The cigars certainly pile up here at the ProCigar Festival. Everywhere you turn a cigar manufacturer is either handing you a smoke, or a beautiful young lady is giving you a gift pack of cigars with a smile that you'll probably remember on the plane ride home. The first box, for example, is a strikingly minted case courtesy of Vrijdag Printing, the Dutch lithographers that turned 110 this year. It comes with a Xikar cutter (the X875 to be exact) and lighter as well as 11 cigars ranging from a Fuente Fuente OpusX Angel's Share and Davidoff Colorado Claro to a Quesada Selección España and Saga Blend No. 7.
Saga is the new brand from Augusto Reyes. It's also the name of Augusto Reyes's new restaurant in Santiago. OK, so I failed to make the connection when I first went there for lunch two days ago, but things were clear after I went there for lunch a second time and had the pleasure of sitting with Nirka Reyes, Augusto's daughter and president of what used to be known as CCE, or Corporación Cigar Export. We had lunch after the factory tour.
The Reyes family changed their company name this year to Los Reyes Cigars, putting the family name up front, kind of like what the Quesada family did with the old MATASA (and its distribution arm SAG), which is now called Quesada Cigars. As part of the new Los Reyes, identity, Nirka told me that they've also decided to scrap all the previous Reyes brands that they made and start over. So, that Saga Blend No. 7 I just mentioned is part of the new push. They also have something called Saga Golden Age and the Don Julio brand.
The rest of the factory is dedicated to Phil Zanghi's Debonair brand, and a curious little line called Puros de Hostos. I've never seen them for sale anywhere, but I'm told by Gustavo de Hostos that they are mostly a European brand. If you ever go to the factory, Gustavo is the large, multilingual Belgian who's an Olympic powerlifter turned Italian sommelier turned French sommelier turned cigarmaker, and he wears his sommelier pins on his apron in the cigar factory. Like everyone there, he is passionate about Dominican tobacco, particularly the types from the Navarrete region grown by Leo Reyes, Augusto's brother. Los Reyes is an active member of ProCigar, as are the Quesadas, who were next on my ProCigar itinerary.
The Quesada Cigars tour was lead by Manuel "Manolo" Quesada, while his daughters Patricia and Raquel ushered the small tour along from box factory to stripping room to rolling gallery. Manolo took the lead, explaining the cigar-making process and all its many tribulations. Most of the cigar enthusiasts taking the tour were respectful and attentive, but I never understood the proclivity of some people to be constantly snapping pictures. Every tour has one of these people, and I'm not talking about the hired photographers. Taking a few shots is one thing, but after a while, it goes from distracting to annoying. How can you pay any attention to what your tour guide is saying when you're compulsively taking snapshots of the same scrap of tobacco from 56 different angles? Oh well.
We moved on, and Manolo was able to snuff out my annoyance when he touched on something I found very interesting. He addressed the generational gap between himself and his children, who are active in the company and present in the factory. He said that the younger generation has a much more exacting sense of flavor, and credits this trait to all the varieties of foods available today. Because of this, they're able to reference far more flavors in their memory banks and make more cognitive gustatory connections when tasting tobacco. "When I was growing up, there were Corn Flakes, Wheaties and Frosted Flakes," he said. "Now, when you go to the supermarket, both sides of the entire aisle are filled with so many different cereal types and flavors." He makes a good point, and that example extends to everything. There simply weren't any jars of lingonberry jam, mango chutney or Nutella in the supermarkets of post-war America.
At the end of the tour, the Quesadas sent us all off with comely burlap gift bags of smokes, coffee and rum as well as a sneak-peek of the Quesada Reserva Privada, a cigar that has tobacco from a 1997 harvest. Manolo has been stowing away those bales of tobacco for more than a decade and finally brought these aged leaves to fruition. When I say peek, I mean it. None of us got to actually smoke the cigar. He doesn't want anyone to take a single puff until April when the tobacco is officially 18 years old and over the statutory age. The boxes and labels are pretty sharp though, with gilded edges and a holographic "Q." See Andrew Nagy's article for all the details. The only Reserva Privadas I saw were behind a glass case and, of course, I was nosing around for a loose stick. No such luck. I suppose I'll have to wait until April like everyone else to try one, but I imagine it will have notes of lingonberry jam, mango chutney and Nutella.