The fourth annual ProCigar Festival in the Dominican Republic has begun. On Tuesday I landed in Santiago, greeted by bright sunshine and tropical warmth. I've left winter behind. Here, it feels like summer.
The ProCigar Festival is thrown by some of the big names in Dominican cigars-General Cigar Co. (Macanudo, Partagas and many other brands), Altadis U.S.A. Inc. (Montecristo and H. Upmann, to name a few), Tabadom Holding (Davidoff, Avo), La Aurora S.A. (Guillermo Leon, La Aurora), Matasa (Quesada, Fonseca) and Tabacos Quisqueya (Juan Clemente). More than 200 people attend.
My flight included Pete Johnson, owner of the Tatuaje brand, which is made in Nicaragua and Ron Melendi, who runs De La Concha cigars in New York City. At the airport we soon met up with Michael Herklots, general manager of the New York Davidoff stores, and within moments of leaving the terminal we were handed frosty cups of Presidente beer and an open humidor of cigars.
The rest of the group went to check into their hotels, but I was off to a meeting with Manuel "Manolo" Quesada. I rode over with his nephews, Jose Manuel Bermudez (aka Blondie) and Terence Reilly, and Blondie handed me a baggie of unbanded cigars.
"What are they?" I asked.
"They're for you," he said, adding nothing else. I tried to grill him and Terence, but they wouldn't tell me a thing about them. I twisted the pigtail off of one and lit up.
We met Manolo in Licey, an agricultural town where Quesada houses his tobacco operations. He has made cigars in the free trade zone in Santiago for 37 years, but today the operation in Licey was busy with construction, as they are raising the roof in preparation to bring the rolling gallery and all their operations into this one facility. (If you read Cigar Insider, you read about this a few issues ago.)
We toured the facility and I shot a little video of Manolo describing what he's doing. Take a look.
I asked Manolo about the cigar, and he told me it's a special Fonseca. It was quite tasty. When I inquired about the wrapper, he told me I needed to speak to his daughter, Raquel. These Quesadas are good with secrets.
After a bite to eat, I checked into my home for the next few days, the Hodelpa Gran Almirante.
The Gran Almirante's public indoor areas went no smoking a few years ago, which is immensely distressing. You can smoke on the spacious pool deck, but there is no indoor space to puff, save for a few tables they've installed in the parking garage. (I'm serious-I smoked there last year. Crazy.) There's a spot downstairs by the elevator that they intend to turn into a smoking lounge. It's not ready yet. It's a shame, because the hotel is full of cigar smokers.
This was the precursor to the Santiago portion of the Festival. Some folks began in La Romana on February 6. Tonight, all will gather here at the hotel with a cocktail reception outdoors, so I expect to puff quite a few more cigars. Now if I can get the info on that wrapper...