Cigar Aficionado

Day Two: ProCigar Festival

I won’t give you the details about last night’s ProCigar Festival dinner. Suffice it to say I did not escape the merengue dance contest, which was officiated by José Blanco of La Aurora. He called on me to come up to the stage and show the world how little I knew about the local dance step; all I can say is, “Wait 'til next year’s Big Smoke, José.” I don’t think anyone from Dancing With The Stars will be calling me. But it was a lot of fun, even if you are like me and your idea of fun is not exactly the same thing as dancing an unfamiliar Caribbean dance style in front of 200 people. At least my Dominican partner was forgiving.

My day began over breakfast with Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana. Just like Henke Kelner of Davidoff, Gomez thinks he has one of the best crops that’s he ever produced at his farm La Canela (see Dave Savona’s blog). He said a long, dry, hot spell had made the tobacco work a little harder to grow, and by controlling the irrigation water, he was able to keep everything on track. He said this crop’s leaves were oily and thick with a lot of flavor. And, he’s still some wrapper leaf to harvest. It also rained here last night, but Gomez said the timing of that rain was “perfect…it came just at the right time.” So even though Santiago is going through a cloudy, slightly damp period this week, no one is overly concerned about it adversely affecting the crop.

After breakfast, I headed out to the La Aurora factory in Tamboril where one of the official ProCigar Festival tours was under way. José Blanco led a fantastic seminar where he had produced cigars using each of the filler tobaccos that went into a cigar, and then, the group smoked the cigar that had been made with the same filler leaves. Very educational, and instructive, even to someone like me who has covered the cigar business now for 18 years.

I sat down later in the morning with La Aurora’s president, Guillermo Leon. Like most of the cigarmakers here, he is pretty optimistic about the cigar industry right now, even though in dollar terms his business has suffered during the recent economic crisis. What he does say is that unit sales are holding steady, and that tells us what we all believe to be true; we’re not necessarily smoking less, but we also are not as quick to buy the most expensive cigar on the shelf.

There’s still a lot more to come. But the good news for me? No merengue contest tonight.