ProCigar Festival 2019: Behind the Tobacco
I am still wheeling from visiting Santiago for ProCigar; so inspired and so happy about the insight I've gotten on tobacco farming. Not to mention starring into the greenest pastures I've ever seen.
ProCigar is a real-life opportunity to have one-on-one dialogues with the industry’s biggest cigar makers all the while smoking their cigars, drinking the best of dominican coffee and fraternizing with the #botl and #sotl community.
What you're truly getting is an unforgettable experience highlighting every last one of the reasons for smoking what you're smoking and why. There are cigars you fancy over others, ones that blow better smoke and ash that won't fall in your lap as easily; attending procigar and this country's factories teach you the process behind why these experiences happen.
You get to choose from many factory's, one per day over a span of three days (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday), and then attend a really nice dinner.
Attending ProCigar teaches you the difference in curing tobacco, whether in a barn or wrapped in palm leaves. You learn how to identify profile strengths and whether brands freeze tobacco to rid it of bugs and the last bit of ammonia or opt for the natural route.
It's unique and overwhelming but when you're complimented by boxes and boxes of cigars gifted to you with every event you attend, it makes the long days of constant puffing and sipping worth the late night soiree's and super early mornings.
Let's get into my tour schedule...
De Los Reyes Cigars
Five and six generations later, this tobacco company, once ran by former architect Augusto Reyes look to his children to carry on family tradition embodying "Doing things with passion and love."
De Los Reyes factory is behind its own Saga brand as well as Debonaire, Patoro and others. Augusto Reyes runs the Swisher Dominicana factory, which produces over a billion Swisher cigars per year. His daughter, Nirka, runs the De Los Reyes factory; his brother Leo is a renowned tobacco grower; and his wife is Mónika Kelner, daughter of Henke Kelner of Davidoff, is a tobacco farmer herself.
I was most excited to be here because the daughter of Augusto Reyes is Nirka Reyes; she embodies grace, kindness and patience rarely seen in this time. Her peace proceeds her and I knew she'd be the fabric holstering family tradition in ways that will live on forever; quite frankly, everything about her is infectious.
"U have to let the tobacco work to create magic. U can’t control Mother Nature." - Nirka Reyes
Patoro Cigar, Grand Anejo Reserva lancero; Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper complimented with Dominican binder and filler.
Full disclosure - I am not the biggest Connecticut wrapper fan. To be honest, 9/10 times, I'll pass on the stick no matter the experience (We're speaking up at this age, are we not?), however, my ears sprang up when the Patoro was introduced as an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper. Connecticut wrappers produced in the United States are thinner, a more elastic leaf that cures to a lighter, even color. Grown in direct sunlight. This Connecticut is grown in Ecuador, thicker by nature and darker in color, silky in appearance, oily to the touch, and a slight step up in flavor and strength. ... OK! Don't mind if I do.
The thing about smoking cigars is, THERE ARE SO MANY and most of them deserve a chance while developing your tasting profile. So here goes...
Did you know?
October is tobacco planting season
Flowers grow on top of Tobacco; castrating the plant allows for the plant to grow 100-200 times more and the nicotine rises.
De Los Reyes uses a natural way to attract bugs and keep them away from the plants: Tomato drip
You want to smoke De Los Reyes at 69% humidity
Sometimes the strength of a cigar you're accustomed too is strong because it isn't well aged
Cigars come to the aging room to work; work with humidity and to make perfect blends
I'll let you in on a little secret: before my second factory tour, I had never smoke Davidoff!
::Holster your guns people::
Between tobacco regulations and tax in California (Someone help meee), the cost of Davidoff is through the roof; I was willing to wait a whole 10 months until someone asked me what I wanted for my birthday to get my hands on one of these babies (December 2nd if anyone has gifting in their spirit...).
Having the reputation of being thee premium tobacco king comes at a price. Davidoff is known to have one of the most stringent quality control checks in the land; with cigars made of 7-9 tobaccos with aging between 10-14 years, we'd say it was worth every squeeze test resulting in a less than 1% cigar rejection rate every day.
A company managing 5 years worth of inventory allows them to maintain consistency in their blend, therefore allowing Davidoff to be be one step above and beyond.
“Piloto tobacco will make a straight line of flavor down your tongue right to the bitter area,” instructs Kelner. “Olor tobacco will give you a sweet sensation. San Vicente—acid region in the back.”
