We awoke to another beautiful Santiago morning. Breakfast again at the hotel (another ham and cheese omelet with plenty of fresh fruit, bacon and black coffee). Today we would visit the long filler processing areas, the rolling galleries and the farm. I have been remiss, I have failed to list my fellow attendees. They were (alphabetically, as nature intended): Anthony of CigarBrief, Barry of ACigarSmoker, Ben of NiceTightAsh, Dan of CigarExplorer, Doc of StogieFresh, David of TikiBarOnline, Justin of AshReport, Patrick of StogieGuys, Patrick Lagreid of Examiner, Skip of HavaCigarShop, Stephen of TheCigarNetwork, Tony of 365Cigars, Tony of CasasFumando & Bryan of Cigarobsession. It was a great pleasure to have been able to spend time with each of these gentlemen, and was as important to the experience as the experience itself.
We loaded up the bus and headed to visit the long filler processing facility near by. We were greeted by Francisco “Don Quico” Hernandez, the Director of Tobacco Growing and Long Filler Processing. Here were got an introduction to the tobacco plant, planting, growing, harvesting…passed around some more leaves and fumas to experience the difference between leaves from various places on the plant. This is also where I learned that Seco in the DR, is Viso in Nicaragua, a piece of information I could have used at the blending session (seriously, it probably wouldn’t have mattered…). Seco is the leaf that is largely responsible for nice rich flavor, in Nicaragua, Seco is the leaf that is largely responsible for combustion, which they call Volado in the DR. Ligero is still Ligero and is very strong when smoked by itself early in the morning! I’ve meandered….
Our next stop was to the de-stemming operations. We had seen the previous day how they had machines de-stemming wrapper leaves. This is apparently more precise and results in less waste with the expensive wrappers, but the process for the long filler is done manually. Seemingly hundreds of women were working with piles and piles of leaves. Again, I am struck with the sheer scope of the operation. Stripping the stem out of the leaves leads to further sorting and stacking and flattering. We saw them working with leaves from 2003, which, once again, gives some idea of the planning and inventory that is involved in the cigar making process. Stack after stack of long filler leaves from the 203 crop in various stages of processing. It was quite the sight to see. At the end of the process the leaves are separated and sorted again and packed in boxes to be taken to the factory for rolling. Once again, everything is meticulously documented at every stage.
Back at the factory, Franciso Rodriguez, the General Manager, took us for a tour of the manufacturing floor. There we saw where a gentleman (who has worked there for 30 years or so, this is not uncommon) made up the boxes of leaves for each specific blend. He weighs out enough leaves for the production run, and places them in segmented boxes, three or four different leaves in the correct proportions. These boxes then go to the rolling team, in some cases there’s one buncher working with two rollers, and in other cases they use a two person team. The Lieberman machine makes the three person team possible, a buncher can easily keep up with the two rollers with the assistance of the machine (it’s less mechanical than it sounds, as we will find out first hand on day 3!) Again, the scope is amazing as there are seemingly hundreds of people making cigars here. We also see the “Drawmaster” draw testing machines, where every bunch is checked. There are also additional quality control checks along the way, weighing, and machines that test using pressure to make sure the cigar is properly constructed. It’s no wonder that the “dud” rate is so low among Macanudo, Partagas, etc. We also saw some of the small cigar manufacture, where machined were cranking our Macanudo Ascots and similar little cigars by the thousands, as well as some machine made larger cigars. I got a little sentimental when I saw them making the very first cigars I bought by the box, TinderBox Private Stock, which I got to hand out when my son, Corey, was born over 22 years ago!
Next on the agenda was a trip to Mao, where the tobacco plantations are located. This is 480 acres of tobacco fields. Since it’s early in the growing season, we witnessed seeds being planted, the trays being put in huge greenhouses where they are carefully tended and watered. Again, fastidious records are kept on every aspect of the young cigar tree’s life. Eventually, the strongest seedlings are taken to the fields and planted in perfect rows. Sometime over the next 3 or 4 months these tiny plants will be 5 or 6 feet tall and they will start harvesting. We met up again with Don Quico, who clearly loves these fields. Once again, the greatest of care is taken in the planting and tending of what may be cigars we’ll smoke in 2020! An odd thing happened at this point, it was bright and sunny, but it began to rain like crazy! I suppose this is a normal occurrence the tropics, but it’s unusual for me. This was our cue to board the bus and drive a short distance to a large gazebo which the company maintains to entertain groups such as ours. We relaxed in rocking chairs overlooking the valley, enjoying various libations (several top shelf liquors I suppose, I drink Coke straight!), and they even roasted coffee right there. Jhonys Diaz passed around a 3 pack of numbered cigars that he wanted feedback on, so many of us fired them up as we waited for dinner. I usually smoke for the pure enjoyment of it, but in this instance I took some notes as I smoked the cigars. I would have liked to have given the first sample my full attention, as it was the best. I correctly guessed that it had the same wrapper as the Partagas Black, one of the only times on the trip I was right about anything.
Dinner was, once again, sumptuous, and everyone feasted. Dan Carr, President of General Cigar, joined us again and it was nice to be able to sit around talking with him and his executive staff, although we all missed Benji Menendez, Rick Rodriguez and Michael Giannini as they had left earlier. After a very entertaining ride back to the hotel, which will be left to others to relate, or not, we met up again at the pool for cigars, etc. It was a long day filled once again with a TON of information, much more than I was able to relate here. I hung for one last cigar and finally excused myself and retired. Wednesday was coming on quickly, and we had another full day planned, which I’ll save for the next installment.
Until the next time,