I berate myself every year for not visiting the Davidoff factory during the ProCigar festival. I've been to their field tour in Jicomé plenty of times, but the factory has always escaped me. Not this time. People may not be aware that the facility is broken up into three sections: Cigars Davidoff, where White Label, Davidoff Nicaragua (aka. Black Label) and Puro D'Oro are made. That's on the top floor. Then there's OK Cigars where they produce brands like Avo Uvezian and Zino. It's on the ground floor. And in an adjacent building is another factory altogether. That's where they make Cusano, Hammer + Sickle, Corazon and other ancillary or third-party brands. All, of course under the watchful eye of Davidoff's master blender and primary operations manager Hendrik "Henke" Kelner.
There is something vaguely ecclesiastical about the top-floor factory of Davidoff. The ceilings are high and vaulted with exposed wooden slats that add warmth despite its hulking steel frame while workers roll attentively. Kelner is still in awe and slightly perplexed over the huge success of Davidoff Nicaragua. Since the first production run, Davidoff has had to more than double the amount of rollers making this new Nicaraguan puro. Kelner has taken many rollers off White duty and put them on Black. He thinks that the production craze will eventually level off, but so far, the demand has shown no sign of slowing. I took a robusto off one of the rolling tables and lit up. Then I wandered over to a sorting table and swiped a beautifully made figurado. It's slated to be some 2014 limited-edition release.
Before I could grab anything else, Henke ushered me to his office to smoke some small cigars made solely of Dominican piloto Cubano tobacco. This tobacco, as many of you know, is the pillar of Davidoff's White Label production and the defining taste of most Davidoff cigars. We smoked the little puros together and he explained what he is looking for in terms of palate stimulation whenever he considers the quality of the piloto. Sweet. Tip of the tongue. Linear. A core flavor from which to blend around. Davidoff has changed its motto, by the way. What used to be "The Good Life" is now "Time Beautifully Spent."
And speaking of spending time beautifully, that night I made it to the marble steps of the Los Heroes de la Restauración hilltop monument in the center of Santiago for the festival's annual White Party. Rather than roving cigar girls bogged down with heavy vending trays strapped to their necks, each attendee was handed a box of 10 smokes. Great idea! This way, everybody gets to try each cigar without having to hunt them down. I know that some people find the cigar girl concept to be elegant and nostalgic, plus it allows for your inner glutton to come out and grab cigars by the fistful every time one of these scantily clad young ladies passes by. But there's something about the strap-and-tray cigar girls that I've always found unsettling. I suppose in theory it's no different than someone going around with a tray of appetizers or drinks. Maybe it's the fact that the cigars are so close to their bodies and there's a simulated groping action every time you reach for one. Perhaps it's the big leather strap. No matter. I lit up a Guillermo León Lancero and tried to sit away from the speakers. I get it that people like to dance and hear music, and I don't begrudge them that, but sometimes the music gets to the point where you can't have a conversation during dinner without shouting and even then, you need a bullhorn.
There was a great coffee bar set up with a barista who ground and tamped Dominican coffee before pulling it from an Astoria espresso machine. I drank more coffee than I did rum that night and it was great reconnecting with so many people from the industry. If you'll allow me to name-drop: Guillermo León and Manuel Inoa from La Aurora, Luis Falto of Falto cigars, Jochi Blanco of Tabacalera La Palma, Rafael Nodal who owns the Aging Room brand and Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, whose factory I unfortunately was not able to see. In fact, there were a few factories I didn't get to see on this trip. These are the sad realities of time constraints and I'm always concerned that people take it personally. Actually, I know that some of them do.
After dinner I found myself in the absurd position of not having a cigar. Oddly, I misplaced the box they handed me at the beginning of the evening, and by the end of the night, every cigarmaker I desperately accosted for a spare smoke had already given out all their loose sticks. I was in a bit of a panic. There were some great smokes in there! A Fuente Hemingway, a La Flor Dominicana Air Bender, a Partagas cigar dedicated to Benji Menendez, a Romeo by Romeo y Julieta, not to mention sneak previews of the Quesada 40th and the Davidoff Art Edition. Gone. All gone. Where's a cigar girl when you need one?