You probably didn't know that the Camp David Ranch in Santiago, the Dominican Republic, has a basement. Unlike the Alamo, it does. I know because I'm staying in it. This is the first official night of ProCigar and I usually stay at Camp David for the beautiful mountaintop views and the nice, airy terraces each room has—except this one, of course. No matter.
I started the evening at Saga, which is cigarmaker Augusto Reyes's restaurant, and, by my experience, one of the finest in all of Santiago. I really enjoyed sitting around the table and hearing some of the masters of the Dominican cigar industry talk shop. One of those guys was Jochy Blanco, tobacco grower and owner of Tabacalera Palma, which makes La Galera and Aging Room cigars as its two flagship brands. He has a new one coming out called La Instructora. Like many cigars, it's been trickled into the market here and there for FDA purposes, but the major thrust should be within the next few weeks. I lit up one of these pigtailed Salomones as Blanco told me about the many different ways you can grow one seed.
For example, he enjoys taking Piloto Cubano and planting it in different areas around the Dominican Republic. This geography alone is enough to give it different characteristics, but the way you grow it can change the tobacco as well. Keeping it dryer and limiting the amount of leaves that grow on the plant can make for stronger tobacco. More leaves can make it less powerful. Criollo '98 and Piloto Cubano are his workhorse tobaccos.
Across the table was Ernesto Perez-Carrillo smoking his E.P. Carrillo Selección Oscuro Piramides Royal, Cigar Aficionado's No. 4 cigar of 2016. He was talking about the FDA and how he hopes Congress really takes time to evaluate FDA's current regulatory stranglehold on the premium cigar industry.
Next to Ernesto was the guy who redesigned his bands. In fact, this is a guy who designs, and redesigns, a lot of bands. His name is Dennis Hernandez and he worked as a marketer and designer for Habanos S.A. for eight years. He helped redesign many of the labels and even came up with the silver-and-black "Reserva" label you see on cigars like the Partagás Serie D No. 4 Reserva. The Gran Reserva label, he says was designed by Nelson Alfonso, another one of Cuba's designers.
Anyway, you can thank Hernandez for the new look of Perez-Carrillo's cigars. Not just the bands, but the boxes as well.
After dinner, I headed over to the Gran Almirante for ProCigar's cocktail kickoff party. Even more of the cigar industry was there. Everyone from Guillermo León of La Aurora to Regis Broersma of General Cigar showed face to welcome the guests of ProCigar. I had a brief talk with Abe Flores of PDR Cigars. He's in the midst of making a really cool AFR-75 humidor that holds some special sizes only available in this packaging. The photos on his phone looked pretty swanky.
The drinks of the evening were, of course, Presidente beer and Brugal Rum—both very popular in the Dominican Republic. The party gets full quickly, and it's held on the pool deck of the hotel. This could be a problem. People are packed all the way to the edge of the pool while waiters try to slink by without knocking anyone in or falling in themselves. I left before anyone had one Brugal too many and ended up plummeting into the water.
Tomorrow starts the days of field and factory tours. Buses leave around 8:30 and disperse all over Santiago depending on the tour. I chose my tours during registration, but always change my mind at the last minute. We'll see where I end up. Signing off from the basement of the Camp David Ranch.