Recently, we were given the opportunity to spend time with the Fuente Family in Santiago, Dominican Republic. Six of us packed our bags, grabbed our passports & headed out to join other cigar aficionados for a few days of cigar education, appreciation and a little relaxation.
Our journey began with a tour of Chateau de la Fuente in the beautiful valley region where the tobaccos for the Fuente Fuente Opus X are grown. Guided by Carlito Fuente and Eric Newman, we also saw the Cigar Family Community School and enjoyed a performance by the Cigar Family students. The 23-acre complex has a community center including a Health Center for use by approximately 100,000 people from the surrounding area and houses an educational institute for 450 children. Here we saw true compassion through opportunity. Children who otherwise might live a life of poverty are given the chance to reach their potential through an education that prepares them for further schooling or a profession. It was amazing to see firsthand how generous work of the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation have made this possible.
Our next day included a full behind-the-scenes tour of Tabacalera A. Fuente. We were privileged to watch the skilled cigar rollers carefully hand-roll some of the world’s most coveted cigars. The extreme care and attention to detail the Fuente workers take with each cigar was obvious as we watched this production. We toured the Tobacco Warehouses and nearby Filler Farms in the Villa Gonzalez area and learned in-depth details of the tobacco growing process.
We wrapped up our trip with a day in Puerto Plata discussing blending techniques, tasting rare cigars, and enjoying pairings with Brugal Rums. The hospitality shown to us by the Fuente Family added to our experience of smoking some of the finest cigars in the world.
Amidst our tour, the meeting of new friends, and burning several sticks per day, it was plain to see that the Fuente focus is still on quality as it has been for over 100 years…quality tobacco, quality craftsmanship, and taking the time necessary to make a remarkable cigar. Carlos Fuente, Sr. has been quoted to say, “We don’t hurry things; we just do things the way they are supposed to be done.” Thank you to the Fuente family for making this tremendous experience possible!
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy imposed a trade embargo on Cuba, making it illegal to import products from the island nation – including cigars. Now, for the first time since, there is a realistic chance that they will once again be sold in America as the U.S. and Cuba are working on normalizing relations. That chance has prompted many questions from cigar customers. Many would just like to try a Cuban cigar. The demand may be huge, partly because of the mystique that surrounds an authentic Cuban cigar, but will they live up to the hype? Much has changed in the cigar world since the ‘60s!
After the Communist take-over of Cuba under Fidel Castro, the dictatorship began to nationalize the cigar industry which was, in effect, the cigar capitol of the world. Many cigar factory owners, growers and cigar masters became exiles and fled for other Latin American countries. They took their expertise – and in some cases smuggled Cuban seeds – to places like the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
Many of the leading cigar brands in the world today are located in Nicaragua – including Padron, Oliva, Drew Estate, Rocky Patel and other well-known makers. Also in Nicaragua is Perdomo Cigars where a group from Smoke Rings visited in January this year for an in-depth, three day tour of the massive operation. The quality and consistency of the cigars made in Nicaragua in many cases exceeds that of Cubans.
Nicaragua has a unique geography that allowed a variety of tobacco flavors to exist. Its rich volcanic soil and nearly perfect tobacco-growing climate drew some leading cigar makers to the region – making it to some the “new Cuba.” The region near Esteli produces tobacco with an identifiably spicy flavor. The regions of the Condega and Jalapa Valleys likewise have distinct components. Even tobaccos grown a relatively short distance apart can have different tastes as the composition of the soil varies. Companies – like Perdomo – established production facilities in Esteli – a region that became a hub of cigar manufacturing.
It is at Tabacalera Perdomo where Aristides Garcia runs the pre-production process. In some ways, his story and the Perdomo story itself embodies the story of the industry against the backdrop of the history of Cuban-American relations. Like Nick Perdomo’s grandfather, Silvio, and father, Nick Sr. – Aristides was born in Cuba and became a leader in the Cuban cigar industry.
Silvio Perdomo opposed the Castro regime and the revolution that would see the freedom of the Cuban people crushed by communism. He was arrested and spent more than a decade in the inhumane prison system where he faced starvation and torture. His son, Nick Perdomo Sr. likewise opposed Castro and became a wanted man by the regime. He was shot and severely wounded and during the time he recovered, he was able to obtain a sponsorship through the Catholic Church to escape to the United States. It was in the U.S. that Nick Perdomo Jr. was born who would one day decide to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather into the cigar business. He eventually established his operation in Esteli where he now employs over 2000 people.
The manager of pre-production at Perdomo is Aristides Garcia who is 87-years old and going strong. Like Nick Sr., he was born in Cuba and grew up learning tobacco and cigars. He was forced to work for the communist government, earning a fraction of what he did before the take-over. He eventually escaped Cuba and made his way to Nicaragua to work for his friend’s son, Nick Jr. Their expertise and knowledge, driven with them from their homeland, were unleashed in a new part of the world – to the benefit of people who enjoy great cigars.
