta, Fonseca, La Aurora, and the organization only recently added two new members, La Flor Dominicana and EP Carrillo.
The first function I attended was a press conference where representatives of each ProCigar company (save for Fuente, who was not here during this particular conference) sat on stage. In a sign of the expansion of the organization, the members were quite literally shoulder to shoulder, and one had to sit outside the confines of the table. February 20, as it turns out, was a birthday for ProCigar.
“ProCigar turns 21 today—we are legal drinking age,” said Manuel “Manolo” Quesada, owner of Manufactura de Tabacos S.A. (MATASA), one of the most prominent members of ProCigar. Quesada explained how 21 years ago that very day, six companies came together with a handshake and founded the organization, dedicated to ensuring the quality of Dominican cigar production.
Companies joined over the years (Fuente left for a time before returning) and, before adding La Flor and EPC, the organization was expanded with the introduction of companies that make cigars by machine and companies that produce things used by cigar companies, if not cigars themselves. The mission statement has remained constant over the years—promoting the importance of superior cigar construction in the Dominican Republic.
ProCigar means quite a bit of cigar smoking. The people attending are touring cigar factories and tobacco fields, meeting the people behind their favorite cigar brands and smoking up a storm. Last night, everyone came together for a pig roast with plenty of Presidente beer and Brugal rum, lively merengue dancing and superb cigars.
Yesterday, I smoked four cigars, beginning with the Fonseca Cubano Exclusivo, made with a Dominican wrapper. The smoke debuted here at the Festival (the Quesadas have made it a tradition to unveil something new every year during the Festival) and SAG’s Terence Reilly handed me one when I saw him yesterday. The smoke had a stunning wrapper, very beautiful, and showed both balance and complexity. My second smoke was a Romeo by Romeo y Julieta Toro. It was dynamite, with just enough sweetness to balance the woody structure of the smoke. I followed that up with a Fuente Fuente OpusX Angel’s Share during dinner—smoking is encouraged at virtually every function here—and I was very pleased with that also. Imagine an OpusX with a little more nuance and a bit less red-pepper spice. Very, very tasty. The final smoke was a short little Nat Sherman prototype that showed some promise, but it was very late in the night to make a true assessment of the smoke.
Cigar Aficionado’s Greg Mottola is here with me in Santiago, and you’ll read a lot more about the event next week on cigaraficionado.com and in Cigar Insider.
Today, it’s back to the cigar factory tours—and the cigars. Look for more later.