It's like Graceland for fans of Dominican cigars, only with better taste. Or like a Napa Valley of sorts for cigar smokers, only not nearly as expensive. Better yet, the ProCigar festival can be easily described as a Mecca. Field trip by day and party by night, ProCigar is a nearly week-long excursion to the Dominican Republic where cigar fans fly from all over the world for unprecedented access to the buzzing cigar factories and picturesque tobacco fields you only see in cigar ads.
Unlike Graceland, you get to actually meet the people who make your favorite smokes—rock stars for sure in the world of tobacco—and they'll give you more than just an autograph. They'll give you cigars.
In perhaps one of the largest national showings of Dominican pride and cigar solidarity, ProCigar held its 10th festival in the Dominican Republic this year and raised more than $150,000 with a charity auction. According to the ProCigar organization, the festival hosted around 800 people from more than 20 countries.
The festival is broken up into two parts: Punta Cana and Santiago. The former is the less regimented part of the festival, which plays out more like a beach vacation than a cigar tour. There aren't any strict schedules (save for dinner), and it doesn't become particularly educational until the guests are rounded up and bussed over to Altadis's Tabacalera de Garcia in La Romana—the largest cigar factory in the country.
Afterward, attendees drive across the country to Santiago for the festival's second leg. This is where true cigar immersion begins.
Luckily, most of the Dominican Republic's premium cigar industry is localized in Santiago. If planned properly, one can see a tremendous amount in three days, but multiple tours happen simultaneously, so you have to make a choice. That's not always easy. How does one choose between the grandeur of the Davidoff factory or the history of La Aurora? How can one fully enjoy a day with La Flor Dominicana knowing that they're missing time with the Quesada family or vice versa? There's only one tour per day, so the cigar enthusiast might find himself in a difficult position. General Cigar, Tabacalera Palma, PDR Cigars—it's impossible to see them all. Even smaller, quaint factories like De Los Reyes and Tabacalera La Alianza take up an entire morning and afternoon.
Altadis and General were more than happy to show off their lush tobacco plantations to the agri-curious, but you get the most for your money on tours where you see both a farm and factory on the same day.
While Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia. did not offer a factory tour, Fuente did showcase its Chateau de la Fuente tobacco farm along with its Cigar Family Charitable Foundation facilities in Bonao.
Various members of ProCigar spoke about the state of the cigar industry at the press conference on the opening day in Santiago. It's always controversial when someone claims to be No. 1 in any field, and usually disputed. But ProCigar's president Henke Kelner was not at all shy about making this assertion.
"In 2016, the Dominican Republic exported 149 million premium cigars to the United States, making us the world's largest exporter of cigars to the U.S.," said Kelner, president of ProCigar and general manager of Tabadom Holding Inc. "If you count our machine-made cigars, the Dominican Republic is the biggest producer of cigars in the world."
The strong sentiment of Dominican cigar exceptionalism was reaffirmed every night with loud music and lots of cigar smoking. Wednesday's evening dinner took place in the gardens of the Gran Teatro del Cibao. Thursday night's White Party (pictured) was held near the marble steps of Santiago's Monumento a los Héroes de la Restauración and the formal closing ceremony was celebrated at the Centro Español where a charity auction of unique humidors raised $150,000 for the elderly and impoverished citizens of the Dominican Republic.