“So you THINK you know all about cigars,” I was asked in the most smug and brazen of tones. “Well, bro, until you actually visit a factory and walk the fields, you don’t know mierda (that would mean shit, in Spanish for you uncultured types.)
Here I was thinking I was all high-brow and bad-ass as a writer in the cigar biz, but over and over, many an industry type would basically tell me the same thing – you can pour through all the magazines and look at all the pretty pictures online, but until you visit a real honest to goodness cigar factory and stroll through a plantation in some volcanic valley in a Latin American country, it’s true, you are nothing more than a tobaca-laca neophyte.
Back in 2008, I was offered the chance of a lifetime by the good peeps at General Cigar – a week-long trip on their dime to spend several days at their factory in Santiago and the remaining time in Cofradia, Honduras at the old Villazon factory. I can say without a doubt that it was one of the most fascinating, educational, fun, and truly memorable experiences of my life. My tobacco-laden cherry was busted wide open as I was subjected to literally every single aspect of the cigar making process – and after one week, I was truly a changed man. You see, to a layman, a cigar is something housed in cellophane that you pull from a box, then, smoke for an hour or so. But to the people whose lives are spent toiling with tobacco and laboring with the leaves, it is not only a vocation, but an art form that is a part of their heritage – it is in their blood.
I was truly fortunate to experience several days at the famed Villazon factory in Cofradia, Honduras (in 2008), a legendary factory that produced such lauded brands as Punch, Excalibur, and Hoyo de Monterrey. It was heartbreaking for everyone in the industry when the doors were closed in December of 2009, basically due to soaring operational costs and U.S. government taxes like the SCHIP bill.
So, here’s the gist of it all as I lay it on the line… If you truly love your cigars and that savory smoke is woven deep into the fabric of your lifestyle, well then it’s time, my friend – it’s time you looked into experiencing a real live cigar factory tour in a tobacco producing nation, because quite frankly, if I can be so blunt, you don’t know shit until you do.
I can say with an assured knowledge that witnessing the first-hand everyday goings on of a real cigar operation will create a paradigm shift like nothing you have experienced in your life. When you watch the tasks that these cigar people perform on a daily basis and realize the hundreds of hands that go into making just one single stick, you will never complain about the cost of your precious smokes again.
When regular folk think of cigar making, they have a single vision of a torcedor applying the wrapper leaf to their favorite stick, but after only a few days on tour you will find out that is only a miniscule percentage of what goes on in a major cigar operation. It is a huge undertaking, requiring the coordination of thousands of people to produce a handmade product of unsurpassed quality. If you happen to book a three or four-day tour that walks you through the various stages of the entire process, the appreciation for your love of the leaf will grow a thousand fold, making you one bas-ass, mutha fuggin, walking-talking cigar encyclopedia. Plus, you’ll smoke enough cigars to make your head resemble a chimney fire, and I ain’t saying that like it’s a bad thin. Okay, that would be the official Spanish name for the person who rolls your precious sticks. This isn’t just a job, but rather an art form dating back hundreds of years. It can take several years and thousands of cigars later until a torcedor is considered an accomplished roller, a position that comes with distinct honor and high praise.
There are several different types of tours put on by cigar manufacturers in the various countries, some as simple as showing up at the factory while vacationing and being shown around the factory for a small fee. Then there are the full scale experiential tours (See Drew Estates, Perdomo, and Rocky Patel) where you undergo the full monty of cigar making, including excellent guest accommodations like hotel, local food and drink, and even the chance to create your very own blend.
Some of the things you can expect to be a part of… being brought to the nursery where the tiny tobacco seedlings are cultivated to be transplanted into the fields… walking the farms as you are awed by the endless rows of the fertile sun grown plants or the acres upon acres of shade grown wrapper under a city of cheese cloth tents… tying together and carrying crops to a nearby drying barn where the pungent aroma of baking leaf hangs from every rafter… then it’s off to the factory where the leaves are washed and sorted into various grades and colors… if you’re lucky (he says with a smirk) you’ll enter the sweating rooms where you’ll spend no more than 15 seconds until falling to your knees and gasping for oxygen as the ammonia being sweat from the leaf scorches your throat and lungs. The room attendants will then chuckle while scraping you off the wooden floor, referring to you as their poosy gringo beetch (well, at least that’s what happened to me.)
There are certain impurities that are inherent in cigar tobacco leaf, and ammonia is one of them. If you’ve ever cracked open a new box of smokes and noticed the distinct scent of ammonia, you can pretty much bet that the tobacco wasn’t aged or sweat enough. Cigar factories have several rooms where the tobacco is sweat in stages and I was blown away by the men who worked them with no masks or breathing protection. Upon entering, the average person is overcome by the fumes and it’s not the kind of place you’d choose to spend your day – let alone a good 20 seconds.
