There’s a time of year in the Dominican Republic where every major cigar manufacturer unlocks their factory doors and offers access to a mysterious process that’s normally quite guarded and historically secretive: the making of handmade cigars.
Now in its 12th year, the ProCigar Festival has been enticing cigar fans from all over the world to come to the Dominican Republic and immerse themselves for a few days in Dominican cigar culture. The setup is quite simple: cigar factory tours and tobacco field trips by day; gala dinners by night; and more cigars than you can carry. ProCigar has always been quite generous in this respect, as every event is flush with cigars—loose sticks to smoke during a tour as well as sampler boxes to take home.
This year’s festival, which began on February 17 and concluded on February 22, was the most well attended in ProCigar’s history. According to the organization, more than 450 guests from more than 20 countries came to the festival. This number represents international guests only, and does not take into account the many local industry people who attend the gala dinners every evening. When industry members are counted, the number nearly reaches the thousands.
“This year was the most crowded ProCigar of all,” says Sara Tio, one of ProCigar’s key organizers. “It takes all year to organize and the work is madness. There were 450 international attendees and every night, we host around 900 people.”
“It’s really unbelievable the amount of people this year,” says Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, who owns Tabacalera La Alianza. He offered two factory tours during this festival, guiding people from the rolling tables to the aging rooms.
Perez-Carrilllo’s factory was particularly popular this year as the E.P. Carrillo Encore Majestic was named Cigar of the Year by Cigar Aficionado. Curious connoisseurs were anxious to see how the 2018 Cigar of the Year was made, and, more importantly, smoke some, especially if they came from a country where Encore cigars aren’t available.
Walter Saes, who lives in Brazil, normally attends the Habanos Festival in Cuba—he was even named the 2015 Habano sommelier—but this year, he opted to come to ProCigar instead. “It’s often about the Cuban cigar,” he says, “but more and more we’re seeing cigars from other countries, and I think there are cigars of great quality coming from the Dominican Republic.”
The ProCigar Festival began in the eastern Dominican, in the town of La Romana, at the Casa de Campo resort and revolved around a tour of Tabacalera de Garcia, the largest factory in the Dominican Republic. It produces 33 million handmade cigars a year, including Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta and H. Upmann. Owned by Altadis U.S.A., Tabacalera de Garcia celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
The second part of the Festival took place in Santiago, located a four-hour bus ride to the west, in the north-central portion of the country. Santiago is the country’s epicenter of cigar manufacturing. Here, festival goers have the chance to choose their own itineraries. Many companies offer both a farm and factory tour in one trip. De Los Reyes, La Flor Dominicana and Tabacalera Palma, for example, start their tours in their respective tobacco fields and finish up in the factory.
Other companies like Altadis U.S.A., Davidoff and General Cigar split up tours, offering a factory tour one day and a farm tour on another. Cigarmakers like Arturo Fuente and Quesada cigars offered trips to tobacco farms, while La Aurora and PDR Cigars and kept their tours to their factories.
The Festival concluded as it always does: with a cigar and humidor auction at the Centro Español. The auction featured one-of-a-kind humidors and raised $175,000 for two nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping sick children and low-income elders of the Dominican Republic.