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ProCigar Holds 11th Festival In Dominican Republic

ProCigar Holds 11th Festival In Dominican Republic
Photo/David Yellen
Litto Gomez, owner of La Flor Dominicana cigars, leads a tour through his tobacco warehouse.
Hundreds of enthusiasts take over Santiago to celebrate Dominican cigars

Though constantly jammed with local traffic, the city of Santiago in the Dominican Republic doesn’t normally get the same influx of tourists that one might see out on the coast or even in the capital city. But, for the past 11 years, there’s been one week where the restaurants are full, the hotels are completely booked and the limits of Santiago’s hospitality industry are truly tested. That week is the ProCigar Festival, which concluded last Friday.

And it is indeed a festival in every sense of the word—a smoky celebration of Dominican cigars, tobacco culture and the industry as a whole. It’s a series of day-and-night events filled with tobacco field trips, factory tours, dinners and late-night dancing. And you certainly get more cigars than you do sleep.

Formed in 1992, ProCigar is an organization committed to preserving the quality, standards and international reputation of Dominican cigars. Every major Dominican manufacturer of premium cigars is part of ProCigar. This year, ProCigar welcomed more than 800 guests from around the world, mostly retailers and consumers, all seeking a tobacco and cigar education, and all fans of the Dominican Republic’s most important product.

The dinners, which many consider the highlight of the festival, are held at a different location each evening, but one thing remains the same: cigars. Lots and lots of cigars. There seems to be no instance during the festival where someone isn’t handing out a cigar. Every tour, excursion and dinner is flush with smokes. This is in addition to the gift bag received upon registration, which is also loaded with cigars.

But before Santiago was abuzz with the festival, ProCigar started its first leg on February 18 in the resort community of Casa de Campo at La Romana. This part of the tour is a little more laid back, giving attendees the option of golf at Teeth of the Dog, lounging on the beach or taking a leisurely boat cruise and cigar seminar on the Chavon River, which was hosted by Altadis U.S.A., maker of the Dominican Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo and H. Upmann brands in La Romana.

The next morning, Altadis gave a walking tour of its Tabacalera de Garcia factory, perhaps the largest premium cigar factory in the world.

After lunch, the festival was bussed across the country to Santiago—the cigar capital of the Dominican Republic—for a cocktail reception at the Gran Almirante hotel. Nearly every ProCigar brand owner shows up at this poolside cocktail event, giving the guests one-on-one face time in a very convivial atmosphere. This was the official start of the second leg of ProCigar, but it also sets the tone for the festival’s most important and defining traits—the warm, open friendliness of every cigar manufacturer.

ProCigar attendees tour La Flor Dominicana's shade-grown tobacco.
Photo/Barry Abrams
ProCigar attendees tour La Flor Dominicana's shade-grown tobacco.

As educational and regimented as the festival can sometimes be, the entire program is executed in a casual, leisurely way. Small tours break up early in the morning to visit the farms and factories of different companies and then reconvene at night for dinner.

The factory tours, however, are where the consumers get the most interaction with cigarmakers. They explain things in detail, they answer everyone’s questions, and they demystify the somewhat complex manufacturing process.

Tours were given by La Flor Dominicana, De Los Reyes, Davidoff, General Cigar and Altadis.

More touring options included Tabacalera Palma, makers of Aging Room and La Galera cigars; PDR Cigars; La Alianza, makers of E.P. Carrillo, La Aurora, the country’s oldest cigar factory; and Chateau de la Fuente, the tobacco field in Bonao that grows wrapper leaf for Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars.

Each night ended with a grand dinner. Whether it was the traditional pig roast at the gardens of the Gran Teatro Cibao or the White Party at Santiago’s Monument a los Héroes de la Restauración, everyone was handed a box of cigars as they walked in.

Amidst all the cigars and festivities, there was a growing concern about the weather in Santiago. This year has been an extremely rainy season so far—some said the rain has fallen just about every day, and rain fell on and off during the days this reporter was in Santiago last week. Too much rain can be detrimental to tobacco crops, causing roots and stalks to rot, as well as rendering tobacco milder, devoid of flavor or aroma. The rain is only affecting areas close to Santiago. Outlying regions like Navarette have not been as affected.

According to ProCigar, the Dominican Republic exports 210 million cigars per year (most of them for the United States), accounting for 42 percent of global premium cigar exports. This delivers more than 120,000 jobs for the country, as well as $600 million in revenue.

ProCigar also announced Royal Agio as the newest member of its organization. And while Quesada Cigars is still part of ProCigar, it was one of the few factories not open for a tour—the first time in the festival’s history.

As with every year, the festival ended at the Centro Español with a night of dinner, dancing, more cigars and a charity auction of special humidors donated by the industry. The auction’s 15 lots raised $135,000 for the Voluntariado de Jesús con los Niños and Hospicio San Vicente de Paúl, nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping children and impoverished elders.