A road cuts through A.J. Fernandez's picturesque San Ramón farm in Estelí, Nicaragua.
Like many factories in Nicaragua, A.J. Fernandez’s rolling gallery is at full capacity. The boom caused by the pandemic has forced major manufacturers to increase production and bolster the workforce. But Fernandez has always had his sights set on acquiring more land and developing farms. Even now, with land in Estelí at a premium, Fernandez continues to expand and today is more self-reliant than ever, growing most of his own filler and binder tobacco.
His fields and factories were open for the Puro Sabor festival, and we took a look at his operation. Fernandez says he produced 40 million cigars last year, all of them made by hand. He is responsible for several high-scoring brands, many of which have appeared on Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 list, most recently, the New World Dorado Robusto, which is made with tobacco grown on his Dorado farm. Dorado is a plot of land in Estelí that is the most personal to him, as he believes nutrient runoff from the mountainside gives the tobacco here exceptional personality. We visited that farm and a few others here on the walking tour.
The A.J. Fernandez factory in Estelí is a bustling place with 200 pairs of rollers. This worker in the center aisle puts his whole body into tightening the crank of a mold press.
Cigars pile up on the table of this roller, who works not only quickly, but efficiently.
A buncher puts together a selection of filler and binder before placing the tobacco bunch in a mold. After the bunch has taken shape, the roller will then apply the wrapper. At this factory, bunchers and rollers work in pairs.
The glue has yet to dry on the feet of these dark perfectos. Cigar glue, referred to as gomma, is a vegetable-based adhesive.
Bands and ribbons are carefully applied to these New World Oscuro Robustos. They will then be placed into cellophane sleeves and boxed.
The La Lilia farm in Estelí produces shade-grown wrapper. The tenting, or tapado, filters the sun’s rays to keep the leaf pristine.
Tobacco hugs the winding road at the 45-acre San Ramón farm, which grows primarily Criollo ’98 tobacco for filler and binder.
In the tobacco nursery of the San Lotano farm in Estelí, A.J. Fernandez holds up a seedling. All tobacco plants start off in the greenhouse before each one is carefully planted in the fields.
The Dorado farm is very personal to Fernandez, as he believes it produces exceptionally unique tobacco on account of the mountain runoff. This tobacco will be used for his high-scoring, New World Dorado brand.