Cigar factory owners, growers and makers developed operations that would rival or exceed the Cuban product from which they sprang. These independent cigar makers and entrepreneurs – through initiative and determination – have come to fill the void for premium, hand-crafted cigars that resulted from the trade embargo. Once Cuban cigars begin to enter the market, they may have some catching up to do – especially in value on the dollar – as the “new Cuba” produces quality and consistency that will be tough to match.
Smoke Rings Cigar Bar and other bars, shops and their customers are constantly under threat from proposed local, state and federal regulations. It seems like somebody somewhere doesn’t like the idea that we are free to have a cigar. But rather than just stay away from smoking establishments, they want to make it difficult or impossible for you to enjoy a cigar & a place to smoke it! They try to impose ever-increasing taxes that raise prices for the consumer and impose an unfair burden on retailers and owners of affected businesses. Cigar regulations in particular are bogus. Cigars are a product designed for – and consumed by – discerning adults. Nobody snuck to the bathroom in high school to puff a premium cigar! These laws go much further than just protecting young people from smoking – they impact cigar customers and hurt businesses.
Right now, there is proposed legislation in the Pennsylvania Assembly – House Bill 682 – that would directly impact cigar customers and businesses. In 2008, the Clean Indoor Air Act was enacted in PA. It placed limits on where people can smoke. This 2008 law included “exceptions” to the smoking ban. These exceptions included drinking establishments with less than 20% food sales, portions of casino floors and other places where smoking would still be permitted.
The current proposal – “Amendment to the Clean Indoor Air Act” – would remove these exceptions – and even go further! Exceptions to be eliminated include drinking establishments, casino floors, and tobacco promotion events. Literally, the law defines “PRIVATE CLUBS” as “PUBLIC PLACES.” It would also ban smoking on any outdoor deck or patio area of a drinking establishment. So not only would “PRIVATE” be “PUBLIC” but also the “INDOOR” Clean Air Act would ban “OUTDOOR” smoking areas!! This from the same people who think it’s our kids who should take tests every year in school to see what they learned??
Meanwhile the FDA and Federal Government may likewise want to limit your freedom to enjoy a cigar. This is an interesting read from former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. She served in the Senate from 1997–2015, where she chaired the Senate Small Business Committee, and the Energy Committee. She is now a consultant to Cigar Rights of America and the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association – two great organizations who lead the fight to protect the industry from government regulation.
As the article suggests:
-Aside from just Cuba, over 300,000 jobs are related to the cigar industry in Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic from seed to shore
-Without this employment, economic and political stability would be disrupted with costs to the American taxpayer in terms of foreign aid or other intervention
-Over 2000 U.S. retailers would be impacted needlessly as would responsible adults who enjoy premium hand-made cigars
The cigars we enjoy are made where people work or don’t eat – they need their jobs, they need our trade, not our foreign aid. We saw first-hand on our trip to Tabacalera Perdomo in Esteli, Nicaragua that each cigar is “the work of 1000 hands” through the various stages of production. Unemployment in the Esteli region is virtually zero in large part because of the cigar industry. Nicaragua in particular has areas of abject poverty and just a few decades ago was torn by a civil war that impacted American interests. The last thing the people of Nicaragua need is to have the progress and stability they’ve begun to achieve undone because somebody thinks you shouldn’t be able to smoke your cigar. People would be thrown out of work, trade impacted, and vulnerable governments destabilized. This nonsense has to stop. Please urge your representatives to not gut yet another industry – you work hard for your money & shouldn’t be punished because you like a premium hand-made cigar!
This is great video footage of a cigar roller placing the wrapper on a Perdomo cigar in the production room of the Perdomo Factory in Esteli, Nicaragua. Filler, binder and wrapper tobacco leaves of various types and regions are combined to create cigars with the distinct flavors and aromas that define a brand. The wrapper is the tobacco leaf that is on the outside of the cigar, covering the filler and binder bunch. You hear Nick in the video refer to the “chaveta” she is using – the traditional knife used to cut tobacco leaves.
Our tour was led by Nick Perdomo who explained every step of cigar-making over 3 days. Before reaching production, seeds were germinated in green-houses, the plants transplanted into fields once they are viable, harvested, cured in the curing barn, then fermented and aged for many months. The process is labor-intensive with every phase completed by hand.
Here are some great pictures that show the conditions in the facility. It is a large, clean well-lit area. Workers are seated at tables in pairs and production is non-stop. People are paid based on the number of cigars produced, not by the hour. The quality control process is constant and consistent as supervisors inspect the work being done. Also, every cigar goes through draw-testing to ensure that the amount of air that would flow through the cigar once lit is not too great (hot) or little (plugged). If the cigar fails the draw test, it goes back to the person who rolled it. Also, cigars are constantly ring gauge tested to ensure that each is the correct, uniform size and will fit properly in the boxes – made on-site in the box factory. The entire system is highly organized and efficient – a very impressive operation that was amazing to see.