Enter the fermentation rooms where huge bales of tobacco are reaching a certain temperature then rotated to assure even fermenting… then there are the gigantic aging rooms where the bales of tobacco rest for a determined number of years, each bale tagged with the year and month the tobacco will be ready for the making… then finally into the rolling rooms where rows upon rows of people bunch the filler leaves that make up each blend and are handed off to the torcedors to perform their legendary magic. You’ll witness the floor managers inspecting the finished cigars atop the roller’s table, looking for imperfections while sorting them into piles of varying colors so each final box will have uniformity to the naked eye.
Some of the final steps include the draw testing of cigars, applying the bands, placing the sticks into their boxes, and then stacking those boxes into huge freezers for several days to kill any kinds of bugs or fungus that may have existed in the leaf. And while that’s not even close to everything that goes on, I think it’s enough to drive home the fact that you truly don’t know mierda about the stogies you love until you have signed yourself up for a real-deal cigar factory tour.
Nothing is worse for a cigar smoker when your stogie is wrapped so tight that your head implodes with every attempted puff of smoke. Today’s better factories employ the use of “draw testing” machines, where the cap is removed every so many cigars, then hooked up to a tube that measures the draw-ability. If a cigar doesn’t fall into the accepted number range, it is generally sent back to the torcedor to take it apart and re-roll it. Many factories now pay their rollers for every stick that is approved by the floor manager, a measure taken to assure that all of us will only have a good smoking experience.
Here’s some information on several of the Cigar Factory Tours that are waiting for you to end your tobacco virgin ways…
Drew Estates Cigar Safari – Esteli, Nicaragua
Reservations: [email protected]
This is a comprehensive trip offered by our friends at Drew Estates, giving you an experience you won’t soon forget.
Cigar Safari is 4 Days, 3 Nights. Tour package includes:
- All accommodations included
- Bilingual tour guide
- All transportation included
- Visit to Granada and Esteli City, “Life of a Cigar Tour” at Drew Estate Factory
- 5 Volcano and farm tour
- All Meals included
- Private and/or shared rooms and bathrooms
- Personalized air conditioning units
- Natural and soft drinks, national rum and beers
- Beautiful pool and pergola area overlooking a gorgeous tobacco valley
- Executive lounge
- Poker table
Rocky Patel – Danli, Honduras
For reservations call 239-593-1833 ext 701 or email [email protected]
Rocky Patel presents Tour of Honduras Factories & Tobacco Farms
Trips run from February to April as well as September to November
Day 1. Arrive & clear customs -Drive from Tegucigalpa to Danli & see the sights – Evening reception at guest house followed by dinner and cigars
Day 2: Breakfast at guest house – Trip to Caribbean Cigar Factory – Tour of fermentation rooms – Tour of wrapper selection rooms – Tour of cigar rolling & quality control – Guests select their own rolled blends – Lunch – Learn how different tobaccos effect taste – poolside dinner with cigars & cocktails
Day 3: Breakfast – Tour cigar box factory – spend day at tobacco fields & farm – Tour of Nursery – Tour of fields – Tour drying barns – dinner with cigars & cocktails
Day 4: Breakfast – Depart for airport
Perdomo – Esteli, Nicaragua
For complete info call 305-627-6700 and ask for Juan Liranzo.
The Perdomo Factory Tour is targeted for tobacco retailers but we will also accept request from consumers. Tours are hosted by Nick Perdomo or our Vice President; Arthur Kemper. We conduct two tours per week, Sun-Wed & Wed-Sat. Nick designed these tours to be intensely educational and participants are advised to only apply if they are truly interested in learning all there is to know about tobacco agriculture and cigar manufacturing.
Day 1: Arrive at hotel in Estelí, Nicaragua late afternoon. Nick or Arthur will join the group for dinner to be followed by a few hours of social bonding with our management staff.
Day 2: (8am – 5pm) Tour the green houses, farms curing barns and storage warehouses.
Seeding – Greenhouse tobacco care – Farm irrigation – Transplanting tobacco
Fertilizing and overall farm management – Priming tobacco – Curing tobacco
Fermentation – Sorting, Stripping, weighing & drying – Bailing, aging and storing
Evening: Group dinner, social bonding, dominos and cigars
Day 3: (8am – 5pm) Tour the tobacco production, final product aging, packaging and box making departments.
Barrel Aging – Tobacco production distribution – Rolling department
Quality assurance & draw testing – Color sorting – Cigar aging room
Box factory operations – Packaging and shipping
Evening: Group dinner, social bonding, dominos and cigars
Day 4: (8am – 10am) Learn to roll your own cigar and tour recap. Presented Certificate of completion “Tobacco Agriculture and Cigar Production Fundamentals”. Depart for airport.
