I found out about the wrapper on Tuesday, the official start of the ProCigar Festival in Santiago. In the morning, I spilled out of the Gran Almirante with dozens of other festival goers and we loaded up in buses to go to whichever spot on the agenda we had selected. I had heard the Quesadas were going to launch something new, so I opted to go to Matasa.
We were ushered into the factory in the Santiago Free Zone (which is being moved—see my previous blog) and after a shot of coffee and a cigar, we were shown into the main rolling gallery, which had been set up for a press conference. The lights were off.
When they came on, they revealed a series of rolling tables, each one slightly different than the other. Each represented a decade for the factory, beginning in the 1970s when it was founded. That modest rolling table represented how things looked in the early days at Matasa, and the woman rolling cigars at it was the very first roller from Matasa back in 1974. Her name is Ana Celia and she's worked at Matasa for 37 years.
The show was impressive, and at the end the Quesada clan revealed the new smoke-the Fonseca 120th Anniversary. It's a one-size line made with a Dominican wrapper, Dominican binder and a mix of Dominican and Nicaraguan filler. I found it nutty, medium bodied and with good balance.
After the morning tours, the heads of ProCigar held a press conference. Hendrik Kelner, maker of Davidoff, led the presentation.
"We have the longest history of tobacco in the world," he said. "The Dominican Republic was the first country to export tobacco to Europe...In 1995, the Dominican Republic became the number one exporter of cigars in the world, and we've maintained that."
Kelner had some interesting facts: 65,000 people work in the tobacco industry in the Dominican Republic (55,000 of them on farms), and in 2010, the industry accounted for around $320 million in exports. He said tobacco is the number one agricultural crop in the country.
Dan Carr, president of General Cigar, gave some statistics on cigar shipments and sales. "It's very difficult to get good sources for the data," he said, before saying that cigar sales are down about 11 percent. He said the Dominican Republic has 44 percent of the U.S. premium cigar market and that there was some optimism for this year.
"We have a pretty positive outlook on the overall category," he said. "That's due to the improved economic conditions."
Quesada spoke about a new cigarmaker coming into ProCigar, Corporacion Cigar Export, which is run by Augusto Reyes, along with the naming of Benjamin Menendez as an honorary member for life. He also revealed the dates for the 2012 festival: February 19 through the 25.
ProCigar throws a good party, and the official opening gala was a huge pigroast with booming Dominican music and, of course, plenty of cigars. It was a great time. There's lots more to come, as this party is just getting started.