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Cigar.com Invades Nicaragua
As we made our final approach into Managua, I remembered the last time the Cigar.com team and I were together on a factory trip. Last year the group visited the small town of Danli, Honduras, leaving nothing but ash and smoke rings in our wake. This year our destination was 90 minutes south of Danli in what is arguably the greatest cigar town in the world, Esteli, Nicaragua. Perdomo, Oliva, Plasencia, Don Pepin Garcia, Padron, Toraño and many other famous cigar makers call this quaint city in Nicaragua’s interior home. In fact, it is believed that 80% of Esteli’s population is somehow supported by the cigar industry.
Getting off the plane in the warm weather was a welcome change from the frigid February cold back home. We were greeted by our hosts Kris Katchaturian and renowned master blender A.J. Fernandez. Our previous trips had armed us with a great deal of cigar knowledge, but this visit to Nicaragua would have us getting our hands dirty, working some of the most labor-intensive jobs in the cigar making process, and exposing us fully to the intricacies of producing handmade cigars.
The car’s engine was running when we landed, and we started the long drive to Esteli. Winding through the countryside our motorcade finally reached our destination. By this time, almost all of the team members had already burned through their first few cigars. It was late in the day, but our group was eager to get busy, so we bypassed the hotel and proceeded right to the Tabacalera Fernandez factory.
Walking onto the rolling floor, we were greeted by the sound of banging chavetas, the rollers' way of saying welcome. In most cigar factories, the best rollers are positioned closest to the front. Because of this, our attention was immediately drawn to a torcedor in the first row. AJ immediately started to explain that this was his best roller and the only one in the factory qualified to make the sought-after Sol Cubano Artisan, a barber pole and pinstripe cigar unlike any other in the cigar industry. At 5:30 a loud bell sounded, signaling the end of the day for the factory employees. Tired from our journey, we called it a day and retired back to the hotel.
After breakfast the next morning, AJ pulled up in front of our hotel and rolled down the passenger window, waving his hand and yelling "vámanos, vámanos." AJ explained that we would be spending the morning at one of his five farms, one that was roughly 70 days into the 90-day growing process. After explaining the secrets to his Corojo leaf, he wasted no time putting our team to work as we picked the flowers and small leaves from the stalks. This process is important to ensure the larger leaves intended for cigars received a bulk of the nutrients and hence flavor. From there, we moved on to the curing barn where we helped AJ’s employees string the leaves onto large poles and suspend them in the barn where they would remain for 45 days as they changed from green to yellow and from yellow to brown.
With a tough morning behind us, we had gained a new appreciation for what goes into a premium cigar. We ate lunch and proceeded to the fermentation facility. There we helped the warehouse manager turn pilones of tobacco and de-stem leaves. This is the final process before the tobacco is sent to the factory. With one of the largest inventories of tobacco in Nicaragua, working in AJ’s warehouse was no easy feat. By the day's end we were exhausted.
The next morning we prepared for an exciting day at rolling school. Tabacalera Fernandez is home to one of the most respected rolling schools in Central America, employing some of the region’s finest master rollers to oversee new employees. Although skeptical, some of the local rollers quickly embraced our presence and we learned as much as we could about bunching the filler and putting on the wrapper. Trust me when I tell you it's not as easy as it looks!
The next day we shoved off for our return flight. At the airport, we had a chance to discuss all that we had learned and our consensus was that we were better off sticking to selling cigars and not creating them. The amount of time and patience involved in every step of the process, from the farms to the factory, is overwhelming. It is remarkable that you can still buy cigars for less than $10 when you consider all of the manpower needed to turn a seed into a smoking work of art. Despite each of us having spent years in the cigar industry, I can safely say our group has a renewed appreciation.
Published Thursday, March 13, 2008 5:25 PM by
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About Alex Svenson
I enjoy at least one premium cigar everyday and have the privilege of working directly with every major cigar maker in the industry. I love developing new and exciting cigar blends and bringing only the best this industry has to offer to our Cigar.com clients.
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