Why The Dominican Republic Grows Great Tobacco
Though Nicaragua has become the breeding ground of choice for many tobacco growers, in terms of sheer numbers, The Dominican Republic remains El Rey (the king) of the Central American tobacco-growing nations. The DR accounts for more than half of the cigars sold in the United States. Of course, the Dominican had a big lead. After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, many of Cuba’s best growers and blenders emigrated to the DR. Most histories of Dominican tobacco production credit Carlos Toraño Sr. for introducing Cuban seed to the country, which we know today as Dominican “Piloto Cubano;” though it should be noted that many other Cuban tobacco men brought their seeds with them to other countries such as Honduras and Nicaragua. Due to their minuscule size – less than the size of a pinhead – they were easy to smuggle. When the Sandinistas overran Nicaragua, even more found their way to the DR. This helped further solidify the country’s cigar industry.
Like Cuba, Nicaragua, and Honduras, the Dominican Republic has a specific region that’s most favorable for growing the best Cuban seed tobacco – the Cibao Valley. Located between the northern Cordillera Septentrional and the southern Cordillera Central mountain ranges, if you follow the Yaque River northwest you’ll find several villages in the Yaque Valley, a sub-region of the Cibao valley, that are known for producing some of the world’s richest tobacco: Navarette, La Canela, and Villa Gonzalez. It is in the Yaque Valley region where you’ll find the richest and deepest topsoil, and where most of the black cigar tobacco is grown. Another reason the Yaque Valley is so ideal for growing tobacco is its microclimate is more conducive to producing hearty plants due to its excellent drainage, plentiful sunlight, and afternoon breezes which keep the plants from overexposure to heat. To put it another way, the Yaque Valley and Villa Gonzalez are to the Dominican Republic what the Vuelta Abajo and the town of Pinar del Río are to Cuba, respectively.
Southwest of Villa Gonzalez is Jacagua, renowned for its tropical microclimate and ultra-rich soil. Navarette, in the northwest region of the valley is drier; therefore, the soil is irrigated by a vast series of canals to make up for its drier microclimate. Because each village has its own unique climate and soil, the tobaccos grown on certain farms have their own unique flavor properties. The Dominican tobaccos which are considered “the industry standard” are La Canela, a very rich-tasting, full-bodied leaf which is grown northwest of Villa Gonzalez. The other is Jacagua which is grown just southwest of Villa Gonzalez and produces a finer and much more attractive leaf. This is why when you see the blend information on Dominican cigars and other premiums, the name of the leaf represents a specific region within the country.
Common Types of Dominican Tobacco
Tobacco production in the Dominican Republic starts in July or August when the growing areas are prepared. In September, 35 to 45 day-old plants are placed in the seedbeds where they are constantly monitored to avoid diseases, certain types of mold, and leaf-devastating insects.
Since under the right conditions, tobacco will grow just about anywhere, every tobacco-growing country has its own indigenous tobacco. The two primary families of tobacco grown in the Dominican Republic are “Olor Dominicano” and “Piloto Cubano,” But there is also a third type of tobacco grown in the D.R. called “San Vicente.”
Olor Dominicano is the D.R.’s native strain, and produces a leaf that is thinner and smaller than Piloto, but has a marvelous aroma (olor means “smell” or “aroma” in Spanish) and excellent burning qualities. This is why so many Dominican-made cigars use Olor Dominicano (or simply “Olor”) for the binder portion of the blend.
Piloto Cubano tobacco is grown from Cuban seed originating in Cuba’s Vuelta Abajo region. The result is a more malleable leaf with a fuller body and richer flavor than Olor, making it ideal for filler. Due to its ample flavor properties, you will also find Piloto Cubano in many cigars made outside of the D.R.
San Vicente is a hybrid of Piloto Cubano and was originally developed on the San Vicente farm in Cuba’s Vuelta Abajo. It’s less potent than Piloto Cubano and a little more acidic on the palate. This leaf is commonly found in the blend of most Avo cigars.
Famous Dominican Cigars
The center of the Dominican cigar production is in Santiago, home to Tabacalera La Aurora, the country’s oldest cigar factory and maker of La Aurora cigars. Other manufacturers, either in or near Santiago produce such renowned brands as Arturo Fuente, Avo, Macanudo, Partagas, La Gloria Cubana, La Flor Dominicana, Montecristo, Davidoff, Zino, Ashton, Fonseca, Aging Room, H. Upmann, Romeo y Julieta, and so many more, space just won’t permit.
At one time, the Dominican Republic was considered the source for “milder” cigars. However, with the growing popularity of tobaccos from Nicaragua, Honduras, Brazil, and Peru, to name but a few, Dominican-made cigars now span the entire spectrum of strength and complexity. Moreover, since growers have been producing high-quality Dominican wrapper for over two decades, now there are more Dominican puros being made than ever before.
The Dominican Republic is also a popular tourist spot for its lush terrain, beautiful beaches, and challenging golf courses. If you’re planning a trip there and would like to see how Dominican cigars are made, tours of several top factories including La Aurora and La Flor Dominicana are also available.
Viva La Republica Dominicana!
Try some Dominican cigars!
