I’m in Santiago, Dominican Republic, attending the fifth annual ProCigar Festival. The weather is warm, the cigars are copious and everyone seems to be having a good time.
My first stop was the new MATASA factory, owned by the Quesada family. MATASA has been in Santiago since 1978, in the original Free Trade Zone, but after paying rent for nearly four decades and realizing it could never own a building there, the Quesadas decided to move the entire factory out to the Santiago suburb of Licey, where it had a leaf storage facility. “We had to raise the roof of a 100,000 square foot building,” Manuel Quesada told me as we fired up Quesada España cigars. “We’re still painting and hammering.”
The factory looked great to me—far more spacious and better laid out than the original MATASA factory, which had been expanded time and time again as the company grew over the years. Rollers were working on Fonsecas and Quesadas, and one talented worker wearing a New York Yankees hat and puffing on a fat cigar was rolling the artful Q Detat Molotov, a cigar shaped like a Molotov cocktail.
The factory has been rolling since the last week of January, and the last cigars at the old MATASA were rolled in November. The Quesadas made extra cigars at the end of the year to make up for the lack of production during the move.
Michael Herklots and Bill Sherman of Nat Sherman cigars led a deconstruction tasting of the new Nat Sherman Timeless, which is made by MATASA. The ProCigar group smoked the four filler components (three of them Dominican, one Nicaraguan) to see the differences in the types of tobaccos. All were quite different, despite being grown from the same seed, and that’s due to their placement on a tobacco plant. The Timeless is a tasty smoke. At the conclusion of the test (which turned the small room into a cloudy affair making it hard to see the speakers at the front) Sherman presented the Quesadas with a plaque commemorating the opening of the factory.
At the end of the day it was time to put on my new guayabera (made by Miami’s Guayabera Lady, Berta Bravo) and go to the white dinner, a celebration held at the monument high atop Santiago. I sat with Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard, the CEO of Davidoff, and other members of the Davidoff family, including master blender Henke Kelner, who gave me a delicious cigar made entirely from tobaccos grown on his farm in the remote section of the Dominican Republic known as Yamasa. He has no plans to release it soon, which is a shame—it was a great smoke.
The dinner was festive, and punctuated by a very special occasion—Carlos Fuente Jr. speaking at the podium. As we reported first here on Cigar Aficionado Online, the Fuentes rejoined ProCigar recently, and his appearance here was his first as a returned member to ProCigar. The audience welcomed him with enthusiasm.
The return is fitting, as this year is the 20th for the ProCigar association. Fireworks were launched into the sky to commemorate the occasion as the party continued into the warm, tropical night.