Please feel free to post any comments or questions you might have!
We’re excited at Smoke Rings Cigar Bar (Video Tour) to host a Dinner & Event on the first Tuesday of each month, beginning Tuesday, March 1 at 6:00 p.m. These dinners are where many good things come together at the same time – two premium cigars to enjoy, a Cigar Event (with features, deals, raffles & more) and a fantastic buffet dinner from Capriotti’s Catering. Tickets are available at Smoke Rings or any Cigar Box store.
First, we’ll select two premium cigars to introduce from the cigar brands featured at the event. At the upcoming March 1 Dinner, the cigars included with the ticket are an H. Upmann the Banker and a Romeo y Julieta 1875 Tubo.
Second, the dinner is part of a Cigar Event like those the Cigar Box is known for. There will be deals on all H. Upmann, Romeo y Julieta and Montecristo Cigars. Altadis Rep. Tom Stroud will be on hand to talk cigars. He’ll have complimentary sticks that come with qualifying purchases – purchases that also earn raffle entries to win one of two H. Upmann Banker Cigar Humidors.
Third, is a Capriotti’s buffet dinner. Capriotti’s is a full-service caterer located in McAdoo, just outside of Hazleton, known for “Passionately Perfecting Life’s Celebrations.” Their delicious home-cooked food & outstanding service make them the Hazleton area’s premier caterer.
Finally, we know that for many of us, smoking cigars is a hobby too. We like to try new cigars, learn about their origins, and spend time with people who appreciate the same things. We can walk into any cigar bar or shop and strike up a conversation about our experiences.
Smoke Rings is a place where cigar enthusiasts meet other people who share that interest in a unique atmosphere. What can be better than trying new cigars, having a great dinner and talking cigars or watching a game in the company of other cigar lovers? Smoke Rings is locally/family/Veteran-owned. There is a full Cigar Menu and Bar Menu with IPAs, Martinis, Wine, Specialty and Seasonal Drinks, Mules and more. It was built by people who enjoy cigars – for people who enjoy cigars – and a place to smoke them. These dinners will be a key component of the Smoke Rings experience!
If you enjoy a cigar, you know that some of the best come from Nicaragua in Central America. The capital of Nicaragua’s cigar industry is a northern region called Esteli. It is the home of Tabacalera Perdomo which grows its tobacco in the nutritious volcanic soil unique to the valleys of Esteli. The unique soil and climate of this spot on Earth make it ideal for the tobacco with the distinct flavors of these valley areas.
After Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in the 1950s, the tobacco industry was seized by the Communist dictatorship. As you know, an American trade embargo on Cuba stopped the flow of goods between the United States and the Castro dictatorship. Many in the tobacco industry fled the island nation, taking their tobacco-growing expertise and seeds with them. Nicaragua’s warm, predictable weather patterns made it ideal for tobacco growers and resulted in over 50 brands being produced there, some tracing their history to Cuba.
Nick Perdomo Sr. grew up in the toabacco fields of Cuba. Like many, he was a target of the Castro regime, as was his father Silvio who was arrested and cruelly mistreated (http://perdomocigars.com/about.html). Nick Sr. eventually escaped Castro’s Cuba and fled to freedom in America. His son, Nick Jr. was born in the United States and served in the U.S. Navy, then worked as an Air Traffic Controller. Nick Jr. decided to leave that career and follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather as a cigar maker. What began as a side-job out of his garage is now a business with over 2000 employees including the massive Tabacalera Perdomo operation in Esteli. As promised at the outset of our tour, “once you see this, smoking a cigar will never be the same again.” And it’s not! Making these cigars – as well as the boxes they come in – is the work of thousands of hands and the vision and planning of artists who organize and execute production that results in some of the finest cigars in the world.
The tour offered an education on Growing (seeds, green-houses, transplanted to fields); Pre-Industry (curing barns, fermentation, selecting, sorting, baling); Production (making the cigars, draw-testing); Box Factory; Aging Rooms; and Packaging.
Over the coming weeks we’ll share some pictures and videos of how much goes into every Perdomo Cigar on the menu at Smoke Rings or in the humidor at the Cigar Box stores! Here’s a quick video overview of the Production Room – notice the size of the operation, the teams of cigar makers, and the level of activity in rolling the filler, binder and wrapper into a finished cigar (https://youtu.be/a9nTJO5tDco).
A group from the Cigar Box & Smoke Rings experienced the PERDOMO Factory tour in Esteli, Nicaragua from January 12-16, 2016. We’ll be posting a lot about what we learned on this amazing trip! Truly, when you see everything that goes into these cigars made at every stage by hundreds of hands – which we’ll document in posts and videos -smoking a cigar will never be the same! Here’s a short video overview .