If you are a regular reader of our articles or even our product descriptions, you have no doubt seen the regular occurrence of the words “Sun Grown” and “shade grown” and wondered what the difference is. Don’t all plants require sun?
Tobacco needs several key ingredients to grow successfully such as nitrogen, potassium, calcium, magnesium but also sun light, water and a lot of TLC. That said, each element has a specific contribution to the resulting plant and at times, a farmer will manipulate factors if he has a specific goal in mind. For example, there may be times during the growing season when water is withheld from plants to change nicotine levels. Another such example, and what is at the heart of the issue we are exploring today, is the manipulation of sun light.
The sun is a powerful contributor to tobacco’s attributes. Maximum sun light yields thicker, heartier leaves that typically have richer flavors and higher nicotine contents which are a key element in many of today’s most popular, full-bodied cigars. While the sun is a welcome asset when growing fillers, its impact on the leaf’s texture and appearance make it less than ideal for use as a wrapper; which requires large leaf tobaccos with a finer texture and even color. To grow wrapper, farmers will rely on cheese cloth tents which cover the tops (protection from the sun) and sides (protection from the wind) of an entire field. These cloths shield the tobacco from the full extent of the sun to keep the leaves thinner and more even in color. Additionally, the plants grow taller as they reach for more light yielding larger leaves. In fact, a typical sun grown plant will reach 3 to 4 feet at time of harvest while a shade grown plant may be as tall as 9 or 10 feet. Further, where a Sun Grown field will yield 90% filler and binder and 10% wrapper, the converse applies to shade grown which can have wrapper yields as high as 90%.
Recently, Ecuador has become a popular topic when discussing wrapper. In fact, some of the most popular, highest-rated cigar blends sport Connecticut, Habano or Sumatra seed wrappers from this region. What makes Ecuador so unique and appealing for growers of wrapper is its natural cloud cover which the cheese cloths emulate artificially in most other parts of the world.