With 450+ cigars made daily, all ranging from the top tobacco's, Piloto, San Vicente and Olor; Davidoff believes the secret isn't the formula but the blend.
Davidoff has taken seven of its staple blends and replaced the wrapper on each of the blends with its proprietary Ecuadorian 702 hybrid wrapper. The 702 wrapper is the product of a hybrid of three Cuban (Habano) seeds. The tobacco for the 702 wrapper is grown exclusively for Davidoff at the San Juan Finca outside of the province of Cotopaxi in Ecuador.
Did you know?
Up Until 1991, 50 ring gauge was the largest gauge to date
Salt stimulation enhances flavor
Tobacco has the ability to absorb aroma; keeping the cellophane wrappers on cigars helps with tasting transference.
Women have been known to be more gentle with the leave and have better eye sight for jobs such as, color sorting and deveining leaves.
Cigar rollers have to be ambidextrous
Bundle cigars are the kidneys of tobacco; tobacco used to get rid of inventory (private stock cigars).
There is a supervisor per 20 rollers
7% more cigar breakage happens when cellophane is removed from cigar
Takes 5 years to make a Davidoff cigar
Maduro is not a term of strength but a term of color
La Flor Dominicana
Different from every other tour, we were greeted with a small 2-horse show and mimosas on the tobacco farm purchase by the Gomez family in 1997; such a warm welcome for this Kentucky girl. In addition, you get scenic farm views and pastries to knock off the formality and nerves that accompany tobacco tours. Especially if you don't know anyone. Well done...
Originally a jeweler by trade, Litto Gomez, Sr. started this dream with a little more than three years of experience in the cigar industry. Growing your own tobacco is one of the biggest moves you can make for a cigar company, they often fail. One of the only other companies to ever succeed in this endeavor was Fuente, with the creation of the legendary "Opus X." But Fuente had nearly a century of experience growing and working with tobacco.
We own our own land so if anything goes wrong with our cigars it’s my fault (laughter) - Litto, Sr.
Currently farming 70% of their own tobacco, they've mastered the wave development of colors each crop must transition to and from; LFD believes in curing their tobacco in barns rotating crop from the bottom to the top, creating the most perfect cinnamon brown color. And I do mean perfect.
LFD Reserva Especial. Ecuadorian Connecticut seed wrapper that surrounds Dominican Piloto Cubano long filler and a rich-tasting Nicaraguan binder.
Did you know?
70% of LFD tobacco grown from this farm
It takes 45 days to get tobacco leaves a cinnamon brown color
LFD produces 5 1/2 million cigars a year; considered a boutique cigar company
The Salomon Unico cigar is made by whom they call the "Miyagi of cigar artwork"; he is the only person responsible and no two cigars are the same
LFD started in a building formally a night club, with 9 cigar rollers. They continue to play music to inspire a creative work environment
The filler, binder, and wrapper take 21 days (separately) for the humidity to balance out
Open toe shoes are recommended. At this time of year, a surprise light rain may happen; walking in-between the crop will most definitely have you ankle-deep in soil.
It's ok to ask questions. Most people giving the tours have worked in tobacco most their lives, so they talk fast and efficiently - all while walking.
If chocolate crosses your path, eat it. It'll be worth it. Specifically Garoto Serenato de Amor
Eat at Saga; a restaurant curated by Augusto Reyes of De Los Reyes factory. Reccommendation - Ensalada Salad, Churrasco Angus and any white wine.
If you're out in the city, try to get your hands on Mofongo. It's a local dish
Do you enjoy pork rhines? Then you'll LOVE Chicharrón
Learn to handroll a cigar. Such a liberating experience!
Smoke a cigar slowly and alone. Take your time. Enjoy its culture.
Drink.The. Rum. Brugal, Extra Viejo is my 2nd favorite. If you can get your hands on 110 Aniversario La Auroa premium rum, made by the first Dominican cigar factory established in 1903
Last, I stayed at a hostel called Whostal; a backpackers guesthouse. If you're going alone or your friends wanna spend their savings on housing luggage, stay here. 6 day stay out me $200. I had my own room full of light, it was clean, safe and it had a wonderful common area where you can play games, watch TV and cook if need be. The front desk concierge speak english very well and your room has a lock. Honestly, it was better than the dorm room I lived in, in college. Hostel's get a bad wrap but this was more like a bed and breakfast, just without the breakfast. P.s. the photos are as impressive as the space