On April 28 I began what would be my second Drew Estate Cigar Safari. This time was a little different than the last time, as this was a trip composed entirely of the media, bloggers and print media. I was fortunate to have already known all but 2 of my fellow Safarians, and it didn’t take long to get to know them. Present on this trip were Will of Cigar-Coop.com, Stace of LeafandGrape.com, Tony of CasasFumando.com, Brian and Ben from StogieReview.com, Jay and Dan from Cigar Press Magazine and Steve from Tobacconist Magazine and myself. After an uneventful couple of plane rides, we landed in Managua and got through immigration without issue. Pedro was, of course, waiting for us with the bus to take us on our journey. Because this was a media trip, we skipped the sightseeing portion usually present on the Cigar Safari, and, after a delicious lunch, headed to Esteli. Sunday evening was pretty laid back and after dinner we just kind of sat around socializing over cigars.
Monday we arose bright and early to an excellent breakfast, then loaded onto the bus to visit the Oliva Tobacco Company‘s farm in Esteli, Finca La Joya. This late in the season most of the crop has already been harvested, but there were still some crops coming in and being hung in the massive curing barns. It’s here where one really starts to appreciate all the steps that go into making a premium cigar. On the farm the plants are raised from a seed, tended, weeded and thinned out, then planted in the field, then tended, weeded and thinned out. After several months they start methodically taking the leaves from the bottom of the plant, and hanging them in the barns. But they aren’t just randomly hung, they are paired and hung over sticks back to back and handled in such a way as to prevent damage and promote even coloration. The conditions in the barn are carefully monitored, the floor is soaked with water if it gets too dry, and charcoal is burned if it gets too humid. This is all just the first leg in the journey the tobacco takes on it’s way to becoming a cigar that we will spend an hour or so enjoying.
Fast forward about 6 months from when that tiny little seed is planted, and the tobacco is sorted for texture and size. They make bundles of leaves called “hands” and build very well organized piles called “pilons”. These pilons weigh about 5000 pounds and are closely monitored for temperature. When they reach a certain temperature for a certain amount of time they are taken apart and rearranged so the hands in the middle are on the outside, the top on the bottom and so forth. This takes a great deal of manpower and enough room to move 5000 pounds of tobacco around. This can be done several times over a course of months before the tobacco has properly fermented. I took a bunch of pictures while there, here’s the slideshow for your viewing pleasure. I’ll try to get some captions in there at some point, but please ask any questions you may have in the comments.
When the leaves are done doing their thing in the pilons, they are sorted once again for size, texture and color and compressed into more manageable bales which will be stored, typically by whomever purchased the tobacco, for several years. The tobacco continues to rest in these bales until it’s time to make cigars, at which time it’s sorted again. a few hundred hands have already touched each leaf and it’s not even close to being a cigar yet. There’s no way I can cover every aspect of the process, so these have just been the highpoints. It definitely illustrates the care and expense that goes into a bundle of leaves to which we set fire!!
Here’s a little video with Steve Saka and Nicholas Melillo of Drew Estate discussing some ways that conditions are maintained in a curing barn.
It’s at this point that we broke for lunch, and it’s a logical stopping point for today. Next time we will visit one of my favorite places, the Joya de Nicaragua factory. It’s a beautiful Sunday here in PA and I intend to make the best of it before having to go back to the office tomorrow after a week off.
Until the next time,