Eight a.m., Estelí, Nicaragua. I haven’t had breakfast but I’ve already lit my first cigar.
This is how I live when I’m in Nicaragua, home to some of the finest premium cigars on the planet. I’ve been here this week meeting with cigarmakers and tobacco growers who have come together for the first Nicaraguan cigar festival.
If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard of this festival, it’s because it was put together quickly—for this first festival the organizers decided to go with a list of invited guests rather than getting the word out to the public to see how things went. (Estelí is a tobacco and cigar town—not a big metropolis like Santiago, Dominican Republic or a tourist mecca like Havana. Hotels and restaurants are limited.) Many of the local cigar companies were here and even some tobacco executives from the Dominican Republic and elsewhere.
“This is my dream,” said Alejandro Martinez-Cuenca, owner of the Joya de Nicaragua brand and one of the festival organizers, as he stood by a selection of cigars made by the member Nicaraguan companies at the opening cocktail reception in Managua on Wednesday night. “We have come to Nicaragua together in an unprecedented manner. To put the face on what Nicaraguan tobacco really means for the international market.”
The festival featured speeches by local government officials, Martinez-Cuenca and Nestor Plasencia Jr., as well as a speech by Cigar Aficionado executive editor Gordon Mott. (Gordon will blog about being in Nicaragua soon.) It also brought visitors into the country’s amazing cigar factories and some tobacco fields, although it’s very early in the planting season here and most tobacco is still in seedbeds or very short, not even as tall as your knee.
I’ve spent the time alternating between the festival and meeting with cigarmakers on my own. I visited the sprawling and huge Drew Estate factory, decorated with a mural some 50 feet high, where Acids and Liga Privadas are made; walked with Pepin Garcia and his family through the polished and new My Father Cigars factory, where he makes all kinds of great cigars; toured the boutique factory where Rocky Patel’s new 1961 cigar is being made and the bigger factory where he is making Patel Brothers; and I’ve spent time with Jorge and Jose Orlando Padrón, listening to amazing stories of the company’s 45 year history. I’ll blog much more about my findings in the near future.
I’ve smoked amazing cigars this week, and lots of them. Nicaraguan tobacco is simply brilliant, and the cigars made here are among the highest scoring in Cigar Aficionado magazine. I can promise you that I’ll smoke a lot more of them before this trip is through.