La Flor Dominica & Tabacalera de García – La Romana, Dominican Republic
Cigar Country Tours, La Flor Dominicana Cigar Factory and Tabacalera de García are located in La Romana, in the southeast region of the Dominican Republic, just 90 minutes away from Santo Domingo and 40 minutes from Punta Cana. Come visit the most amazing boutique hand-made cigar factory in the world, all under the watchful eyes of cigar legend Master Blender Jose Seijas.
LFD Aficionado Cigar Factory Tour
This in-depth cigar factory tour follows the path of the tobacco leaves from the fields to the packaging of our premium handmade cigars. Guests walk into the tobacco preparation areas of La Flor Dominicana where we condition and classify the leaves and continue to our blending room. Next comes the manufacturing floor where guests will witness firsthand our cigar making process: bunching, rolling, cigar aging and packaging. DURATION: 30 Minutes
LFD Cigar Masters Factory Tour and Tasting
This one-of-a-kind tour gives visitors a chance to attend our weekly cigar masters tasting, following an in-depth cigar factory tour. The journey begins in the tobacco fields, then onto the preparation areas of La Flor Dominicana where we condition and classify the leaves and continue to our blending room. Next comes the manufacturing floor where guests will witness firsthand our cigar making process: bunching, rolling, cigar aging and packaging. During the tasting, visitors will have the opportunity to interact with the cigar makers themselves; participating in panel discussions regarding new blends, consistency and quality of construction.
DURATION: 90+ Minutes
LFD Cigar Tasting Basics
Guests are taught the basic principles of cigar tasting. Discern your palate’s preference by savoring three of our finest blends ranging from mild to full-bodied. Learn to choose the size and shape of your preference, choose your preferred smoke (blend, taste, aroma and strength), how to cut and light a cigar, and proper cigar storage. Includes a Montecristo sample.
DURATION: 60+ Minutes
Tabacalera de Garcia – La Romana, Dominican Republic
Makers of the Finest Dominican Cigars: Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, H. Upmann, and VegaFina, amongst others. Come visit the largest hand-made cigar factory in the world, employing more than 5,000 people. Here you will see the proud handwork of the cigar industry’s most experienced craftsmen and women.
Garcia Exclusive Private Cigar Tour
THIS TOUR IS ONLY AVAILABLE TUESDAYS AND THURSDAYS AT 10AM
This in-depth cigar factory tour follows the path of the tobacco leaves from our tobacco aging warehouses to the packaging of our premium handmade cigars. Guests walk into the tobacco preparation areas of Tabacalera de Garcia where we condition and classify the leaves and continue to our blending room. Next comes the manufacturing floor where guests will witness firsthand our cigar making process: bunching, rolling, cigar aging and packaging.
Restrictions: Over 18 years of age only. No photography or video recording allowed. For safety, you must wear a shirt and closed shoes.
DURATION: 60 Minutes
Miami Cigars Tour
Miami Cigars are also the makers of La Aurora, Nester Miranda Collection, La Sirena, & Tatiana.
Miami Cigars is a little different where they don’t have an official tour with itinerary, but rather allow tobacconists to put together their own trips that their local customers can enjoy. Ask your local cigar shop owner if he’s interested in creating a trip then call the numbers below for information on how to plan your time in the Dominican Republic. The people at Miami assure us you’ll have a time to remember.
La Aurora Cigars – Santiago, Dominican Republic
Miami Cigar – Santiago, Dominican Republic
ProCigar Festival 2014
While this isn’t a tour, what it is, is a gathering of the cigar people of the Dominican Republic to celebrate their heritage in cigar making. Sponsored by world renowned Procigar members such as General Cigar, Matsa, Tabacalera de Garcia, La Aurora, Tabadom, La Aurora, Corporacion Cigar Export, Tabaquisa, Tabacalera Fuente, Tabacalera La Alianza, and La Flor Dominicana, the ProCigar Festival welcomes over 300 guests from more than 20 countries. Attendees include suppliers, retailers, consumers and industry associates who gather to celebrate ProCigar and to honor the Dominican Republic – the cigar country – as the number one exporter of premium cigars in the world for twenty consecutive years.
“From this day on Dominican Republic is happy to have you among its goodwill ambassadors. We are not being the richest country, but God gave us the best soil to grow tobacco. God bless you and see you at the seventh ProCigar festival in February 2014”. – Hendrik Kelner, president of ProCigar
Festival Dates: February 16 – 24 2014
For more information visit: http://www.procigar.org
Phone: 1. 809. 580. 4754
Catherine Llibre: [email protected]