There is no bigger, more inclusive celebration of Dominican cigars and culture than the annual ProCigar Festival. Started in 2008, the Festival is a cigar-centric week in February when the Dominican Republic’s major cigar manufacturers open up their factories, show off their tobacco fields and offer advanced previews of upcoming cigar releases. To say that cigars are abundant is an understatement. Outside of the comprehensive cigar packages presented to each guest on arrival, smokes are perpetually passed around at each event. The days start with tobacco tours and end with gala dinners. As Europe and the United States become more restrictive with their smoking laws, this festival is a haven for passionate cigar enthusiasts around the world.
The first leg of the tour started in La Romana at the Casa de Campo resort. It’s a lushly florid vacation community on the south shore of the Dominican Republic and exists as its own gated enclave. Not everyone opts for this portion of the Festival. It’s less regimented and not as cigar heavy as the main event (not to mention more expensive). But those who do are treated to the white sands and sapphire shores of Minitas Beach or Saona Island, as well as golf at the Teeth of the Dog, one of the most celebrated courses in the world. Evenings ended with cigar dinners on the water hosted by Altadis U.S.A., which had strong representation during this part of the festival. The last day in La Romana concluded with a tour of the Tabacalera de Garcia factory, a massive operation that produces brands such as Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo and H. Upmann.
ProCigar’s second leg continued four hours north in the mountainous region of Santiago. It’s the heart of cigar country and the focal point of the festival. This is a much larger attraction to the global cigar community and gives guests special access to the world of cigar production. General Cigar, La Aurora, Davidoff, Quesada Cigars (formerly known as MATASA) and Corporación Cigar Export all showcased their facilities, from rolling galleries and aging rooms to tutorials on tobacco.
This year, ProCigar added two tours to the agenda: Tabacalera La Alianza, maker of the E.P. Carrillo and Four Kicks brands, and La Flor Dominicana, maker of the broad range of La Flor Dominicana brands. Although both were inducted into the organization last year, this was the first time they offered an official tour under the umbrella of ProCigar. Also new to ProCigar, Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia., who rejoined ProCigar the year before last, held an event at its Cigar Family Charitable Foundation, an organization that Carlos Fuente Jr. spearheaded for the benefit of underprivileged communities in the Dominican Republic.
The ProCigar organization still asserts that the Dominican Republic remains the “No. 1 exporter of premium cigars in the world,” and points to Santiago’s infrastructure and dense concentration of industry operations.
“In the year of 2013, exports of Dominican cigars were up 3 to 4 percent,” said Oettinger-Davidoff CEO and ProCigar member Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard at the press conference. “Though countries like Spain and Italy saw decreasing numbers, northern European countries held steady.”
Hoejsgaard mentioned the importance of Asia as a market for potential growth. “After wine and watches, cigars are the main luxury product that Asians purchase. Last year, 100 million Chinese traveled and America is where they get their exposure to Dominican cigars. The United States is an important showcase for the Chinese market.”
After several gala dinners, the festival concluded at the Centro Español with a formal evening of cigars, dinner, dancing and a charity auction of specialty humidors that raised over $80,000. This year, José “Jochi” Blanco, owner of Tabacalera La Palma, officially joined ProCigar. In addition to Altadis U.S.A., General Cigar, La Aurora, Quesada Cigars and Oettinger-Davidoff, ProCigar also counts Corporación Cigar Export, maker of Augusto Reyes cigars, Tabaquisa S.A., maker of Juan Clemente, Arturo Fuente y Cia., as well as Tabacalera La Alianza and La Flor Dominicana.