All this talk about fine Dominican cigars have you hankering to sample some for yourself? Check out our Best of the Dominican Republic #3 Sampler! It contains 10 Dominican-made stogies that show off the best that the country has to offer. You’ll find Macanudo, Aging Room, Four Kicks, and more! Oh yeah, and did I mention that it’s currently on sale for a whopping 49% off MSRP? You won’t find a better bargain on these outstanding Dominican cigars.
We all do it. When buying cigars, we leaf through the catalog or dissect the website looking for a deal. Open emails that scream about savings of 50, 60, 70% or more on great cigars, then pore over the coupons to find out which deal saves the most cash while bringing home the most cigars. Inside all of us is a hardcore cigar value hunter – which, I assume, is why you’re here as well. But even the most budget-conscious among us is willing to drop a little extra coin now and again for a “good” cigar. But are we really just burning up money that could be better – or more smartly – spent?
In a word, “yes.” Continue reading
Talk about being taken for granted: the Romeo y Julieta 1875 – let’s call it the original Romeo – has been around in name form for better than 130 years. Some like to think of this cigar as “old faithful,” because they can go back to it time and time again for a quality cigar experience. But even though it’s got heritage, many smokers have “been there, done that” with it – and it doesn’t get a lot of looks anymore, as people develop their palates and look to move on in search of new tastes. In a way, it’s like the first girl you kissed: you might remember her name, but chances are you can recall a lot more of the situational details after you moved on to other girls and started playing “hide the salami.” But let’s be real – Romeo y Julieta cigars have launched a million cigar enthusiasts into the hobby…and that is why we pay it a visit today. Continue reading
There used to be a “guideline” of sorts when it came to defining what types of cigars were produced in their respective countries of origin. For example, Dominican and Mexican-made cigars were generally considered milder in flavor, whereas Honduran and Nicaraguan cigars were considered stronger in flavor. No doubt, tobaccos grown in the latter countries, especially Nicaragua, tend to have a naturally fuller flavor, and that is one of the reasons Nicaraguan tobacco is often added to a blend to give a little more power.
Today, with manufacturers in all of the cigar-producing nations using a variety of tobaccos in many of their blends, the country of origin is not as important to cigar smokers as it once was. Ironically, Fuente Fuente Opus X cigars, which are made with an all-Dominican-grown leaf blend, are among the fullest-bodied cigars. So, it’s not necessarily the country of origin that defines a cigar’s strength, but the leaves and how they’re cured.
With regard to the “style” of a cigar, country of origin does play a role. For example, Cuban “style” cigars are made with all Cuban-grown tobacco, which has its own distinctive flavor. Therefore, the all-Dominican-leaf Opus X cited above could be considered “Cuban style.” The term used for cigars made with leaves all from one country is puro, pronounced “poo-ROW?.” And as you would expect, there are Dominican, Honduran, and Nicaraguan puros.
Generally speaking though, these days cigar smokers tend to be less concerned with a cigar’s style or country of origin, and more concerned with quality and flavor. This is one of the reasons most cigar manufacturers use tobaccos from a variety of countries in their cigars. These countries are not limited to The DR, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Indonesia (Sumatra) and the U.S. (Connecticut Shade & Broadleaf) either; manufacturers often use tobaccos grown in Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and in the case of CAO’s “Italia” selection, Italy, as well. Or, take the Drew Estate “Natural” selection, which also uses tobaccos from Italy, Spain and Turkey.
Moreover, there are cigars made in Honduras with only Nicaraguan-grown leaf. Would that be a Nicaraguan puro even though it was made in Honduras? Technically speaking, yes, but that example, plus the others cited above, says that country of origin is insignificant, or at least, secondary.
In a business where Cuban puros were once the rage (and in many corners still are),
it’s refreshing to know that with manufacturers using a variety of tobaccos in their cigars, cigar smokers have a virtually endless supply of taste experiences available to them.
If I had a nickel for every time somebody asked me (or freely shared his opinion) about Cuban cigars, I’d probably retire to a private island. Seriously.
“Are Cuban cigars really better?”
“Do you sell Cuban cigars?”
“I only smoke Cuban cigars, they’re the best.”
“It’s good, but it’s no Cuban!”
I was walking out of a prime rib restaurant, Opus X in hand, when a passerby accosted me. “That a Cuban?” he asked, big dumb grin on his face. In that moment I realized that many non-cigar smokers simply don’t know what else to say.
“Yup,” I replied deadpan, unwilling to waste my time explaining how tobacco disease and manufacturing inefficiencies that have led to a plummet in quality control, or how their current legal status means you pay a ridiculous premium, and even then, there’s no guarantee you’re even getting the real McCoy.
Look, I have enjoyed my share of Cuban cigars. Are they good? In a word, yes. When they’re good, they’re damn good…there is no denying it. And they DO offer something that you won’t find anywhere else; such is the nature of terroir.
If you’ve got the money, inclination, daring, and time to find a good source of illegal cigars, then good for you. But there is so much more to cigars than that Island South of Miami, as brands like Tatuaje, Rocky Patel, Oliva, Perdomo and so many others continue to prove.