In perhaps one of the largest national showings of Dominican pride and cigar solidarity, ProCigar just wrapped up its 10th festival in the Dominican Republic last week and raised over $150,000 with its annual charity auction. According to the organization, the festival hosted around 800 guests from more than 20 countries and asserts that the Dominican Republic is the largest exporter of premium cigars to the United States.
The ProCigar festival is a yearly cultural celebration centered around Dominican cigars and tobacco. It's nearly a week-long period where cigar fans fly from all over the world for unprecedented access to cigar factories and tobacco fields, as well as personal interaction with the star manufacturers of the Dominican cigar world.
The hosts are welcoming and the cigars are plentiful. Each guest upon registration is automatically given a goodie bag valued at $300 retail. The swag includes a box of 12 cigars, a Xikar cutter and a torch-flame lighter. This is in addition to all the cigars provided by each cigarmaker on the company tours, as well as the boxes of cigars given out to every guest at the nightly gala dinners.
The first leg of the festival started on February 19 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana. This part of the program has traditionally had more of a vacation-like, leisurely feel where guests can lounge poolside or on the beach without having to follow a strict schedule. After a tour of Altadis's Tabacalera de Garcia in La Romana, the guests headed to Santiago for the second leg of the festival where they were treated to a meet-and-greet cocktail party at the Gran Almirante hotel.
The next three days were dedicated to a variety of field trips and factory tours. Seeing how every major cigarmaker is now part of the ProCigar organization, guests have the opportunity to really get a comprehensive look at the industry, but in a casual, relaxed way. Giving facility and farm tours were: Davidoff of Geneva, General Cigar, Altadis, La Aurora, La Flor Dominicana, Quesada Cigars, De Los Reyes, PDR Cigars, Tabacalera Palma and Tabacalera La Alianza. 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.
At the official press conference, various members of ProCigar spoke about the state of the industry.
"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 Henke 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."
Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana spoke about the injustices of the new regulations imposed by the Food & Drug Administration and Manuel Quesada of Quesada cigars gave a brief crop report.
"This year, from September to December, we saw lots of rain," Quesada said grimly. "In my 56 years here in this country, I've never seen so much rain in four consecutive months."
Heavy rains during the first part of the growing season destroyed many crops, causing growers to replant for a later season. "We will have a wonderful crop at the end of March and April," Quesada assured.
According to Hamlet Espinal, general manager of Tabadom, global sales of Dominican cigars were flat for 2016. He pointed to increased taxes and more stringent regulations as the cause, especially those in Asia and Europe.
The evenings ended in celebratory dinners where most of the ProCigar members were present. Wednesday's evening gala took place in the gardens of the Gran Teatro del Cibao. That evening saw a preview of new cigars such as the Montecristo Artisan Series, Manuel Quesada 70th Anniversary, La Aurora ADN, General Cigar's GC Blend 1974 and the La Flor Dominicana's hard-to-find Andalusian Bull, Cigar Aficionado's Cigar of the Year for 2016.
Thursday night's White Party was held near the marble steps at the base 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 raised $150,000 for organizations dedicated to helping children and impoverished elders. The 13-lot auction included special humidors from all of ProCigar's biggest players.
In the ten-year history of the ProCigar Festival, the charity auctions have cumulatively raised more than three-quarters of a million dollars.