You'd never know it by looking at the bone-dry, rock-solid dirt roads on Litto Gomez's La Canela tobacco farm, but those roads were mud a few months ago. The first part of the planting season rained in the Dominican Republic like a gloomy sign of the apocalypse and most growers had to throw out their crops and start over, including Litto. That was until December. Then things dried out in the Dominican Republic and tobacco farmers were able to get some more-than-decent crops out of the ground.
I was at La Canela yesterday where Gomez grows a lot of beautiful Criollo '98 tobacco for his La Flor Dominicana brands. Now that the rains have stopped, the once loose and muddy roads around the farm are packed as hard as pavement. Dried tractor marks seem to be fossilized forever into the ground, imprinted and baked in. It gives the dirt roads a kind of sculpted, cobblestone effect. Pity how a rain or two will wash all that way.
Right now, nobody wants to hear the word "rain." In this late planting season, Litto's trying to get as much wrapper as he can, some tobacco grown under shade, most sungrown, and it's not all Criollo '98 either. There's even some Havana 2000 Gomez is experimenting with. This year is the first time he's trying it. Havana 2000 got a really bad name during the cigar boom. It was rushed to market and didn't burn. As a result, its reputation was ruined for a while. Then once it was understood that Havana 2000 needed more fermentation time, cigarmakers started using it again.
After the farm, we headed to the factory. Waiting for us on the patio was an outdoor lunch of grilled meats and paella, a tribute, Gomez, said, to his Spanish and Uruguayan heritage. Then, we walked around the factory. I was a bit sluggish from the day in the hot fields and the leisurely lunch, but I found the rollers who make the Andalusian Bull—you know, the cigar nobody can get thanks to us naming it No. 1 for 2016. I considered swiping one off the table. For all you angry retailers and impatient cigar fans who can't get the cigar, you should know that La Flor Dominicana is indeed rolling them. Slowly, but methodically. Eventually, they'll come.
After the tour, I headed to the ProCigar press conference where I got the yearly state of the industry. In summary, Manolo Quesada said that this was the rainiest growing season he had ever seen, but now that it's over, the crops are great; Hendrick Kelner reminded us that Dominican tobacco was pre-Columbian and the Dominican Republic is still the largest exporter of cigars; and Litto Gomez ranted about the FDA. Who could blame him?
The swag bag was pretty cool this year, too. It's a gym-like duffel bag packed with 10 cigars and all sorts of other gear (lighter, Xikar cutter, Stinky ashtray, shirt, hat, etc.). Everything is marked with the 10th anniversary logo. This is not ProCigar's 10th anniversary, but the tenth ProCigar Festival. I've been to eight of them.
The end of the day concluded with the usual gala dinner pig roast. As with the last seven festivals, the pig was delicious. And like the last festivals, the music was too loud. I complain about it every year, but my crotchety gripes go ignored. I guess it's just not a party without loud music.
Each guest got a really great sampler box of 12 cigars as they entered the tented gala. One of the cigars in the box was the La Flor Dominicana Andalusian Bull. Let's see, there were about 250 registered guests and each one received one of those sampler boxes. That's 250 cigars which equals 25 boxes of Andalusian Bulls. Looks like the retailers are going to have to wait a little longer. Signing off from the basement of the Camp David Ranch.